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Q&A: Talking with Gareth Forwood, Jacobs Senior Renewable Energy Engineer

Gareth Forwood Jacobs’ Senior Renewable Energy Engineer shares insight to his role in the development of solar power energy projects, what sparked his interest in solar energy and thoughts on building resilient renewable infrastructure.

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.

Gareth Forwood Jacobs’ Senior Renewable Energy Engineer to talk his role in the development of solar power energy projects, what sparked his interest in solar energy and shares some of his recent learnings and thoughts on building resilient renewable infrastructure.

Tell us a bit about what you do at Jacobs.

In a nutshell, I support key project stakeholders in the development, design, construction, commissioning and operation of utility-scale renewable energy projects (primarily solar power).

My role comprises comparison and selection of renewable energy technology options, feasibility studies, concept design development, design assessment and optimisation (including energy yield, cost of energy, and aviation glint and glare assessments), development of contractual documentation development (technical specifications and performance and availability guarantees), tender evaluation and negotiation, and review of contractors’ designs and works against contractual documentation, project milestone certification, supervision of commissioning and handover, and assessment of operational performance and issues.

My typical clients include lenders and other financiers, insurers, developers and contractors.

What sparked your interest in a renewable energy engineering? 

I always seemed destined to be an engineer or something similar. As a kid, I would build Lego kits following the instructions and then promptly take it apart and build something that had an extra feature or was just entirely different. I also made a mud mix, formed it and let it dry into “sealed” roads for my toy cars in the back garden. I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of working out how to achieve something I’d never done before.

While I was in high school, University of New South Wales (UNSW) presented a couple of times on their new solar energy engineering course. The technology seemed so new and exciting, and the challenge of implementing a new technology that had the potential to significantly change the world really appealed to me. Since that moment I haven’t looked back.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

I get a lot of satisfaction from solving practical engineering problems, big and small. Sometimes it may be as simple as working out a way to efficiently track the progress of design reviews. Or as complex as commissioning a solar and battery system on a remote tropical island without causing a blackout. If I can do that while being on a site visit to that island, all the better!

How is the transition to renewable energy shaping the world around us?

I think now it’s hard to deny the monumental impact that renewable energy is having and will have on the world. While some of the impacts are quite abstract, a more immediate change I noticed was recently during the commissioning of a solar and battery system at Lord Howe Island. The island has historically generated electricity using diesel generators. Just after switching to the solar and battery system the first thing I noticed was the quiet – the light breeze in the trees and the birds nearby were louder than the quiet fans of the battery. And compared to the noise and pollution of the diesel, it was a world of change.

Something that struck me recently is that, even though we are building renewable energy at a remarkable pace, the infrastructure still needs to be resilient to the impacts of climate change (i.e. higher temperatures, increased frequency and severity of flooding events). It just hit home that the job of transitioning Australia and the rest of the world to a truly sustainable future is just beginning and that we have a lot more work to do. However, that realisation in itself is exciting – it presents all the more opportunity to make a significant difference in our future.

What’s something you learned in the last week?

Just how much the cost of solar power is reducing. Around six years ago I was seeing pricing of about US$1.00/watt for the supply of solar panels. Nowadays prices have dropped by as much as 80% from that value for large-scale projects. Similar downward trends have occurred for wind power and, possibly most importantly right now, for batteries. It’s great to see that combinations of these technologies are now directly and effectively competing with fossil fuel technologies.

Proudest career moment?

In a previous consulting role, I was the project manager for a project management / owner’s engineer role for a large solar farm in New South Wales (NSW.) At more than 300MW in solar generating capacity, it is the largest solar farm in Australia (for now).

The project covered more than 800Ha of land and comprised over 800,000 solar panels. Driving end-to-end in the site took 30 minutes. The design and construction required an exceptional degree of coordination, hard work and expertise by workers from an immense array of backgrounds, disciplines, and businesses. Seeing that project come together, and seeing construction progressing literally as far as the eye could see, was immensely rewarding.

 

Gareth at Warrumbungle National Park

 

If you aren’t in the office, what would we be most likely to find you doing?

I would either be out in the wilderness or on my computer working on some landscape photography. My most recent overseas trip was to Breckenridge, Yellowstone National Park and Bryce Canyon in winter which was a magical experience. Closer to home, I recently visited Warrumbungle National Park near Coonabarabran which offers amazingly clear night skies, and I find endless opportunities to enjoy and photograph nature in the Blue Mountains.

What do you enjoy most about being part of the Jacobs family?

My team at Jacobs is wonderfully caring of its people in terms of personal safety and mental health. There are fantastic resources available globally, and my immediate team has regular check-ins and “Culture of Caring moments” at the beginning of meetings.

I’m also so impressed with the knowledge sharing opportunities at Jacobs. So many of my colleagues are ready for a chat about their field of expertise and will happily spend an hour explaining the intricate detail of the particular topic of the day. I learn so much every week!

About Jacobs 

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 FacebookInstagramLinkedIn and Twitter.

 

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