Updating Results

Western Power

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

James Fletcher

I can choose what problems to work on and how to undertake solving them on a day to day basis. 

What's your job about?

I work in the Grid Transformation Function at Western Power, developing long term asset planning solutions for the business and our electricity network.

My work revolves around developing modules for a long-term planning project to determine the business’s optimal investment plan over a long term (30+ year) future. 

The development of each module loosely involves the following: 

  • Identify business needs through discussions with various subject matter experts (SMEs) across the business

  • understand both the technical constraints and the business requirements of the problem each module is addressing

  • create a design document for the data flow and technical component

  • develop the module and generate the discussed outputs (e.g. Python, Java, PLSQL)

  • store the data (e.g. Oracle SQL)

  • and receive feedback for any further updates. 

Development of these modules varies depending on the complexity, with some modules able to be completed in a day or two, while others require upwards of 12 months. 

Thankfully, the project is run in a research and development (R&D) style, meaning I have flexibility in my day-to-day work and can choose what I wish to complete on a given day and how I carry it out. For example, last week I implemented a module to determine the transfer capacity between zone substations (i.e. how much current can be transferred between substations), while also discussing hosting capacity analysis (i.e. how much rooftop PV can be installed on a section of network without surpassing technical constraints) with SMEs to formulate the technical and business aspects of the problem.

What's your background?

I grew up south of Perth and studied electrical engineering at the University of Western Australia (UWA). My honours project involved working with Western Power to determine optimal ways of supplying electricity to people living in regional WA. 

As I enjoyed working on the project, I decided to continue researching the problem at UWA and completed my PhD on the same topic. During my PhD I worked with Western Power part time as a contractor, applying my research to real life problems. 

After completing my research, I decided to expand my breadth of expertise through joining the graduate program at Western Power earlier this year. 

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Yes. If you are someone who enjoys problem solving, is self-motivating and has the capability to continue to learn on a daily basis then you would fit right in. With that said, if you didn’t have a background in electrical engineering or programming then you would face a steep learning curve.

As the role requires regular conversations with SMEs, you also need good communication skills to understand and articulate the exact nature of the problems you are addressing. 

What's the coolest thing about your job?

There are really four aspects of my job that I love.

  1. The complexity of the work: I am given the opportunity to work on the some fascinating projects.

  2. The impact on the operation of the business: I can see my work being used to make strategic decisions within the business and the broader industry. For example, the stand-alone power system projects.

  3. The flexibility within my role: I can choose what problems to work on and how to undertake solving them on a day to day basis. 

  4. The people I work with: My co-workers are all experts in the field and act as good role models to aspire towards. 

What are the limitations of your job?

Working on an R&D project, you are often not able to undertake a comprehensive design of the solution you are proposing as not all variables of the problem are known ahead of time. 

This can result in backtracking later in the project, which can be frustrating as the solution may be obvious in hindsight.

3 pieces of advice for yourself when you were a student...

  1. Make the most of the opportunities presented to you. Having a plan helps, but you can’t plan for what you don’t know. 

  2. Find a mentor(s). They’ll create a bunch of new opportunities for you!

  3. Get experience working in an industry setting while you’re studying. At the end of the day, unless you’re an academic, you’ll be working outside of uni.