This article is sponsored by SEAI as part of the ‘10 Minutes With…’ series.
How did you get started in the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland?
I finished college in the middle of the recession with a degree in civil engineering. There was no one hiring so I took a JobBridge internship in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications working on offshore energy policy. Those nine months completely changed my life. I met my partner and got to meet two fantastic SEAI staff – Patricia Comiskey and Declan Meally. Both have become incredible mentors to me.
Life then took me in a different direction, and I was selected for the eir graduate programme. Towards the end of the two-year programme, Patricia, who was SEAI’s ocean energy programme manager, reached out to let me know about a role on her team. I got the job and I’ve been in the SEAI ever since.
Why did you choose to work with SEAI?
After two years working in the private sector, I knew it wasn’t for me. I wasn’t motivated by pay, and I didn’t feel like my work was making any difference to the world. I wanted to be doing something that helped people and allowed me to use my engineering degree.
Working alongside SEAI during my internship in the department, I was really impressed with their breadth of knowledge and their passion for their work. The Authority’s mission is something that motivates me.
Ireland is vulnerable to spikes in costs to heat our homes, fuel our cars and power our businesses because we are dependent on other countries to provide it. Only by developing our own energy resources such as wind energy and other renewables and by getting off fossil fuels can we have secure, sustainable, affordable and clean energy. This made me choose SEAI. This is important to me, this is what excites me, this is my passion.
What are you currently working on?
I recently moved to the business team, where I manage the new Support Scheme for Energy Audits. This provides SMEs with €2,000 towards an energy audit.
There’s a growing trend of customers prioritising sustainability over cost when deciding where to shop. We know businesses want to become sustainable but need to be confident when investing their time and money in the necessary changes. The energy audit helps businesses understand where they use energy, what actions will save energy, and what it will cost. An audit is a great opportunity for businesses to kick-start their sustainable energy journey. The scheme will help businesses future-proof their operations through sensible investments.
What is the best part of your job?
Mostly that it keeps evolving. When I tell people I work in SEAI, most people think about home energy grants, which is great. But we do so much more than that. So far I have worked in three different areas of the Authority. I love that I have that opportunity to change things up.
I began on the ocean energy team, where I worked on European projects, research and development and supporting Irish ocean energy companies to develop their technologies. After two years I moved to the Sustainable Energy Communities team, which is the most fantastic area in SEAI. This was completely new for me, working on energy efficiency rather than renewables. My manager encouraged me to do a post-graduate diploma in sustainable energy. SEAI contributed to the costs, for which I am very grateful. For me, lockdown was the perfect time to upskill.
Following my recent move to the business team, I am getting up to speed with the needs of businesses and how I can support them. In all roles, my aim is always to influence how people think about and use energy, and I love that my career and skills are growing in the Authority.
What is a defining career moment or high point? Is there a career moment you are really proud of?
I presented at last October’s Ideal Home Show on home energy upgrades. It was a really proud moment for me. I had spent the past two years upskilling, qualifying as a BER assessor and working in this area. Being asked to present was a real seal of approval of my acquired expertise.
Where do you see SEAI five years from now?
By 2027, we should be well on the way towards the ambitious Climate Action Plan targets for B2 home energy upgrades, national EV fleet and business, and public sector energy efficiency. I suspect we will have Ireland’s first 100 per cent community-owned wind and solar projects under the Renewable Electricity Support Scheme. And SEAI will have almost doubled in size to fulfil our mandate and continue our great work helping homeowners live more comfortably, businesses operate more competitively, and local communities to champion systemic change.
What is the best piece of professional advice you have received?
Feedback is a gift. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback or receive. It won’t always be good, but that’s okay – it’s not personal, it’s just a different perspective. In my roles in SEAI, I set time aside at least once a year to get feedback from customers. It really helps me see what’s working and what’s not. The feedback you get is an invaluable pointer to help make the customer experience better.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice at the start of your career, what would that be?
Start a pension!
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about interviewing for this position?
You must be passionate about sustainability – that’s key! SEAI staff have a wide range of qualifications, skills, and backgrounds, but they all share a passion for sustainability.
What would you say are the key skills and capabilities necessary to be good at what you do?
In my role you need to have a technical background, be passionate about sustainability, and enjoy continuous learning. There is always a new report, a policy change, or a government announcement to stay abreast of. You need to be the expert in your area but also have a good understanding of our wider support and services. You need to be willing to keep learning and growing.
What is the best career lesson you have learned so far?
Learning how to say no in a professional way. Being an engineer, being black and white about things is normal: the beam fails or passes testing, the calculation is right or wrong. When I began working, I quickly figured out that the black and white wasn’t going to fly.
Early in my career, I declined an invitation to support another team due to my own work pressures. My manager suggested I needed to be less absolute, less blunt. For me, learning to say no was about learning how to speak professionally. This has opened so many doors for cross-collaboration with colleagues in SEAI.
If you were applying for an SEAI role today, how would you prepare?
The Authority is in a growth phase, and we are hiring more than 40 staff this year to help us deliver the Government’s ambitious Climate Action Plan targets. If I was applying today, I would first visit the SEAI website to get a good understanding of the services and supports we provide in the specific area you are considering. Then consider the competencies specified for the role and prepare for the interview with authentic examples from previous experience to show how you would be great for this role. The interview process is formal but fair and helps us choose the very best candidates.
Which industry professionals should people be following on Twitter/LinkedIn?
- Donna Gartland, chief executive of Codema and fellow Dub. I met Donna through the Women In Energy group on LinkedIn. She is an expert in district heating in Ireland and a champion of women in energy (@DonnaGartland).
- Martin Howley, a former SEAI colleague. Martin is a wind generation guru and lead author of the Energy in Ireland report, the cornerstone publication for the energy sector (@MartinJHowley).
Is there a particular book or resource you’d recommend to someone early in their career?
For me, people are my best resource. I work best when I work with people. This is obvious to me now but wasn’t when I was starting off. Building good working relationships and maintaining them has helped me in my career more than any book I ever read. Take the time to get to know your colleagues – you won’t succeed without them.
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