Sanduni Kodagoda, a graduate of the Masters of Engineering in Renewable Energy program at ANU, is part of the current generation of postgraduates looking to create a more sustainable future.
While engineering was a natural choice for Sanduni — her father also worked in engineering — her interest in renewable energy was sparked in her final year of her Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of the College of Engineering, Guindy in Chennai, India.
“That was the time when the Paris climate change agreement was happening and everything renewables was the talk of the town,” Sanduni said.
“I did a project creating a desalination unit using solar energy. It was a domestic size desalination unit where it collected rain water and then it would evaporate out the water using the solar, the heat, and condense it back into water minus the salts and the contaminants to get more drinking water or usable water from either rain water or underground water.”
“Where I stayed, the water condition was a little bad and they are heading towards water scarcity so at that point of time that was one of the biggest issues.”
Meeting the challenges
Following her undergraduate degree, Sanduni moved to Australia to further her studies in renewable energy.
One of the biggest challenges of renewable energy is storing it on a large-scale and making it available on demand. It was this challenge that Sanduni looked at as part of her Master’s project.
“We looked at how can we store this energy so that we can supply demand when say the sun sets in the evening, or for this particular day if it's not windy enough to get wind energy.”
“That's one of the biggest issues with renewables, we do not have proper storage and it keeps fluctuating, the energy production, so we were looking at large scale storage like hydro dams and such.”
While the current generation of renewable energy graduates are coming up with innovative solutions for a greener and more sustainable planet, there is still a lot to do to realise a world powered by renewable energy. Sanduni believes that to get to a point where most of our energy comes from renewables will require substantial commitment and investment.
“What really is hindering renewables mostly is the electrical grid. That would need a major update so you need to have big investment in the infrastructure. For now, there is no urgent need to do it because we still have lots of oil and gas and coal so you can still rely on that.”
A bright future
After graduating from ANU, Sanduni landed her first job with a solar testing laboratory in Canberra; Sanduni made the connection with the laboratory following a guest lecture they gave as part of the master’s program. It is a small company with a focus on design which allowed her to work on multiple projects designing things from scratch.
These days Sanduni works for an asset management consultancy based in Perth working with large facilities. It is a new area for her but Sanduni is up for the challenge. “Right now it's mostly to try and work in as many different fields as I can which I like, learning new things."
Reflections on the Master’s program
The Masters of Engineering in Renewable Energy program is designed to give students an opportunity to solve real-world problems and to use that knowledge and experience to further their careers.
“The Photovoltaic Power Plant course for the Master’s program has been designed to incorporate as many real world practical aspects as possible,” said Dr Marco Ernst, Lecturer and Convener of the course.
“By including guest lectures from industry, field trips, and real-world case studies, I hope to spark interest in renewable energy. It has been exceptionally rewarding to see numerous previous students continue onto further studies and professional careers in this field.”
“Renewables is a growth area with high job prospects. I would encourage any potential future Masters students to reach out if they have questions regarding the program. We are always happy to hear from those with a passion for the field.”