Hard-wired for electrical workAs a young electrical technician in the late 1990s, Simon Hickey was part of the team that connected the Ernest Henry, Century and Mt Gordon mines up to the grid in north-west Queensland.
Today he is dealing with a new wave of development as he turns his skills to standard design requirements substations to handle the large-scale solar plants that will soon be feeding into the network throughout the north.
Mr Hickey is a senior substation standards engineer with Ergon Energy and the 2017 Chair of the Engineers Australia Townsville Regional Group.Despite sticking with the government-owned utility since beginning an apprenticeship with what was then NORQEB in 1990, his career has included a variety of challenges thanks in a large part to Mr Hickey’s embrace of professional development opportunities.
He is a keen advocate of the sector as a rewarding choice of profession.
“In the electrical industry there are so many different opportunities, it’s a diverse discipline,” he said.
“I’m in a utility and I love what I do, but I’ve got friends and relatives who have worked with me and gone on to work in mining or manufacturing, and work in other roles too – diversifying into things like operational controls and project management.
“The electrical industry is a great place to be at the moment, especially with all the innovations that are coming through with large-scale solar power.”
Mr Hickey’s career choice was influenced by his love of physics at school and elder brother Paul’s work in the electrical instrumentation field with Mount Isa Mines.
Born in Mount Isa, Mr Hickey moved to Townsville with his family at 10 and began an apprenticeship as an electrical fitter/mechanic when he left school.
“I decided I wanted to get into the more technical side of electrical work so I completed a four–year associate diploma part time,” he said.
“Then I got a job in a testing and commissioning group working for NORQEB.
“We had some interesting jobs back in those days.
“That was when they kicked off Ernest Henry mine (near Cloncurry), so we built and commissioned the line and the substations at Mica Creek (Mount Isa) and Ernest Henry and then later on we did Gunpowder (Mount Gordon) and Century.
“We were building a 220kV network which was the first network of its size in our region. They were fun and interesting times.
“… Some of the guys I used to work with who are still out there in the field have just completed a connection to Dugald River (zinc mine).
“So it is now fed out of Chumvale – one of those substations I was involved with in the early days.”
Mr Hickey said he had left that role after seven years to take an office job in substation design.
“I had a young family and had bought one too many birthday presents at the airport coming back from Mount Isa,” he said. “I said to my wife ‘it’s time for a change’.”
Mr Hickey completed a Bachelor of Engineering Technology (electrical and electronic) degree through the University of Southern Queensland. This was followed by a Master of Engineering Practice (power systems engineering) degree that included recognition for prior learning as he took on more senior roles with Ergon.
As senior substation standards engineer, his role now includes addressing some of the challenges involved in introducing more renewable energy sources to the electricity system.
“We now have situations where renewable generators want to connect at the end of long lines that were never designed for power to flow back to the coast.” Mr Hickey said.
He is looking into substation options including dead tank switchgear which have smaller footprints and may be quicker and cheaper to install. Also plant lifecycles must align with contract requirements
Meanwhile the Hickey electrical attraction continues through the next generation – with daughter Samantha having completed an electrical engineering degree.
“She just got a job in Townsville as a medical engineer, doing things like testing and reviewing details of medical equipment making sure it fits the purpose and available when needed,” Mr Hickey said.
“The medical industry is growing markedly and is highly technical. Once again this shows how diverse the opportunities are within the electrical engineering profession.”