ADAPT Australia’s engineering manager is out to challenge the stereotype of engineers as poor communicators. Energy Source and Distribution catches up with Daniel Cetrola to discuss the importance of effective cross-discipline collaboration as the industry works to future-proof technology and systems.
Firstly, what does your role as engineering manager involve?
As an engineer at ADAPT my core task is to assist my clients in finding a solution to a specific problem. This requires I use my understanding of the Australian electricity network in conjunction with product knowledge. The challenge of this task is to identify the solution that presents the best value for the customer.
I enjoy considering the almost infinite possibilities, design-life of the proposed solution, the amount of physical space required, how the solution will integrate with the customer’s existing infrastructure and so on – it requires a thoughtful approach.
Everything my role demands is, in essence, dependent on clear communication.
As a manager, the safety of those I work with, within and outside of ADAPT, is my first consideration and biggest responsibility. The engineering team is in the field conducting training, commissioning equipment and performing maintenance so all possible risks must be identified, understood and mitigated – and this information must be shared with and understood by all involved.
How did you get your start at ADAPT?
I began with ADAPT as a graduate in 2006 and I am lucky to be one of the first of a new generation of young engineers at ADAPT. I started with little experience, but had to learn quickly. Being involved with a series of significant capital projects was a great education.
Today, I continue to learn from my more experienced colleagues, which is just as valuable as my initial training. They have been very influential in the changes and directions the industry has taken across the decades.
Their approach to problems can be different to mine, just as their education and experiences has been different. Where we have identified our differences is where we have all had the greatest opportunity to learn something new.
What technical challenges are your customers facing?
More than ever before, our customers are being challenged with the integration of the old and the new.
For more than 100 years, the basic building blocks of the electrical network have stayed the same and are well understood. Visionaries pointed to what a possible future grid might look like and today’s technology now allows us to begin to build this.
The latest generation of innovation represents some of the best opportunities of the last 50 years to vastly improve network performance and recovery. Existing infrastructure is absolutely vital and a valuable product of years of development. We are finding more ways to extract data from existing equipment and to use this information to operate older equipment more intelligently and with greater control.
At the moment, I am working with a client that collects more network data than they currently use. They are confident they will use this extra data in the future, but at this stage, it is not clear to them how this might be done, while keeping an eye on developing technologies for a solution.
A more distributed approach to generation, partly as a result of renewables, is another aspect of this challenge and has introduced unique protection issues we have not previously needed to consider.
As an engineer, what non-technical challenges do you face?
One stereotype of an engineer is that of a poor communicator. I don’t agree with this. In fact, I feel it is our challenge as an industry to defy the stereotype, because a more technical field requires better communication.
We are facing the challenge of significant generational changes in the way people communicate. I hold the engineering concept of the “elegant solution” in high esteem – and I apply this concept to the way I articulate ideas, so I can be succinct.
As an industry of constant innovation, new technologies are rolled out across large organisations involving people from different disciplines. New technology can bring a substantial change in the way things are done operationally and, even if a new technology represents a great advantage, it can initially be met with resistance and a lack of understanding. This is the ultimate communication challenge.
How important is the need for cross-discipline collaboration in the energy industry?
While the modern Australian electrical community is already collaborative, cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural and cross-generational, never before has co-operation been more important.
Any and all equipment in the substation and wider network can now potentially be integrated into smart grid applications via the collection, transmission, storage, analysis and display of data and the use of this data to control equipment via distributed automation. This requires the expertise of IT and communication professionals, as well as many others.
Electricity grids have never been more interconnected and international standards groups are doing good work in harmonising technology across the globe, I note the influence of IEC61850 and others.
In light of both the technical and human challenges facing the industry, it is also vitally important we are even more involved with the education sector to influence the development of young engineers before graduation.
How can the energy industry future-proof technology and systems?
The service life, which the industry now demands for equipment, is longer than before, with the added challenge that equipment must also be future-proof for integration with technologies that are in their infancy and still developing.
In developing future-proof technologies we must also consider the retrofit requirement of existing infrastructure and how this might also extend the life of older equipment.
Again, we need the collaboration of many disciplines including materials science and forensic engineering.
With the smart grid, a project continues to evolve long after it has been commissioned. I plan for my involvement and support of projects to continue well beyond the initial energisation.