Spotlight: Andrew Reynolds, Performance Engineer at E.ON
Tell us a fun fact about yourself
I used lockdown during COVID-19 to develop new skills, one of which was learning how to complete a Rubik’s Cube. My current personal best is 1 minute 8 seconds - I am hoping to get underneath 1 minute soon!
Tell us about your career journey so far
I knew I wanted to work in engineering from around 14 years old, following a one-week work experience placement at Dounreay nuclear power station. I applied for a couple of apprenticeships but ultimately wasn’t successful, so ended up staying at school to study my Highers.
After finishing school, I moved to Edinburgh to study Mechanical Engineering at Heriot-Watt University. During summers between university, I worked at Kongsberg Maritime (now Imenco) in Wick, Subsea 7 in Wester, HWEnergy in Fort William, and E.ON in London. I was also lucky enough to study abroad during my third year of university in Lausanne, Switzerland, where I learned French and went travelling during time off!
After university, I joined an engineering graduate scheme with E.ON: one of Europe’s largest energy companies. I completed placements in the UK, Germany and Sweden, working with wind turbines, batteries, and other energy technologies. I am passionate about climate change and wanted to be part of the transition away from non-renewables (such as coal and gas) to renewable and low-carbon energy sources.
For the last two years, I have worked as a Performance Engineer in London. My job is to improve the financial and technical performance of power plants in the District Heating industry. I lead projects with budgets of several hundred thousand pounds, and manage teams of people to make sure that projects are completed safely, on time and on budget.
What was your favourite subject in school and why?
Physics was definitely my favourite: I found most of the topics interesting, and I liked the fact it wasn’t just theoretical with textbooks and exams, but that there were practical experiments to keep it exciting!
What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?
Physics and Maths, because of the problem-solving skills you learn in both. These weren’t completely obvious during school but are hugely useful to me now.
I also studied a subject called Technological Studies – I’m not sure if this is taught across all schools but if available, would recommend to anyone considering a technical/engineering career. It covered electrical, electronic and mechanical engineering topics, and I used a huge amount of this during university.
What is your favourite thing about your job?
The travelling is fun and has allowed me to see lots of interesting places, but my favourite thing is that I have freedom to do what I think is right for the company. Even though I am relatively young, my team trust my skills and experience, and if I have an idea of how to make things better, they give me the support to help make it happen.
Companies really benefit from young people joining because they see things from a different perspective. Whichever company and industry you decide to pursue, always be curious and ask questions about things you don’t understand. There is no such thing as a stupid question, and you will gain huge amounts of knowledge from properly understanding your surroundings.
What is a normal day in your role like?
Each week, I typically spend 3 days in the office, and 2 days on site at our power plants. When I am in the office, typical tasks include analysing data to identify where our sites aren’t operating correctly, planning projects to try and fix issues, and learning about new technologies to find opportunities to use it within our business.
When I am on site, it is usually to investigate sites that are not performing as we would expect. We run tests to understand if the system is operating correctly, and brainstorm to understand what improvements could be made. When an improvement project is underway, I supervise the works to make sure tasks are completed safely and correctly.
I am lucky to have a role which is extremely varied, and most days are different which keeps things exciting! For everything I do, good communication, team-working and problem-solving skills are hugely useful.
Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?
A huge amount of my role is looking at complex systems and breaking them down into their individual parts to understand where a problem may exist. It sounds simple, but you can gain a huge amount of knowledge from looking at objects around you at home, trying to understand how they are built, and how all their parts work together to allow the object to function.
A great example of this is a bicycle: learning some general maintenance skills (such as oiling the chain and changing brake pads) is a great way to improve your practical skills and technical understanding. The same approach can be taken for musical instruments, furniture, etc - look around you at home and you are guaranteed to find plenty of examples!
For fun DIY projects and learning practical skills, check out Instructables (https://www.instructables.com/). I have used this for everything from basic household tasks to building a self-driving solar-powered vehicle as part of a university project.
To understand the different energy sources we use to power the UK, check out Drax Electric Insights (https://electricinsights.co.uk/#/dashboard?&_k=69ias6). Recently, we have stopped using coal and have more energy from wind turbines than ever before! However, we still have a long way to go if we are to mitigate the effects of climate change.
For everything else, Google and YouTube are your friends. Most new information and skills are only a couple of clicks away, so please use the great resources available to you!