Q&A: Talking with Nicola Wilkins, Senior Associate Renewable Engineer
Technical Leader and Chartered Engineer, Nicola Wilkins talks career, her passion for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our power supply and what she enjoys about being part of #OurJacobs.
At Jacobs, we think differently about the future because today’s climate change challenge demands innovative approaches to deliver a more connected, sustainable world.
With a fierce commitment to the spaces we inhabit, both globally and environmentally, we’re continually reinvigorating our efforts to be responsible stewards of the natural world, as we contribute forward-thinking sustainable solutions for our clients.
In our ‘future of energy’ series, we’re getting to know the next generation of leaders who are solving the world’s most pressing challenges in sustainability and will shape the energy industry of tomorrow.
For this interview, we connected virtually with Nicola Wilkins Jacobs’ Senior Associate Renewable Engineer to talk about her role in developing and supporting the delivery of renewable energy projects, the magic that inspired her journey towards a career in renewable energy technologies what she enjoys about being part of #OurJacobs. Read more in this Jacobs.com interview.
Tell us a bit about what you do at Jacobs.
I’m a Senior Associate Renewable Engineer. I assist clients to develop and execute their renewable energy projects in Australia and the Pacific. We support some of the largest energy companies and utilities in Australia. Some clients want to know whether a solar power plant and battery system would be a viable investment from both a technical and commercial point of view or require support for execution in the form of Owner’s Engineer services. I am also involved in performing due diligence for owners and potential vendors of renewable energy plants. As a technical leader and Chartered Engineer, I’m tasked with undertaking reviews of my peers’ work and enjoy coaching some of my less experienced colleagues.
What sparked your interest in an energy/sustainability career?
I was interested in renewable energy even when I was at school and read a lot of books on environmental and energy topics. I even wrote an essay for chemistry comparing the benefits and drawbacks of electricity from coal and solar sources. Generating electricity from the sun seemed to me to be like magic! I enjoyed physics and mathematics and chose to study engineering. However, at that time, there were limited possibilities to study or work in the application of renewable energy technologies.
I was accepted into a Graduate Program in the UK focussing on gas turbines, however I managed to convince my supervisor to let me undertake a three month rotation in the hydropower division, which included a (rather chilly) site visit to Inverness in February. I was hooked! I got my chance to move into renewable energy more permanently when a European Master of Science course started and following that I was eventually offered a job in Germany working on renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries.
What’s your favourite part of your role?
There is a wealth of power sector expertise at Jacobs. If I have a question on virtually any related engineering or environmental topic, there is someone at Jacobs who can answer it! The learning opportunities are therefore immense.
“We do things right”. This is one of Jacobs’ values. I keep this in the back of my mind when preparing work for clients and I know that support is available to help me when I need it.
The diversity of projects and clients means I can gain wide ranging experience without having to change employers. And it’s possible to progress within Jacobs in a technical stream without having to go into people management.
Your work is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our power supply. Can you share how this shapes the world around us?
The transition to renewable energy is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our power supply. This is something that I’m passionate about and can see that my efforts directly contribute to achieving this goal. Although we don’t have a national policy or goal to reduce emissions, the states and territories are leading the way and the private sector are investing heavily in renewable energy power plants.
In the same vein, I am pleased that Jacobs has achieved net zero carbon in 2020 and has committed to achieving carbon negative by 2030.
What’s something you learned in the last week?
That in western Australia, fuses in solar farm combiner boxes can blow on very hot days! Ambient temperatures can reach over 40°C. The solution here is to install a canopy over the box to limit the UV rays and therefore the heating effect of direct sunlight.
Proudest career moment?
Being awarded the Clean Energy Council Women in Renewables scholarship. One scholarship is awarded each year to support emerging women in the renewable energy industry in Australia. I undertook the Australian Institute of Company Directors Foundations of Directorship course and accepted several public speaking invitations and networking opportunities. Speaking in front of an audience of 300 people at an industry conference was exciting!
I am now a member of Engineers Australia Electrical College Board and the Queensland Government’s Electrical Equipment Committee, advising on and supporting the electrical engineering profession and the safety and regulation of electrical equipment including solar and batteries respectively.
If you aren’t in the office, what would we be most likely to find you doing?
When I’m not in my home office, I’ll usually be at the beach! I enjoy swimming and surfing. Alternatively, as a member of the local surf lifesaving club, I’ll be on beach patrol as a surf lifesaver. This is something I like to do to give back to my community. Otherwise, I’ll be playing saxophone in one of several bands.
People would be surprised to know…
That I am an identical twin. My sister and I look quite similar and if we’re walking down the street together, people often do a double take. At school we had been known to trick our teachers by swapping classes (it worked for one teacher, at least)!
I’m also fluent in German as I used to live in Germany and was, in the past, fluent in Indonesian.
What do you enjoy most about being part of the Jacobs family?
There are quite a few things that I enjoy about being part of the Jacobs family.
The career development and opportunities for learning are extensive. It’s possible to relocate or work temporarily overseas with Jacobs or even be seconded to work full-time within a client’s business.
Support is provided to prepare for your next opportunity within Jacobs by developing the competencies needed for the next level of seniority. I receive honest and constructive feedback on a regular basis, which helps me to improve my skills.
Jacobs’ Culture of Caring and support services for positive mental health and wellbeing such as One Million Lives (which is available to everyone) is something that Jacobs puts a lot of effort into so it’s comforting to know they are available if I need them.
Remote and flexible working means that ‘face time’ in the office is not a criterion for success. This means I can fit work in with my life, not the other way around!
At Jacobs, we're challenging today to reinvent tomorrow by solving the world's most critical problems for thriving cities, resilient environments, mission-critical outcomes, operational advancement, scientific discovery and cutting-edge manufacturing, turning abstract ideas into realities that transform the world for good. With $14 billion in revenue and a talent force of approximately 55,000, Jacobs provides a full spectrum of professional services including consulting, technical, scientific and project delivery for the government and private sector. Visit jacobs.com and connect with Jacobs on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.