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The future workforce: starting a career in energy


Release Date: 03/18/2024

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More Episodes

The energy transition will define the sector for decades. And smart, passionate people are needed across the industry—leaders and innovative thinkers to chart the path forward. In his first episode hosting thinkenergy, Trevor Freeman gives the future workforce a voice, chatting with two engineering interns about what a career in energy means to them. Listen in as Alana Jones from Envari Energy Solutions and Priscilla Lacerda from Hydro Ottawa share their experiences.

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Trevor Freeman  00:07

Hi, welcome to thinkenergy podcast that dives into the fast changing world of energy through conversations with industry leaders, innovators and people on the frontlines of the energy transition. Join me, Trevor Freeman, as I explore the traditional, unconventional and even up and coming facets of the energy industry. If you've got thoughts, feedback or ideas for topics that we should cover, we'd love to hear from you. Please reach out to us at thinkenergy@ hydroottawa.com. Hi, everyone, this is Trevor Freeman here. This is my first official show without the training wheels. Just as a reminder, your regular host, Dan, is hanging up the lapel mic, actually, it's a big giant microphone - go bigger go home, I guess. And I'm stepping in to try and fill his shoes. The consistent thing though, is that the goal of the show continues to be to explore the fast changing world of energy through conversations with smart people doing cool things. Today on the show, we're going to talk about the energy workforce of the future. So this show is featured a number of conversations about the energy transition, which is arguably already underway. And this massive shift will really be the defining feature of this sector for at least the next couple of decades. Like any other massive project or societal change, in order to do it properly. We need great people. We need smart, passionate people in all areas of the sector to help us move forward into uncharted territory. A career in energy is really an exciting, dynamic pathway and a great way to contribute to meaningful change. But obviously, I'm a little biased, so I wanted to talk to two people who are earlier in their journey. It's great timing for this conversation because March is both National Engineering Month here in Canada, and we've just celebrated International Women's Day. Joining me today are two smart, young engineering interns working in the energy space. Alana Jones has had a number of roles with Hydro Ottawa, and currently works for Envari Energy Solutions, a Hydro Ottawa affiliate. Priscilla Lacerda joined Hydro Ottawa as an intern last year, Alana and Priscilla, welcome to the show.


Alana Jones  02:10

Hi, Trevor. Thanks for having us.


Priscilla Lacerda  02:12

Hi, Trevor. Thank you.


Trevor Freeman  02:14

Alright, let's get started by learning a little bit about you both. Priscilla, why don't we start with you? Could you tell us a little bit about where you went to school and what you studied and really how you ended up working in the energy sector?


Priscilla Lacerda  02:25

Sure. So I'm originally from Brazil and completed my studies there. I have a Bachelor in Electrical Engineering and an MBA Diploma in Business Management. While I was at the university, I tended to work in an affiliated company and spent around six and a half years there. Eventually, I decided to immigrate to Canada. And because I used to work in energy fields in my home country, I researched a lot about Hydro Ottawa and ended up being selected to work as an engineering intern last year.


Trevor Freeman  02:54

That's great. Well, I'm glad that we got you to join us from Brazil. And I think your experience in you know, both in Brazil's energy sector as well as here in Canada is going to be really beneficial both for you and for us. Alana, maybe the same question for you. Tell us a little bit about how you got started in the energy sector.


Alana Jones  03:12

Yeah, so I studied chemical engineering. I come from a large mining community. And that was the initial plan to work as a metallurgical engineer. However, once I graduated, I was a young 20 year old looking for a more exciting city than Sudbury Ontario had to offer. So I relocated to Ottawa. My brother was here, and I've always loved this city. I realized pretty quickly, however, that it was a lot harder to find a role in chemical engineering than it was in Sudbury. So I started working in restaurants and pubs to pay the bills. Plus, it was fun, the money was great. But fast forward five years, and I knew that I needed to actually use my degree and find a career. So I really liked Ottawa, I knew I wanted to stay here. I just didn't really know how to make that happen. So I contemplated Teachers College. And then one day on the radio, I heard about an exciting opportunity. It was a program that Algonquin College was running to get more women into the trades. They were calling on women with engineering science or math degrees to take their fast tracked electrical engineering technologists program. So the perks were wonderful. They offered free laptops, work boots, and what I found most appealing was an opportunity for a Co-Op with a local utility. So I ended up doing my four month Co-Op with Hydro One. And it was a great way to break into the industry and actually see the utility business and how it was run. And that same year I graduated from the program at Algonquin I got hired on as any it with Hydro Ottawa, so I feel like everything just worked out really well.


Trevor Freeman  04:41

Awesome. It's great to hear about the different kinds of unique pathways that people take to get to where they are on them. That's not unique to the energy sector but still interesting to hear. So let's dive a little bit deeper into what you guys do today. Alana will stick with you. Help us understand what it is you do in your role and you know, tie that back to how that relates to your engineering studies?


Alana Jones  05:02

Sure, my current role is with the Envari electrical team. My main focus is electric vehicle infrastructure projects and energy studies for buildings. As you know, there's a massive push for electrification of vehicles. And the government has mandated that all vehicles sold as of 2035 will be electric. So we see huge numbers of people wanting to get a head start on having that infrastructure available to support their future EV needs. We work with government agencies, many car dealerships, condo, apartment buildings, airports, even companies looking to convert their full fleets over. So my role is to perform the initial assessment on a building to determine if they have enough electric capacity to install any EV chargers at all, and what their options are as far as installation size and what that would look like with respect to their building layout. Our team helps provide guidance on the type of charger and system that would be most suitable for their needs. And there really are so many options, whether it's fast charging, or rapid charging, or if they want to allow public use or private so you get into a whole list of options that clients often need guidance on. And sometimes we actually see that buildings don't have enough capacity to support their electric vehicle infrastructure needs. And as one example, if the transformers are too small to support additional power loads, in that case, we can recommend a service upgrade to get them where they need to be for future electrification. Sometimes, that means designing a surface upgrade before charger installation to ensure that the building will have enough power to support the needs. And that means sizing the service accurately as well to reflect the current and projected needs. So these are expensive upgrades we're talking about. And they should last decades to come. The last thing you want to do as an engineer is install something too small, to find out 10 years down the road that the building needs more power, or if you oversize a service, it ends up just costing much more than it needs to. And I guess the last part of my role is the actual implementation of these chargers. So once any service upgrade is done if it's needed, the group can begin managing the installation, so sourcing the chargers and electrical contractor to do the work. And a big part of my role is making sure all parties are kept in the loop and the project remains on time and budget so that it can be as simple as possible for the client.


Trevor Freeman  07:09

Great. Thanks for that. We'll come back to that in a minute. But Priscilla, over to you, kind of the same question. Tell us about what you do specifically and kind of how that relates to your engineering experience.


Priscilla Lacerda  07:21

Yeah, so basically, I prepare and maintain a portfolio of business performance measures for our electricity distribution division. Alongside my supervisor, we identify opportunities to improve internal and external processes, and also analyze financial data. As you are well aware of, as a utility, we are regulated by the Ontario Energy Board. So it's imperative to keep our processes and analysis well documented. And that's the importance of my role and department and how it relates to my engineering studies.


Trevor Freeman  07:51

Great. I mean, those are just two examples that you guys both gave about, you know, the number of different roles within the utility sector. And it's a, you know, a pretty wide range of things that have to happen in order for us to deliver the service that we do and make sure that we're providing value for our customers. So thanks for that. Maybe kind of a follow up question on that. Anything that surprised you so far in your role here at Hydro Ottawa, and Envari, for you, Alana.


Alana Jones  08:20

Um, I would say the most surprising thing I've found is that everyone really wants you to succeed. I've been really, really lucky in my various roles, having managers and supervisors with a ton of experience to be able to coach me and support me in whatever ways they can. Our group at Envari is so diverse in their knowledge and backgrounds. So they offer, each person offers a specific skill set that they're willing to share with everyone. And anytime I need help or support, there's always someone willing to take that time out of their own busy schedule to support me. And I really love that. I mean, sometimes we spend more time with our co-workers than our own families. So I think it's important to have a nice working environment and to feel supported. And I've been lucky enough to have had that experience throughout my career.


Trevor Freeman  09:02

Great. That's awesome to hear. Priscilla, what about you?


Priscilla Lacerda  09:04

To be honest with you, in my specific case, because most of my experience was in my home country, one surprise that I had was that here in Canada, each province regulates its electrical system separately, and has their own model. While in Brazil, all the utilities are nationally regulated by one energy board.


Trevor Freeman  09:22

Yeah, it's certainly a complex landscape that I think, you know, folks outside of the sector don't always appreciate and you know, they don't need to worry about that, because we worry about it, but it is a complex regulatory sector. So Priscilla will stay with you. I'd like to dive a little bit deeper into your role in what you do. You talked about your role in reporting on grid performance. So that's our outage and reliability reporting, as well as financial reporting related to grid operations. Tell us why that's important for a distribution company like Hydro Ottawa.


Priscilla Lacerda  09:55

As I mentioned before, Hydro Ottawa is regulated by the Ontario Energy Board, so it's crucial to maintain a reliable and cost effective grid. Our primary objective as a distribution company is with the customers. As we continually strive to improve performance for our customers, we need to maintain quality data to derive critical business insights and make informed business decisions.


Trevor Freeman  10:18

Great. So following up on that, do you see, you know, smart technology or AI or anything else coming in and, you know, changing the way that we report in the future?


Priscilla Lacerda  10:31

Yes, I see smart technologies and the blockchain is doing proof predictive analysis, and also anticipating potential issues and trends in the grid performance. Also, smart grids enable real time monitoring of various aspects of grid operations. And that's extremely beneficial as it will provide more up to date data.


Trevor Freeman  10:52

Great. Alana, we're gonna jump over to you here and kind of do the same thing, dig a little bit deeper into what your previous answer was. So you mentioned things like EV charging infrastructure for some of our customers that own large buildings. Are you seeing more of our customers look to what we might call, you know, emerging technologies to meet their own needs or the needs of their own customers or building occupants?


Alana Jones  11:15

Yeah, good question. We are seeing many, many people come to us to see what their options are for the implementation of EV chargers. If you are an EV driver looking to buy a condo in the city, having that infrastructure at home to charge is a must. And every year more and more people are driving EVs. So definitely, I would say building owners are looking to the future of electrification of vehicles and accommodating their building occupants. And we also see a huge push from dealerships to get chargers installed, whether they have requirements they need to meet, or whether they want to be the ones to get their hands on the latest EV models first. They are really interested in having that infrastructure already in place to accommodate current and future needs for it. There's also a goal, I think, not to be behind the eight ball when the time comes. And when everyone is rushing to get it done. So 2035 isn't that far away. And year after year, the increase in EV sales jumps, so getting your establishment ready for that, I think, is a must. And the last bit is funding. It's a huge early adoption incentive and government funding isn't going to be around forever. And as a company, we're able to secure a ton of funding for our clients. And it really drives down the cost of these easy installation projects.


Trevor Freeman  12:25

Geat. And you know, you can't really talk about EVs or electrification without you knowing, at least considering sustainability and climate goals. Do you find that your customers' goals when it comes to hitting a netzero target or just reducing emissions? Does that really impact the decisions they're making? And as a result, is that impacting your work?


Alana Jones  12:44

Yeah, absolutely. I believe the government mandate that all passenger vehicles being sold as of 2035, must be electric. And I think 20% by 2026, has had a huge impact on our clients, specifically dealerships. And some don't have any infrastructure in place at all, or even the capacity for the EV needs we're finding. So if service upgrades are required, that pushes the timeline of getting these EV chargers installed further and further away. We're also noticing municipalities looking to get fleets electrified, as well as looking to have larger service vehicles converted over to evey and everyone knows it's coming. And for some, it's been kept on the back burner. But like I said, 2035 really isn't that far away. So as a company, we are definitely growing to meet the demand of our customers. And so that's really a good sign of things moving in the right direction. And we know ultimately, it'll be better for the environment. Right? If all passenger vehicles and eventually working vehicles move to electric, that's not a secret. I think overcoming insecurities around electric vehicles is a big hurdle that many of us still have to get over. And I think that as battery technology improves, more affordable models are available. And the increase in public use chargers which we see happening rapidly, more and more people will get on board what I'll call the EV train.


Trevor Freeman  14:00

Right? Yeah, that's great to hear. Okay, I'm going to shift gears a little bit here. So both of you are closer to the beginning of your career. I'm curious about how your experience so far has influenced how you see your own future path within the energy industry or elsewhere. Priscilla, why don't we start with you.


Priscilla Lacerda  14:18

Well, my current experience gives me a holistic view of the company, as it deals with different departments, which makes me think about pursuing a management career in the future.


Trevor Freeman  14:29

And do you see that - like, so you're in the distribution, part of the business now and specifically focused on reporting? Is that kind of where you have your eye or are you looking at other parts of the business?


Priscilla Lacerda  14:41

Well, working with distribution has always been rewarding for me. So I'd say I would like to continue to work with this. What makes me most fulfilled about the role that I'm currently playing is being able to help other departments identify possibilities for improvement in existing or new processes.


Trevor Freeman  14:59

Great, Alana, what about you?


Alana Jones  15:02

Um, I believe it's a really exciting time to be an engineer working in the energy sector, there are new and emerging technologies. It's fast paced, and there is an abundance of work to be done. I'm just excited to be a part of it. Um, the industry isn't going anywhere. And like I said, it's growing rapidly. So having the experience to work alongside some really bright people on the bleeding edge of these technologies, is a really great opportunity. And hopefully, I'll have a career in this for years to come.


Trevor Freeman  15:30

Awesome. So I'm curious to hear from both of you. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the energy industry right now? And Alana will let you kick that off?


Alana Jones  15:41

Yeah. I think one major challenge is having the infrastructure to support the electrification of buildings, homes, and all vehicles is a huge endeavor. And the grid needs to drastically increase in size and be ready to accommodate these future loads. And the pathway to net zero is a huge undertaking, and it will be challenging to achieve that, I believe. That's not to say it's not doable, but it's definitely a challenge and a massive investment. That being said, it's important to note that electrification changes are not happening all at once. Not everyone is switching to EV at the same time, or getting their buildings or homes all to net zero all at once. So I do believe that the Canadian grid is capable of growing gradually alongside those changes to be able to adapt.


Trevor Freeman  16:27

Great, Priscilla, what do you think?


Priscilla Lacerda  16:29

Well, one of the challenges the energy sector is facing right now is the urgency to meet the decarbonisation, and net zero targets. And this is driving significant electrification efforts across various sectors, as Alana just said, like transportation and construction, for example, because construction right now is changing, like the old heating and cooling gas systems for electric appliances. So being a key player in this scenario, Hydro Ottawa is working alongside partners, customers and suppliers to achieve our net zero goal for 2030. And also, we are committed to supporting our customers in their efforts to meet their own net zero targets amplifying our collective impact on sustainability.


Trevor Freeman  17:14

Yeah, great. I think you've both identified some pretty key challenges. And luckily, we've got great people like the two of you helping us get there. So I'm wondering if you guys have any advice that you would give to, you know, current students or people that are considering an engineering career or another career in the energy sector that you can pass on based on your experience? Priscilla, you can start us off.


Priscilla Lacerda  17:38

I would say seek opportunities, like internships or Co Op programs during your engineering studies. Because even though theoretical knowledge is essential. It's also important to know how to apply what you're learning in real life situations.


Trevor Freeman  17:54

Yeah, that's a great point, Alana, any great advice?


Alana Jones  17:57

Yeah, I agree, I would say absolutely get involved. It's a great opportunity to contribute to climate change solutions. I believe it's a stable industry with a ton of opportunities to learn about the latest and greatest technologies. As I mentioned before, I come from a mining community where it's not always stable. It's a very boom or bust industry. So when it's good, it's really good. But there are times the price of minerals drop and mines close, jobs are lost and communities become ghost towns. It's just not the same as it is in the energy sector. There is and will be for the foreseeable future and abundance of work and I believe in the need for skilled workers. So when choosing a path to take your career, I think the energy sector is one that I would highly recommend.


Trevor Freeman  18:40

Great, thanks for that. That's great to hear. Could you each talk about a misconception about the energy industry or your work that you think people might have that you'd like to, you know, let them know about?


Alana Jones  18:53

Sure. And a misconception around my work with electric vehicles and I see this a lot. I believe there's a lot of insecurities around EVs, so battery ranges, one especially in colder climates, like Ottawa. Battery technology, though, is constantly improving, and there are ways to mitigate the effects of the cold weather on your battery. Things like preconditioning your battery by turning it on, turning on the heat for even 10 minutes before driving. Some vehicles even offer a winter weather feature that helps keep the battery in an ideal temperature zone. Another aspect is that five years ago, the landscape looked much different when getting from point A to point B. Now public EV infrastructures are everywhere. When you look at the EV charging maps and cities. They're just covered and it's only getting better. The government just announced a $1.2 billion investment to build 84,000 chargers across the country by 2029. So it's likely you won't be able to go anywhere without seeing a charger. And I think as more and more chargers are put on the map people will be more accepting of the technology or realize that it's not going anywhere and realize that it is a huge opportunity for us individuals to reduce our carbon footprint. Lastly, I think it's difficult for people to commit to the initial investment into electric vehicles. I think for a lot of people, they see the price tag on an EV . And that prevents them from taking that leap, I guess. But initial investment and cost of ownership are two different things. My hope is that the government incentives continue, just to help the average Canadian consumer be able to afford an EV and make that initial shift, because studies show that operating costs are significantly lower than that of a gasoline fueled counterpart.


Trevor Freeman  20:32

Yeah, that's great. I think it's a really important kind of misconception to talk about. And I'm hopeful that we're starting to see a shift in that. And obviously, the, you know, great work that you guys are doing an inquiry is helping alleviate some of those concerns and challenges. Priscilla, what about you, what's a misconception that you want to address?


Priscilla Lacerda  20:51

So I would like to raise awareness to a common misconception that electrical engineering is only for men. I read on the internet that women represent less than 20% of the engineering professionals in Canada. And I think we need to encourage more women to be a part of the energy industry and let them know that they are capable of succeeding in this field.


Trevor Freeman  21:12

Yeah, that's a great one as well. And and I agree, having gone through kind of engineering school and obviously working in this industry, what I will say is, it's really refreshing and encouraging to have, you know, really smart, passionate people like the two of you, kind of coming up in our organizations and, you know, hopefully eventually taking on more and more roles and leadership roles. So great to have you guys here today and talk about it. So thanks very much for the conversation. So far, I really appreciate hearing more about your experiences, how you got to where you are and what you're kind of looking at moving forward. To wrap up our conversation, there's a bit of a tradition on the show to ask some rapid fire questions. For the regular listeners out there. Just be warned, I may have changed them up a little bit. So they might be a little bit different from what you're used to hearing. But it's fresh for the two of you. So why don't we dive right in you both ready for the rapid fire portion of the interview?


Alana Jones  22:10



Priscilla Lacerda  22:11



Trevor Freeman  22:12

Awesome. Okay, so we're gonna start with Alana. What is a book that you've read that you think everyone should read?


Alana Jones  22:20

1984 by George Orwell. Have a read if you have not already. You'll see its relevance throughout history and even present day and I find that very fascinating.


Trevor Freeman  22:31

Yeah, that's a good one. Priscilla, what about you?


Priscilla Lacerda  22:34

Well, for me, it's The Little Prince, because it seems like a simple story at first, but then it's actually very philosophical. And every time that I read, it makes me reflect a lot.


Trevor Freeman  22:45

Yeah, those are I mean, I'm not really supposed to provide commentary on the rapid fire part, but I'm going to anyway, those are both great answers. And great books like ones you can read over and over again and kind of get a little bit more out of it each time you read. So awesome answers to that. So same question, but for a movie or a show. What's a movie or a show that you think everyone should watch, Priscilla?


Priscilla Lacerda  23:08

So, a movie that I like very much is The Pursuit of Happiness, because it's about perseverance in adverse life situations.


Trevor Freeman  23:18

Great Alana. What about you?


Alana Jones  23:20

The Shawshank Redemption, I love a good comeback story.


Trevor Freeman  23:24

Nice, awesome. If somebody offered you a free round trip - just for the record, I'm not offering you a free round trip - But if somebody offered you a free round trip flight to anywhere in the world, where would you go? Alana?


Alana Jones  23:37

I would love to go relax in the south of France with some wine, the warm weather and tour around on a big old boat.


Trevor Freeman  23:46

Perfect Priscilla, what but you


Priscilla Lacerda  23:49

Scotland seems like a magical place to visit.


Trevor Freeman  23:53

Yeah, it sure was a great answer. Who is someone that you admire? Priscilla?


Priscilla Lacerda  23:59

So for me, it's my husband because he was truly brave to leave everything behind in our home country to emigrate with me.


Trevor Freeman  24:07

Yeah, that can't have been easy for either of you. Alana, what about you?


Alana Jones  24:11

I would also say my spouse, he's the hardest working person I know and a great provider. He's also the best dad, we have three young boys and they absolutely adore him. He can be out working all day and still come home with energy to wrestle and play with them. And he just teaches them so many useful life skills. And I really, really adore watching them learn from them.


Trevor Freeman  24:31

Awesome. That's great answer. Okay, so I mean, these are typically not topic relevant questions, but I'm going to slip one in here as part of our rapid fire section. What is an emerging technology or trend in the energy sector that you're most excited about and that you think will have a massive impact? Priscilla, why don't you start?


Priscilla Lacerda  24:51

So the trend of buying an electric vehicle in our daily lives is having a massive impact on how we need to prepare this system to absorb the growing demand for power in residential and commercial units. I think this will also have a huge impact on the environment too. Because electric cars batteries will need to be discarded or recycled once they reach their lifespan.


Trevor Freeman  25:15

Yeah, I think you're totally right EVs are kind of that first technology when we look at the energy transition, the one that's maybe the furthest along, there's others to come. But I think you're totally right. It's the one that really we're starting to see what some of the challenges and opportunities are for that. So great answer, Alana, what about you?


Alana Jones  25:34

Yeah, so an emerging technology I was recently introduced to a company that produces wireless inductive charging for vehicles. So if you can imagine, there are these charging pads, basically, they're placed in the ground, and your vehicle gets equipped with a receiver that when you drive over these pads, charging is engaged, there's no need for wires or plugs or even to step out of your vehicle for that matter. It just seems like a really great technology. And I'm really anxious to see if it will be in Ottawa anytime soon. If we'll be seeing that around.  Where do you see the applications for that? Is that like in parking garages? Or parking lots? Or is that something embedded in the road when you drive over it? Yeah, it is embedded in the road. So the company works with a few, they've already done these installations with a few other companies. One thing we're busing fleets. So they have these large buses that go in charge, instead of doing it at the depot, they can kind of go in their lane, and they're really fast charging, and things like that. So it's a good application for that for larger vehicles as well.


Trevor Freeman  26:33

It's definitely one of those sectors, or those areas that you know, some of the possibilities out there are pretty exciting to see about how we might, you know, envision our lives in the future. Makes you think of those, you know, articles or those magazines that say this is what life is going to be like in 2050. And imagine if we're all driving around charging our cars while we drive, I think that's pretty cool. Okay, well, thank you both for joining me today. It's been really great getting to know you and hearing a little bit more about what you do and how you got to where you are. I'm really excited for you both as you continue to chart your career paths and decide, you know, where your interests and your passions lie and kind of follow that. But really, I'm glad we've got smart folks like you who are going to be helping us shape the future of energy, maybe chasing down those roads that charge our cars. So thanks very much for joining me. I really appreciate it.


Alana Jones  27:21

Thanks, Trevor. I appreciate you having us on the show.


Priscilla Lacerda  27:24

Yeah, thank you very much. It was awesome.


Trevor Freeman  27:26

Great. Thanks, guys. To everyone else out there. Thanks for listening, and we'll chat next time. Thanks for tuning in to another episode of the thinkenergy podcast. Don't forget to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts, and it would be great if you could leave us a review and really help us spread the word. As always, we would love to hear from you. Whether it's feedback, comments or an idea for a show or guests. You can always reach us at [email protected]