Q&A Apr 20, 2021

Talking with Jacobs Global Director for Power, Pete Adams

Our Global Director for Power Pete Adams talks about the challenges surrounding the global energy transition, his recent move to the U.K. and #OurJacobs culture.

Picture of Pete Adams on right with his title on the left

Ahead of Earth Day and the one-year mark since we launched our Climate Action Plan, we caught up virtually with Global Director for Power Pete Adams to talk about his career, his recent move to the U.K. and the challenges surrounding the global energy transition.

Pete, you lead Jacobs’ global energy transition practice. Can you tell us a bit about what the energy transition actually is, and why it’s important?

Reducing emissions and reaching “net zero” on a global level will be one of the world’s largest and most pressing challenges of the coming decades. The impacts of climate change have become dramatically more noticeable in recent years, and it’s paramount that we act now if we want to tackle this problem in a significant way.

Part of the solution is what we refer to as the ”energy transition.” This is about shifting our electricity systems away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy, so that whenever we charge electric vehicles or flick on our lights at home, the power we use is coming from renewable sources, rather than finite resources that also pollute our planet.

One of the biggest challenges to that is making sure that those ‘clean’ energy systems are reliable – the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow, so how can we make sure that renewable energy is always available when you need it?

As Global Director for Power, my role is about working with our clients and teams across the world to develop strategies and implement projects that integrate an optimal mix of green energy generation, storage solutions and electricity infrastructure to achieve a successful energy transition that reduces emissions, supports reliability and strengthens livability outcomes for our communities.

What sparked your interest in a career in power and energy?

I started my career in operations and maintenance and I did an apprenticeship before I went to university. And as an apprentice, I was given the opportunity to engage in a rotational program where I got to experience all the different parts of the business. So I worked in buildings, processes and various other things. The organization I worked for actually had its own private electricity network and generation business, and it turned out that was the area I enjoyed the most. From that point onwards, I’ve always been really interested in the generation and transmission of electricity, rather than the use of electricity per se.

What’s your favorite part of your role?

Can I have two? Because I have two! I really enjoy partnering with our clients and helping them find solutions that make a positive difference to the world we live in. The other part is about helping our staff bring those solutions to life. I’ve plagiarized this saying from a colleague, but I think it epitomizes the spirit of what I love about my role – “we’ve got cool people, working on cool stuff, for cool clients.” I love the bright ideas that come out of our power and energy business, and the role that power solutions play in all the different markets we work with – from water to transport.

Can you tell us a bit more about those power solutions that support challenges in other markets?

An example that is less related to the energy transition but is really impressive is some of the work we’ve done for public transportation authorities around resilience planning to withstand and recover from extreme weather events. We’ve helped provide design and general engineering services on microgrids that provide reliable power for critical transit infrastructure – and importantly, these microgrids are capable of supplying highly resilient power during times when regional electricity grids may be compromised due to storms or other climate events. This is a great example of how our power business supports transport solutions for our communities so that life doesn’t have to come to a standstill every time a climate event hits.

What was your first job?

Once upon a time, I was a car park attendant. I also had a job where I was responsible for putting the jam in doughnuts.

We definitely have some questions about those doughnut-filling responsibilities, but maybe we’ll leave that for another time. What’s your proudest career moment?

I’m most proud of building Jacobs’ Asian power business from the ground up with the team. At the time, we had a presence in that region but most of the work was offshored to our teams in other parts of the world. We wanted to flip this so that we had local capabilities that understood the local conditions and could service local clients, but where we could still pull on world-leading expertise and learnings when we needed them. This was my career high because we went from nothing to being one of the strongest power businesses in the Philippines and Malaysia in the space of three or four years. And today, the Asia Pacific power business has grown even more, and is now the biggest across all of Jacobs’ regions.

From an organizational culture perspective, building local capability was also really important. Our teams don’t just want to work on global projects, they also want to serve the communities they live in. They want to be able to talk to their families and friends about the projects they’re involved with and say, “we were part of that.” It’s really something to be proud of.

You recently moved from Kuala Lumpur to the U.K. If you aren’t working, what would we be most likely to find you doing? 

Nowadays, you’ll most likely find me taking my kids surfing. What I would most likely want to be doing is surfing myself, but it’s too cold. So I just take the dog on a walk on the beach instead.

What’s a story that your family always tells about you?

When I was a kid I dyed my sister’s slippers with methyl orange with a chemistry set my dad bought me, and he never let me forget it because I also managed to dye the carpet at the same time.

… you need to tell us more about that one …

My dad was a chemist and he was always encouraging us to learn more about science, so he bought us a chemistry set - this was in the days before chemistry sets were more restricted and didn’t have anything explosive or dangerous in them. And in that chemistry set, there was this one experiment that involved methyl orange (imagine florescent orange dye). My grandparents had come to stay, so my sister and I had to share a room. And my sister was very proud of a pair of slippers she had. During my grandparents’ stay, I’d decided to go off and “play chemist.” I really looked up to my dad and I wanted to be like him, so I thought I would try one of the experiments in the chemistry set by myself. And being a kid, I didn’t use the right measurements and everything exploded everywhere … including over my sister’s slippers. Instead of telling my dad at the time - which I should have done because he probably would’ve had a solution to fix it - I decided I’d hide them.

And low and behold, when my grandparents left, I was in so much trouble. Not only had I hidden my sister’s slippers, but I’d dyed them bright orange. And to compound it, they also found a nice big patch where the orange dye had gone all over the carpet.

People would be surprised to know that ….

I lived in Syria for 12 months about 20 years ago. I was the sub-work stream lead for a European Union project looking at loss reduction for transmission systems. And while I was in the role, something that people would also be surprised to know, is that I was also invited to be a judge at a flower festival in a city called Holmes. Tragically, parts of that city have been destroyed since then. Holmes is in the middle of Syria and they think it was where modern agriculture was first developed. It was a fascinating place.

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

I really enjoy working with interesting people. I think we’ve got some fantastic people, and you can generally pick up the phone and find that somebody has the answer to your challenge. When you look across the business, we’ve got the skills to solve almost any problem. I went to a conference a while back where I sat down to dinner with one of our team from NASA. When I asked him what he does, he replied with “I’m on NASA’s selection panel for their next reusable spaceship.” I thought he was joking until he showed me the footage on his phone.

And finally, how are you fending off the COVID-19 stay at home boredom?

Well I’m blessed that I’m allowed to go out for a walk and exercise. I love my rescue dog from Malaysia and she absolutely adores living in the U.K. – she’s in doggy heaven. She’s called “Indiana Bones” and she’s got the best character and keeps us active. So fending off the COVID-19 boredom is quite simple for me – just take the dog out.