Getting to know Ed Kalajzic, Western Power’s new CEO

Ed Kalajzic, Western Power

There’s a new face at the helm of Western Power. We get to know Ed Kalajzic, the relative newcomer to the industry who’s making waves.

In his spare time, you’ll find Ed Kalajzic spending time with his wife and two children, aged 18 and 22, or visiting family and in WA’s central Wheatbelt where he grew up on a farming property. You may also run into him at a West Coast Eagles game, or having a round of golf.

Ed has a background in finance, working for organisations including PwC, CBH Group, Viridis Ag and the CBH superannuation fund. He joined Western Power in September 2019 as chief financial officer where he clearly impressed, being named CEO in May this year.

Ed takes over at a time when there’s so much happening in the industry and it’s rapidly changing, but he says his previous experiences have given him a strong base for moving into the energy industry as CEO.

“I’m proud to say Western Power is at the forefront in connecting renewable energy sources and leveraging emerging technologies to meet our customers’ needs, now and in the future,” Ed says.

“Where once our network consisted of wires, poles and substations, we’re now integrating microgrids, community batteries and stand-alone power systems (SPS).

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“The uptake of renewables has grown significantly; currently one in three houses in the South West of WA has solar PV. Combined with the development of wind farms such as Yandin and Warradarge and other renewable energy sources, our business is proactively transforming.”

Ed says like most businesses, one of the biggest challenges is maintaining momentum to ensure Western Power is continually improving and moving forward, adapting and embracing new and changing technologies and economies.

“Our incredibly dedicated and smart employees are making significant headway into data-based modelling and we’re trialling smart technologies in our streetlights and substations,” he says.

“We’ve also installed and continue to install advanced metering infrastructure for many of our customers.”

As a WA Government-owned trading enterprise, Western Power’s number one objective is to deliver a critical service to the WA community. The South West Interconnected System (SWIS) is one of the world’s largest stand-alone grids – it’s around the same size as the UK, spanning approximately 255,000 km2 from Kalbarri in the north to Albany on the south coast and extending east to Kalgoorlie. It powers the lives of 2.3 million people.

“At present around 52 per cent of our network services three per cent of our customers,” Ed says.

“One of our biggest challenges is remoteness. Maintaining a network of this size in areas that have a considerably long travel time in often hard-to-access terrain can impact on customers’ power supply and is quite costly.”

The network also spans vastly different landscapes, from less sparse coastal scrublands to arid interiors, farming properties and heavily forested areas, bringing its own challenges in terms of vegetation management.

Ed says the key questions Western Power is investigating include how do they enhance the south-west grid’s capabilities and performance with things like community batteries and microgrids, and how does Western Power improve power supply for customers at the end of spur lines, and how does it minimise costs to ensure value for money?

With the recent passing of the Electricity Industry Amendment Bill in WA Parliament, the company can now look at how we can remove parts of the network that service customers in remote areas and replace this ageing infrastructure with stand-alone power systems, increasing power reliability.

Ed Kalajzic, Western Power
WA Energy Minister Bill Johnson with Ed Kalajzic

“Western Power has a clear strategic vision for the future,” Ed says.

“With innovation and customer service at our core we’re transforming the grid to connect renewables and are trialling new alternative technologies.

“SPS are an excellent example of this and I’m proud to say Western Power is a leader in this space. Our first trial in 2016 laid the groundwork for us to roll out SPS to selected regional customers at the end of spur lines.

“The results were fantastic with SPS generally around 15 times more reliable and safer than poles and wires in regional areas. Additionally, they require less maintenance, providing cost savings for West Australians.

“Then there’s the renewable energy aspect. Over the three-year trial the solar panels in the SPS provided more than 90 per cent of the total energy used.

“Following the trial, we’re now in the middle of commissioning 52 SPS units in the Midwest, Great Southern and Wheatbelt regions. And we’re currently engaging with the community to recruit the next 100 or so customers for installation in 2021.

“Our modelling identifies thousands of potential sites that can be transitioned to an SPS over the coming decades, which is a real win for our customers in regional communities.”

In addition to the energy storage deployed for SPS and microgrids, Western Power sees many opportunities to deploy distributed storage in the network with community batteries.

By the end of July this year Western Power will have installed 13 community batteries in Perth’s suburbs and in regional areas including Busselton, Kalgoorlie and Margaret River.

Ed says the company is looking to enable a greener energy future while maintaining an essential service.

“We now have new technology, mixed renewable resources and the changing energy needs of our growing customer base [to consider],” he says.

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“It has forced us to think about being future-ready. How do we also invest time and resources into technologies that support Australians lifestyles well into the next decade? And how as a business and industry we consider the future impacts of an ever-changing environment. How do we consider the impacts of climate change and support ongoing measures to improve the resilience of the network?

“These days, we’re noticing huge amounts of residential solar power are being generated, which is being used by households or fed back into the grid, resulting in two-way power flow on the distribution network in the middle of the day.

“Further to this, at a transmission level we have seen a decrease in synchronous generation and an increase in renewable generation. These have changed the generation mix, which has presented challenges in managing network voltage and power system stability.

“As a nationwide industry we need to continue to delve deeper than ever into how the grid is responding to customer behaviour and usage – that is, residential, SMEs, industry and LGAs – to understand their energy needs.

“And work to understand, trial and implement new measures and tools to address these changing energy needs. After all, we want people to be able to use solar, electric cars, community batteries and smart streetlights. And this is only the beginning!”

With very busy times ahead, Ed says he looks forward to working with his energy industry peers.

“Honesty, equality and compassion are my personal driving values and as I aim to foster Western Power’s inclusive and positive culture, I hope to experience and be a part of this same culture across the industry,” Ed says.

“We all have a passion for energy, and we’re all motivated to deliver an essential service for our communities.”