A tale of transformation and enhancement

Nino Ficca

By Nino Ficca, AusNet Services retiring managing director

As I reflect on my time in the energy sector, the experiences span from the highest highs to the lowest lows. Interestingly, one thing remains constant. Out of these challenges come great opportunities for learning and growth. Ultimately, this leads to improvements and innovations complete with strong accountability.

The energy sector plays a critical role in modern society, which means the grid is continuously challenged to keep up with population growth and digital disruption. But the challenges are at the heart of the opportunity. I’ve seen incredible improvements in my time in the way we serve customers.

I’ve loved building on a legacy that helps and supports the growth of society. Some of my greatest experiences include my involvement in the development of Victoria’s 500 kV system, major innovations to substations in the CBD of Melbourne, the State’s first moveable package substations, the renewable revolution and solar roof top surge and soon, the story of storage.  As new challenges for the energy sector emerge, the next generation will build on that and they will continue creating greater outcomes for customers and the community.

Some experiences in the sector have been more challenging than others. They affected the community greatly at the time and I would not wish them upon anyone. They’ve reinforced the criticality of building great teams and made me more emphatic and committed to the role my values play in my life and business.

I’ve always drawn on my values of integrity, trust, honesty, safety and doing the right thing. I hope those around me over the years can see that I remained true to my values both in word and action. Whilst living to one’s values every day at work and home is difficult in practice, it is what I aspire to and what I expect from those around me. I believe in rewarding the right values, regardless of the outcome, to ensure that growth is created from any situation.

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As I prepare to retire from this industry after 38 years, what I’ll miss most are the people. I’ve been inspired, guided, advised and challenged by many. I’ve enjoyed being surrounded by people smarter than myself who complement me and in turn, inspire me to create the best possible solutions. My joy and reward comes from observing and working with our young apprentices, technicians and engineers, who are far more impressive than I ever was.

As I leave my post at AusNet Services, I’d like to challenge the industry on current views and paradigms and really embrace the technological advancements that are coming, in so far as they add value to consumers.

The most significant policy decision I witnessed in my career was the creation of the National Electricity Market. The interconnection of the eastern seaboard states, I believe benefited customers enormously from a security, reliability and price perspective. But more change is on the door step and the industry must again work together on the current challenges.

Consider the change in the current energy mix. The future adoption of hydrogen and the integration of grid level renewables and storage. If we can get the equation right, Australia is in a wonderful position to prosper from a very stable, predictable and affordable energy mix, from its natural resources, that will benefit consumers, industry and society as a whole for many years ahead.

Looking to the future energy landscape, networks will become significantly smarter. Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will fundamentally change how we operate and maintain electricity networks. This will result in better quality of supply and lower costs to consumers. In this context consumers will have more control of their energy, both how they source and use that energy.

The biggest change we’re seeing today is the introduction of roof top solar, grid scale renewable energy and storage. It is allowing customers to access energy services in a vastly different way. Ultimately smart meter data and functionality will enable consumers to better understand their usage patterns, manage their consumption and reduce their cost with little degradation to their lifestyle.

But change is needed if we are to reach a new paradigm. More stability and certainty in energy policy will inevitably lead to better outcomes for customers. Investors will certainly welcome this and further investment in all parts of the energy chain should follow.

We can expect to see the integration of electricity and gas markets at a far more significant level. We’re certainly going to see the electrification of our transport system, which will significantly change our consumption habits. For these reasons, the sector should remain flexible to accommodate any source of generation to provide energy across varying needs of different consumer groups.

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As the industry embarks on its next transformation, I see tremendously exciting job and career prospects. This is an area I would love and hope to see many participate in. I’d particularly like to see the benefits of a diverse workforce realised, especially the enormous skill set that comes with seeing more women in the sector.

The next chapter for the energy story in Australia is remarkably exciting. It will be everything it’s been in my career and more. Technological change benefiting consumers and industry, coupled with the changing fuel mix and natural resources that Australia has, presents a very exciting future.

The next phase of my life will be a great adventure. Not the traveling type of adventure, while that is clearly part of the plan, but learning and working in new industries, with new people and serving different customers. I’ll be watching young people I’ve worked with, to see how they grow and take up new roles in different industries and I’ll enjoy saying, “I knew them back when….”.

While the new chapter will be very different, my purpose in making a difference will not change. I hope I have as much fun and enjoyment in fulfilling my purpose in the next phase as I’ve had during my career in the energy sector.