We all know the destructive power of strong winds ! The world has witnessed the fury of nature in the form of hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons.
But our next pathbreaker, Midhun, literally calculates the power of strong winds and looks at things constructively.
Midhun is a Wind Engineer working on the next frontier of Energy Generation from Wind Turbines through Wind Farms.
He talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his journey in this fascinating field of renewable energy
Midhun, can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born and brought up in Kochi, Kerala. I studied Science with Mathematics until Plus two. Playing cricket was my favourite activity. Apart from that, I used to read books from my school days onwards.
In my childhood days, my biggest ambition was to join the Armed forces, which I could not fulfill.
Both of my parents are graduates. My mother is BA in Economics and father is B.Sc Physics. My mother is a housewife and father runs a small business back home.
What did you study after school?
I did B.Tech in Instrumentation & Control Engineering. Subsequently i did my PG Diploma in Wind Energy from Amrita Viswa Vidyapeetham.
Tell us about a few influences that shaped your career path
My Professor at Amrita University, Dr. K K Sasi was a huge influence in shaping my career. I got selected to study a sponsored Post-Graduate program in Renewable energy in 2011 under the mentorship of Dr. Sasi.
I joined my post graduation out of interest in the subject without much knowledge about Dr. Sasi who was the course coodrinator. I had a few classmates in Amrita who were taught by Dr. Sasi during their B.Tech, from whom I learnt about his interest and dedication in the field. He took the field with immense passion and our PG course was woven with lots of meetings with industry experts, workshops and field visits which was possible only because of his incessant efforts. By the end of the course we were very well prepared to face the industry than a regular PG course.
How did you get your first break?
I never had an internship, since I got my first job through my University. My CV was selected by ReGen Powertech from the list of CVs sent by the university. Later I was called for an interview and was selected. My Post Graduation was the biggest reason for the profile I am in now.
Tell us about your career path
ReGen Powertech is a manufacturer of Wind Turbine Generators (WTG). I was part of the Electrical Supply Chain team who managed the entire supply chain for the factory and the site. I joined ReGen as a Graduate Engineering Trainee (GET). ReGen was my first company. The WTG unit houses electrical equipment all the way from big generators to small relays to switches. The WTG design incorporates the specifications or design requirements of all equipment. Based on these specifications, the SCM team has to find out competent vendors who can supply these items at the best price. Since I was a GET there, my role was mostly in supporting operations. I had to go to the production factory with my Manager to discuss the requirements or discuss a new product or issues faced from an existing product or vendor. These discussions are mostly technical in nature where the production guy explains how a specific change in material or a newly implemented design change can improve performance. Our team works on these inputs, finds vendors and works on commercial negotiation. Once the vendor is approved by quality and production teams, our team supervises the logistics until the product reaches the factory or site for production. We also deal with payments to vendors.
My next job was at Orange Renewables. Orange in an Independent Power Producer (IPP), who owns and operates renewables projects. I was part of the EYA (Energy Yield Assessment) team there. When I joined, our team had only 3 members including me. Hence we had multiple roles. We had to identify new and unexplored wind potential sites for wind farm development.
A wind farm, or wind power plant, is a group of wind turbines in the same location used to produce electricity. We would install wind monitoring masts at prospective sites and conduct the EYA simulations based on collected data. Project developers who have prospective sites would approach Orange with the details of their site and data. Our team would then conduct due diligence on the details and run energy simulations if measured data is available and determine the AEP (Annual Energy Production). Our team also conducted third party EYA studies to get an independent view about the proposed projects, which we can present to any investor or lenders. In a nutshell, being a small IPP, our team had to manage every activity related to EYA in project development.
I currently work at Tractebel Engineering. Tractebel is an engineering consultancy, I work as Manager in the Renewables department. Since we are a consultancy, we work based on the Client’s requirement. During the first few years, I have been involved mostly in EYA of wind projects. Presently, I play a supporting role in solar projects also.
What were the challenges in your career path?
I got my first job during the time of recession. I had to compromise on the pay/compensation at that time. Renewables then was a less chosen career line. I had to fight the uncertainty within myself, family and friends. But, risks are always there in all career options. Limited companies are there in the wind industry. The entire spectrum of growth is limited within these organizations.
What are you doing currently?
I do Energy Yield Assessment of Wind Power Projects. Apart from this, I also do Operational data analysis of wind and solar plants. For this, knowledge about specific software is needed. Aptitude for data analysis and programming skills is also required and ability to handle excel for advanced calculations.
Before building any Power Plant, the owner/developer should know how much energy the plant will generate during its lifespan. With regard to wind farms, the energy generation is proportional (not linear) to the wind speed. So, in order to determine the annual energy production of a wind farm, first one should estimate the amount of wind available at the site. The annual energy production of a wind farm is a function of wind resource available at the site and the type of Wind Turbine Generator (WTG) which will be installed. So, EYA is the analytical process of determining the annual expected energy from a WPP by calculating the wind resource at the site and integrating it with the characteristics of the WTG being used. For determining the wind resource, a wind monitoring station will be installed at site and data will be collected for at least one year. WTG characteristics are provided by the various manufacturers. Finally, analysis is done using many commercially available software like WAsP, WindPro, WindFarmer, Meteodyn etc.
Since the renewable industry is dominated by private players and financial returns are dependent on the energy the wind farm generates, it is the most crucial determining factor for deciding the viability of a Project.
The theoretical basis was acquired during my PG. Hands on experience about the software was acquired at my first job. Later on, I kept on doing online courses to update myself.
My office timings are 9 to 6. I usually stick to these timings. For an EYA (Energy Yield Assessment) Project, client shares the data. I work on it and pass on the results. Later we will sit for meetings related to their comments or Dispute resolution.
I love the analytic part of the job very much. It is not everyone’s cup of tea. It needs focus and one need to apply their knowledge. The work demands a lot of patience.
How does your work benefit the society?
I work in Renewable energy. I think that’s enough for the explanation !!!!
Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!
During my tenure as a wind farm developer, I was working hands-on on the Wind Power Plant which was being developed in Madhya Pradesh. I was physically present at the site during the development of the project. Since EYA is the front engine of the project process, I was among the first few who visited the project. As an organisation, we faced many challenges, team members got changed in between and we were facing policy changes from the Govt. However, the project met its timelines and got commissioned within a year. As a young engineer and this being my first Project, it is special for me.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
To get the first job is easier than many of us envision. The tricky part is to survive: stay competitive, update yourself, stay motivated and adapt to the changes. I really stress on the point: being adaptive. Nothing is permanent nowadays.
To reach out to people in industry is very important. For that being productive one should back it up with sound knowledge of the industry. Contacts are not that important for the first job. Once you are in, contacts pay a major role in your growth.
I am currently focused in wind only. I plan to graduate further into other streams of renewable energy also. I will go for some courses in Finance also (MBA or CFA), just to add to my knowledge as I gain experience. Alongside this, I will also stay focused in data analytics which plays a major role in my current job.