With a long-standing passion for STEM, Dr Asma Aziz is now spearheading research into distributed energy resources at Edith Cowan University.
Transitioning to net zero – a target that Australia is committed to reaching by 2050 – will require greater utilisation of renewable energy sources.
Electrical power engineers such as Dr Asma Aziz from Edith Cowan University, who has dedicated her professional life to researching renewable energy, play a critical role in helping Australia to realise this goal.
Shaping the future of renewable energy
Born into a family of engineers, Aziz had her sights set on entering the same field.
Drawing inspiration from her father – a mechanical engineer in Military Engineer Services in India – Aziz’s passion for STEM emerged early in life.
She went on to study engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi before receiving an international postgraduate research scholarship in 2013 to pursue a PhD at Deakin University.
“It was a wonderful opportunity that allowed me to focus my time studying the integration of wind farms into the electrical grid. More specifically, I looked at how demand and load balance could be maintained when we relied on renewable energy to a greater extent,” says Aziz.
Nowadays she continues to advance teaching and research in this space as a Lecturer in Power Engineering at ECU.
Western Australia is a national leader in the uptake of distributed energy resources (DER) such as solar photovoltaic, says Asma. However, battery storage uptake is currently very low and insufficient to help address some of the technical challenges in the grid.
Aziz also recently received an early and mid-career research grant from ECU to pursue research that will address various challenges associated with DER and the uptake of battery storage at the consumer level.
“Australia’s distribution networks are relatively old so the structures require many augmentations. There will be a lot of uncertainties and challenges in terms of grid management when renewables make up more than 50 per cent of the energy generation sources in our grid. Who will be responsible for maintaining reliability and security? Will it be the electricity market operator at the national level? Or will it be the utility companies at the state level?
“As we add more renewables into our grid, the biggest challenge we face is how to maintain reliability and security,” says Aziz. “Our aim is to always have the lights on, but with more renewables, the structure of our grid is going to change.”
Addressing these challenges in the pursuit of reaching net zero has also opened the door to various employment opportunities.
“There is a need for engineers who have the technical understanding to analyse the integration of renewable energy. Power engineers with a specialisation in renewable energy are in high demand in every Australian state.”
Sustainability at ECU
The multidisciplinary approach fostered within the School of Engineering helps to create opportunities for students to develop their knowledge of renewable energy.
“We’ve received a lot of interest in renewable energy at the bachelors, masters and PhD levels,” says Aziz.
“We don’t differentiate our courses by having some just for mechanical engineers and others just for electrical engineers. Any student enrolled at the school is free to choose any unit as per their interest and area of specialisation.
“Our PhD program also opens up a world of opportunities to those who want to couple their professional experience with research ambitions.”
ECU’s pathway to research opportunities enables engineering research scholars to work towards solving real-world problems such as the energy crisis through its Master’s by Research and PhD program.
Aziz believes acquiring knowledge of renewable energy specifically will prove invaluable in the coming years.
“It’s likely that many industries will need to have some sort of renewable energy resources at their premises, so having engineers understand this space is essential.”
Aziz also hopes to encourage more females to pursue research in STEM and contribute towards building more sustainable infrastructure.
“It’s so important for girls to have guidance from an early age. When students have face-to-face interactions with role models in STEM, they’re more likely to show interest in the field.
Explore research opportunities and pathways with Edith Cowan University’s School of Engineering today.