Systems Engineering: Towards Net Zero

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Susan McDonald is an award-winning mechanical and electrical engineer with over 10 years’ experience in overseeing major programmes in the power, utilities and renewables sector. Having previously led on the coordination of 12 offshore wind projects, Susan recently took a career break to help reimagine at-home COVID tests. She now applies her broad engineering and industry experience to help clients shape their net zero strategies.

In this episode of the Create the Future podcast, Susan tells us about her net zero mission and what it takes to design renewable energy solutions. We hear about her recent award-winning work to make COVID-19 testing fair and inclusive, discuss what it means to be a “human engineer”, and—being from a family of engineers herself—the importance of role models.

Episode Highlights:

  • “Engineers seek to find solutions. Systems thinking has got to be central to how we mitigate and provide solutions to climate change. This effort will need to embrace technology, policy, economics and behavioural change.”
  • "The principles and lessons learned from the COVID-19 project are really principles that we can take forward to best combat climate change. Being mission focused, outcome driven, collaborative and really committed to a co-design model."
  • “When I was 16 went on a study visit to NASA in Houston […] It was an extraordinary experience. The 'light-bulb' moment for me was being able to speak to astronaut Michael Foley while he was on board the International Space Station [...] You realise just how precious and vulnerable the planet is and the importance of protecting it.”
  • “In Scotland I did some summer work experience with a wind turbine manufacturer and it just sparked my interest in renewables. Before Deloitte, I worked with the National Grid and went on to lead 12 offshore wind projects. So, I've got to say, renewables are in my DNA.“
  • “I think most critically, as we look into the next 15-20 years, we need to ensure that when we are designing the solutions to net zero that we're creating a just transition. What I mean by that is we're not leaving anyone behind.“
  • “I’ve heard the terms recently, and I quite like them, ‘human engineer’ and ‘business engineer’. Effectively, engineers really focus on how to help build a better future for people and planet. It all comes back to that systems engineering approach, if you design something in a closed room, it's bound to be ineffective or not add value to society."
  • “What's important for me really is encouraging more women into STEM and help create an inclusive profession. Diversity and learning from lived experiences leads to more robust solutions [...] It’s all about role models. I had fantastic mentors in my career, of all backgrounds. I remember the importance of seeing a female engineering role model. That really helped break down barriers around what the art of the possible was.”
  • “As an engineer, we're in a very privileged position to be part of designing and engineering new products, services and programmes. I think it's really important that we take that responsibility to enable a green, low carbon future by designing products and services that are accessible to everyone. My motto is, ‘default accessible, default green’.”

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