By Kylie Triggell
If there was just one way to sum up 2020 in a nutshell, it would have to be change. The year, which began with widespread bushfires before a rapidly escalating global pandemic plunged the country into varying measures of lockdown, has resulted in a highly changeable business landscape that has left many Australian sectors swiftly adapting to new ways of working. Included in this is the energy sector.
It has been a difficult time across the board to say the least, however, as Endeavour Energy’s new chief executive officer Guy Chalkley says it’s also an exciting one that lends itself to innovation.
The UK-born, former Western Power CEO accepted the Endeavour Energy role back in December 2019, before boarding a plane east to Sydney in April this year–coincidentally on the same day that state borders closed–with his wife, teenage son and dog remaining behind.
It couldn’t have been an easy start to the new role, but Guy is taking it all in his stride. In fact, he notes the largest challenge he has personally faced so far at Endeavour Energy has been entering a new organisation where he had no prior relationships and having to build them virtually.
“It’s not impossible to do, it just requires a bit more effort. But as somebody who enjoys building long-lasting relationships, I am happy to put the work in,” Guy says.
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Another positive he notes has been that Endeavour Energy’s head office is housed on a standalone site in western Sydney where nearly 100 per cent of the employees don’t use public transport, everyone has a parking space, and social distancing can be easily accommodated due to a large floor plan with operations taking place on the ground and first floors–thus ruling out lifts. As a result, Guy has been able to head into the office each day and hit the ground running.
Many of his staff have also welcomed a return to the office in a safe environment while the altered work processes have forced Endeavour Energy to become increasingly flexible and adaptable in its day-to-day operations.
Another challenge Endeavour Energy has faced during COVID-19 is that it’s an operational business that relies on behind-the-scenes support. Guy says although Endeavour’s way of operational work did not materially change in either method or location due to the pandemic, change was required in how they were able to deliver the support their front-line people needed.
“So much of this support has been virtual these past few months. That poses cultural challenges and makes it a bit harder to get to know support people and achieve strategic objectives and to push collaboration and innovation,” Guy says.
“However, having just completed my first 100 days in the role, I feel we have progressed well in our openness and transparency both across the organisation and with our customers and the wider community.”
Touted as being a big name within the Australian energy sector–a description Guy says doesn’t sit well with him, as humility was one of the strongest values his parents taught him–Guy came to his current position through slightly unconventional means.
Born in South London to parents he describes as being broad minded and whose teachings, values and behaviours stay with him to this day, Guy’s first job was pulling pints part time at a pub while still a minor–a job he managed to keep even after his age was discovered. And it was while working at his first full-time job at an accountancy firm that Guy made the call to earn his keep rather than attend university.
Eventually, Guy found himself working in the water industry and it was here that he says his interest in the energy sector was first piqued.
“I am not a good planner in life but I believe you should take the opportunities that somebody has put their trust into offering you,” he says.
Describing the move across sectors as a natural transition, he landed in the energy industry just as monumental change was taking place, and new technology was emerging along with the ability to use data.
“Regulation and legislation were being challenged and customers and the community suddenly had choice and a voice that needed to be listened to. The traditional people in the industry were being joined by a new generation with new ideas and I fell in the middle of it with a passion for change and challenging the status quo to get a better outcome for the community,” he says.
It is this passion that is still driving Guy forward today, and also fuels his future plans for Endeavour Energy.
He notes the company already has a well-respected position in the community that has been built over years of service, and so Endeavour will focus on the continuation of innovation so as to be able to keep powering communities in a way that best meets individual needs.
“We sit in the middle of the largest growth area in the country with the expansion of Western Sydney pivotal to the future success of Endeavour Energy, NSW and Australia. We need to ensure we can be trusted to help deliver the major projects that do not necessarily sit in the traditional regulated environment,” he says.
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“We can see the road and rail infrastructure projects, airport, residential developments and industrial parks. We have a brand the community trusts, employees that have the skillsets and a strong electricity network as a backbone. We want to be part of the sustainable future and are building relationships to ensure we have the opportunity to be involved.”
A lot of energy is also being put towards projects that will deliver outcomes the community wants, which range from strengthening the backbone of Endeavour’s regulated network to accommodating the massive growth of Western Sydney, to taking new approaches to the delivery of energy services harnessing the power of technology and data.
To assist with this Guy says Endeavour is stepping up its non-traditional investments utilising a combination of battery and renewables to build stand alone power systems and microgrids where it makes sense for its customers.
“We are also putting more data into the hands of our customers so they can better manage their energy use and save money while they are spending more time at home due to COVID-19,” he says.
“As a network with high penetration of both air-conditioning and rooftop solar PV, we are also trialling new technologies around voltage optimisation, and new ways to reduce demand so as to lessen the need for infrastructure, which has a positive impact on customer’s bills. Investment in people also goes hand-in-hand, so that we have a strong line of emerging talent to take advantage of the opportunities.”
When asked how Endeavour Energy is planning for the future of the electricity grid, Guy says that like most utilities, Endeavour Energy can see the grid has a great opportunity as the trading platform of the future.
In his opinion, the distribution network, which has traditionally been viewed as the poor cousin of transmission, now has greater relevance as solar PV continues at pace, and he believes batteries will follow this same curve with electric vehicles not too far behind in the future.
“Improved visibility of data will be a key, as will community batteries as opposed to thousands of individual behind the meter batteries. We need to ensure our network is robust to the challenges that are taking place and that the customer is rightly demanding,” he says.
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“While we will always invest in a safe, reliable and affordable view on the future we appreciate the solutions available are now many that will not always be the traditional connection to the grid. Our future planning is much more flexible to the customer needs and the solutions now available.”
So what will Guy be focusing on at Endeavour Energy in the coming months and years? The creation of a sustainable legacy is just one of his goals.
“I have the privilege of looking after Endeavour Energy at a time when the future of the community in our distribution area is so exciting. The challenges and opportunities ahead of Endeavour are immense,” Guy says.
“You want to leave a legacy that the next person who takes the baton can build upon rather than having to change the foundations. Building a strong team who have open, challenging minds linked to delivering safe, sustainable community outcomes is paramount. I feel I left Western Power in a strong position. It is seen as an innovator with great people and I can already see Endeavour Energy has the potential to take this one step further.”