Engineering in energy: Solar cars to service stations

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4 May 2016


As a teenager considering my prospective university pathways, engineering seemed an obvious progression from my abilities and interest in maths and physics. In high school I loved these subjects because they allow you to find objective solutions to problems, which each give you a small insight into the way the universe works. Consequently, I enrolled in a double degree, studying mechanical engineering and physics at the University of Adelaide, in my home state of South Australia.

Seven years later what I now love most about a career in engineering is collaborating with others to create tangible end products. The first opportunity I had to do this was in my honours project of my final year of study; when I, and 8 other students, founded Adelaide University’s first solar car team, to compete in the 2015 World Solar Challenge. This project allowed me to see our design concept become a built vehicle that would eventually race 3000km through central Australia, running purely on solar energy.

Teams in the competition can choose to enter the ‘Challenger’ class, optimising speed and efficiency, or the ‘Cruiser’ class, which favours more practical, passenger friendly vehicles. We chose the ‘Challenger’ class, meaning our design optimised aerodynamic, electrical and mechanical efficiency, while minimising overall weight. After a year of solar car design, reports, project management and long hours in the workshop, I moved to Melbourne to start working at BP. As the built vehicle was nearing completion, I made a successful proposal to the business, and BP joined us to become one of the team’s biggest sponsors.

For the competition itself, we arrived in Darwin, in Australia’s Northern Territory, a week before the race, and worked day and night testing the car and solving technical problems, while meeting the other 40 teams from all over the world. Once the race commenced, we started driving at 8am every day, broken only by the compulsory 30 minute control stops every few hundred kilometres, or technical setbacks. Each day at 5pm, teams had 10 minutes to find a suitable campsite by the side of the highway, and set up the car to charge from the last few sunlight hours. After 6 days, 3022km, and many flat tyres, we arrived in Adelaide!

Participating in the solar car project was one of the most challenging and stressful things I’ve ever done. The 2 year commitment pushed my boundaries to rapidly develop technical capability, project management, and teamwork and stakeholder management skills. These have been (and continue to be) crucial to my professional capability.

I am now working in a business that provides energy to one of the most unique, diverse, and remote countries in the world. As a graduate, I get the opportunity to work across a diverse range of BP’s operations in Australia; from delivering a project to upgrade switchboards across our retail network; to managing risk for our fuel systems nationally, or engaging with Kwinana, the country’s biggest refinery supplying products to our customers. I love working in this industry as it exposes me to some of the drivers of global economy, and I can contribute to the provision of energy that fuels worldwide development.

The energy industry is a complex and evolutionary industry to work in, however the critical thinking and problem solving skills that I have developed as an engineer have given me the confidence to tackle any challenge that I may come across.

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