Ali Walsh

Ali Walsh

University of Adelaide
Substation Engineer
Ali studied Bachelor of Electrical & Electronic Engineering (Honours) at University of Adelaide

What's your job about?

SA Power Networks is responsible for the distribution of Electricity to South Australians. One of the important components of that is the construction of Substations to convert the power from high ‘transmission’ voltages to lower ‘distribution’ voltages. I work in the substation design group designing new substations and upgrades of old substations to meet the current and future needs of the community.

This includes creating CAD drawings showing where new equipment will be built (called primary design) and the checking and verification of these drawings to ensure they are safe and meet Australian Standards. It also involves creating other CAD drawings showing the wiring in the control rooms (called secondary design) to do things such as, ensure that we get alarms, for example when high voltage power goes off; and ensure the lines are protected so they turn off if they have been damaged, such as by a tree branch, or could be damaged, such as by an overload. We have also been doing 3D design work for new substations, which involves creating the CAD drawings in a 3D environment using models of equipment.

As an engineer my role also includes doing calculation reports to check things such as cable sizes for large sites, and earthing system inside substations to make sure they are safe; also the verification of designs to ensure that the designed substation satisfies the scope and needs of the project being implemented.

What's your background?

I’m born and bred in Adelaide, South Australia and grew up in the Adelaide Hills. I’ve always been interested in Science and Maths and love to know why things do what they do and how they work. When I was in year 10 I got the opportunity to do work experience with ElectraNet, they handle the transmission of high voltage electricity around South Australia and supply the electricity to SA Power Networks system. I was particularly fascinated by their control room, they had a wall with a map of their network with lights showing what was carrying power and what wasn’t. I wanted the opportunity to make things like that work.

I went from school to University and studied science and engineering because I was so curious about the world. I started studying Aerospace engineering, because everyone loves planes, then swapped to avionics and electronic systems engineering when I realised it was the blinky light units in the cockpit of a plane I wanted to build rather than the wings and frame. Then towards the end of my degree I swapped to Electrical and Electronic engineering when I realised that it would give me more scope in the job market and allow me to get back into the power industry that had started my fascination in year 10.

When I graduated I applied for the SA Power Networks graduate program as it is one of the best around and has so much scope for a young engineer. I was accepted and after finishing Uni in the middle of 2013 and spending 5 months in Europe spending all my savings I started work in Feb 2014.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Absolutely! There are people at SA Power Networks from so many different backgrounds and they each bring a slightly different way of thinking about problems which is invaluable in a creative environment like engineering. What you need is curiosity, the desire to think about and nut out problems, the ability to collaborate with, learn from and teach others and develop the technical skills vital to engineering.

What's the coolest thing about your job?

Two things, I love problem solving and I love seeing the practical outcome of the work I do. When I do a design and I get to go out on site and see what I draw built it is really cool. I also really like the fact that when my designs get built that helps keep peoples lights on and air conditioners running. I also really enjoy nutting out new problems and learning new skills, I am currently new to the process of designing earth grids and the technical and practical considerations are combined to make a really interesting problem to solve, balancing the cost and practicality of different options to achieve the best technical outcome.

What are the limitations of your job?

Engineering can involve working long hours if a project deadline is approaching and something needs completion. Engineers are also required to keep their technical skills up to date in their own time, with things like professional development, which can be time consuming also. Engineers sign off on designs so your skills and knowledge must be suitably up to date to ensure you are only signing off things that are safe and functional, particularly as these things can hurt people if they go wrong.

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

  • The soft engineering skills (like project management and communication skills) are as important in the role as the technical ones are so make sure you keep working on those too.
  • Keep up the good savings habits, it means when you start earning a real wage you will already be a good saver and can save a house deposit quickly.
  • Keep working hard, the hard work you put in now does and will pay off with an awesome job and a world of opportunities.