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Meet the Innovators: Lynne McDonald, UKPN

Lynne McDonald, DSO readiness programme manager and local area energy planning manager at UK Power Networks (UKPN), reflects on more than a decade in the utilities sector and outlines her anticipation of greener lifestyle options to surprise and delight customers during the net zero transition.

What was your first job in the utilities sector?

My first ever job in the utility sector was a trainee engineer/scholar back in 2005. I was over the moon to have gained a scholarship with the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) Power Academy during my master’s degree at the University of Strathclyde.

Through the IET scholarship, I had the opportunity to go on work experience placements with EDF Energy Networks each summer – my favourite of which would have to be the London Olympic 2012 Readiness programme. As well as winning me cool points among peers it was an honour to get a small glimpse of the great minds and importance of teamwork preparing the infrastructure for a world-class sporting event.

What work experience or qualifications did you have before moving into the industry?

I studied my master’s in electronic and electrical engineering. My final year project looked at flexible connections, and when I joined UKPN my first big project was innovation project Flexible Plug and Play. The project explored how to facilitate more wind and solar to connect faster and cheaper.

What is the most significant way that today’s utilities sector differs from the one you first joined?

There is so much that has changed! Take electric vehicles (EVs) – when I started in 2010 there were only 2,500 EVs across the UK. Looking today at UKPN’s footprint alone, there are 150,000 EVs and using our data forecasting and extensive modelling we forecast up to 355,000 by 2025. Looking beyond to 2028, we predict between 1.6 million and 2.7 million EVs on our networks.

What is your golden rule for overcoming challenges at work generally?

Be brave, be kind and do it with a smile. My view is if things were easy and without challenge they would not present the same rewarding personal and professional growth opportunities.

How would you describe your creative process in three words?

Curious, collaborative and captivating.

What’s an interesting place that working in the utilities sector has taken you?

Engineering opened doors and enabled me to travel and learn from other countries and continents. As the saying goes, “the future is already here, it is just somewhere else”. For me I always had a desire to travel with my work, and I feel extremely privileged this has been possible and supported by those supporting my career.

Interesting places I’d call out would be:

Brazil – I was there as a keynote speaker at the Brazil-UK Frontiers of Engineering symposium in partnership between the Royal Academy of Engineering and the São Paulo Research Foundation.

Japan – My engineering manager and head of department put me forward to be a member of the UK smart cities team of subject matter experts to Japan funded by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.

Honk Kong, Singapore, and Chicago – I have taken real pride in being part of a global utility working group where we are sharing knowledge and best practice across utilities and building long lasting friendships

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

A good dose of perseverance and conviction helps to drive change. These two ring true in meeting the challenge ahead to facilitate net zero.

What do you think is the key to creating the conditions for innovation within the utilities sector?

Three key things that I have found to have enabled an innovation-friendly culture include:

Adopting a mentality of continual improvement – as they say, “leave it better than you found it” – and don’t stand still, always ask what could be better and learn in time what is and isn’t working, and adapt.

Empowering others to share their ideas, thoughts, and challenges. Make space in meetings for open discussion and listening sessions. Every individual brings with them their different backgrounds, skills, interests, experience, and exposure and when converged can drive forward meaningful advancements.

Embracing and responding to suggestions. It is important all ideas are acted upon, I do not mean that all are put in practice, though they each must be assessed, and for a loop back to the colleague or customer if it is being taken forward or not, this transparency on “what we are doing” and “what we are not doing and why” is vital so as to encourage colleagues and customers to share their perspectives.

What excites you most about the next 10 years in the utilities sector – any trends, tech or specific innovations?

What excites me the most has to be seeing what choices for greener lifestyles are made available to customers. Where, and how these are presented creatively, and how these are designed and made to delight customers. Net zero is an important matter for society and it can be achieved through enjoyment.

I remember my amazement years back walking into Ikea to buy a flat pack and they were advertising a solar and storage package offer for the home. Also, my first London “green” cab journey with friends, we could not stop staring out of the panoramic roof to catch a glimpse of the London landmarks along our electric journey.

So, I am excited to see what, where, and how green choices pop up in the future. As the more they permutate and appear in every day moments demonstrates there is increasing accessibility and equitability for customers to choose green.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the utilities sector at present?

It is vital we attract and retain a diverse workforce as people are at the heart of shaping and helping us to successfully achieve net zero.

I would encourage everyone to get involved in outreach activities and pay it forward. I certainly benefitted from career talks when I was navigating my school, university, and professional career journey.

Programmes including Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Ambassadors, Inspiring the Future, Urban Synergy, the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, among many others, play a valuable role in enabling schools, students, and families to connect with industry volunteers to discover role models and careers roles and routes.

For me volunteering with these programmes has given me the opportunity to play my small part to promote engineering and hopefully inspire others to consider a STEM career.




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