Career highlight for IET Fellow at EEA

Electrical Engineers Association (EEA) annual conference 19-21 June 2013, Auckland, New Zealand

The New Zealand EEA conference is an annual event that brings together power engineers and interested parties from across NZ with a small number of international participants.  The event can be regarded as a national CIRED conference: There are 4-5 tracks running parallel presentations of technical papers covering a full range of power engineering subjects.  There are circa 60 exhibition stands, showing off local and international products and services.  The conference starts after lunch on the Wednesday and runs through until Friday afternoon.  The conference is preceded by one and half days of EEA workshops and senior meetings organised by the Electricity Networks Association (ENA) of NZ.

I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to represent the IET at this event by giving one of the keynote addresses at the start of the conference.   The IET and the IEEE are invited by the EEA each year to give a keynote address as part of maintaining a working relationship between these three professional organisations that have a shared interest in professional development and knowledge exchange.  My counterpart from the IEEE was Prof Henry Louie of Seattle University.  In addition to the keynote address, I was also asked to give presentations to the EEA Asset Management group workshop; the ENA CEO’s forum and two IET local network presentations, one in Christchurch and one in Auckland; it was originally planned to hold a third event in Wellington but this could not be organised in time. 

My opening address was titled Moving from Passive to Active – A view on what drives the way we operate electricity networks in the UK.  I used this presentation to introduce some of the challenges that we are facing in the UK and how professional engineers are stepping up to the plate to overcome these challenges.  My talk looked at three key areas of influence: Ageing distribution networks; Ageing workforce; and Environmental targets.  Managing these challenges is a common theme for many developed countries around the world, therefore I was pleased that my talk resonated with the NZ audiences.  

For the IET local network ‘Prestige Lectures’ in Christchurch (24/6) and Auckland (26/6) I delivered a presentation titled “If Smart Grids are the Answer, then what is the Question?”.  This was essentially an extended version of the presentation that I delivered as my keynote speech to the EAA conference but with added emphasis on the drivers on UK network operators to embrace low carbon technologies.  The Auckland lecture had 38 attendees and the Christchurch lecture was attended by circa 20 people.  Both lectures appear to have been well received and stimulated some good quality questions.  I must give thanks to the two Local Network Chairman, for their support, guidance and excellent hosting (Frank Lewis in Auckland; and Alisdair Reid in Christchurch) these two gentlemen, along with their LN colleagues, made the visit pleasurable and administratively easy.

Regarding the IET’s presence in NZ, it is recognised by those in ‘the know’ but the profile is very low.  There are a small number of very loyal, hardworking volunteers that are doing their best to keep the IET alive in NZ, however they really need support and assistance if they are to recruit, engage and retain new members.  The quality of the presentations and the enthusiasm of the participants at the EEA conference tells me that there is a true engineering spirit in NZ engineers, a can do attitude that is all too ready to embrace change and play their full role in advancing engineering excellence.  

In thinking about how to grow the IET’s presence in NZ I would like to propose a few initiatives for the IET to consider:

1. Engineering articles: Encourage UK and NZ engineers in the power engineering sector to submit technical papers that describe projects that they are currently working on, such as the papers that were presented to the EEA conference.  The format and style of the articles could be as per the former Power Engineering Journal.

2. NZ / UK exchange programme. I believe it would be a good idea if the IET could encourage / support an exchange programme, where young engineers / students from the UK are given the opportunity to correspond with a buddy in NZ working in a similar field such that they can exchange knowledge and experiences, facilitated by the IET and the EEA.  This could lead to a competition where each pair of engineers are encouraged to submit papers as per 1) above, with the winning entries being awarded the opportunity of an exchange visit, which would see the winners travel to UK and NZ to spend some time working with their buddy.  If successful this initiative would help to further cement relations between the IET and the EEA; and it would help to grow the IET’s presence in NZ.  If successful this initiative could be applied to other countries.

3. Offer overseas members a reduced subscription to join the IET on the basis that being overseas they don’t get access to the numerous IET events that are run in the UK each year.  One of the regular complaints that I heard from NZ engineers was the cost of IET membership for an organisation that is based outside of NZ and appears to offer little to NZ engineers.  A lower membership fee might encourage more to join and grow the IET’s footprint in NZ?

Some observations to those who might be offered the opportunity to represent the IET in 2014:

♦ Number of presentations: At the start I was asked to produce and deliver one presentation, a keynote address to the EEA conference.  In the end I actually delivered five presentations; the only way that I could deal with this challenge was to produce a large presentation that covered a wide topic area and then use this as a selection box from which I could construct four subtly different presentations.

♦ EEA:  The hospitality and hosting provided by the EEA was first class; Peter Berry and his staff took care of my every need.  If / when Peter ever comes to the UK we need to ensure that he is looked after equally well.

♦ Local network volunteers.  The volunteers in Christchurch and Auckland were excellent hosts, arranging hotels and venues for the evening lectures; a great achievement when one realises that they all have day jobs and they are giving up their own time to make the visit go to plan.  Unfortunately the IET volunteers in Wellington were unable on this occasion to host an evening lecture; they cited the relatively short notice as the reason – the delay was due in part to me having to amend the title and content of my presentation to meet the request of the LN chairmen.  It would have been good to give three LN lectures, therefore we need to make sure that the LN’s are given plenty of advance notice of the topic and dates.

I would like to close by thanking the IET for giving me the opportunity to represent the Institution at the EEA conference and LN meeting in NZ, it was a true privilege that I will log as one of the highlights of my career to date.

John Sinclair MBE B. Eng (Hons) FIET
Group Director of Operations
EA Technology Limited