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Insights Engineering Net Zero and Power Delivery with John Chahwan

As part of our #PeopleDriveResults campaign, this week we have caught up with John Chahwan, Director of Engineering – Power Delivery, based in Montreal, Canada.

this is a image of John

Who are you and what do you do?

I graduated from McGill university in 2005 with a degree in electrical engineering and received my Master of Engineering diploma in 2007. I have been working at AtkinsRéalis for the past 10 years, where I currently hold the position of Director of Engineering – Power Delivery. While studying for my master’s degree, my research interests included energy storage and wind generation, and it’s exciting to see these technologies in full deployment 15 years later.

Over the last few years, I’ve also had the privilege of attending several conferences across North America and presenting on topics such as high-voltage, direct current electric power transmission systems (HVDC) technology and energy storage, as well as contributed to several Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) working groups. I am currently the Chair of IEEE Working Group I10 (HVDC), where I am collaborating with industry peers on the development of HVDC technology guides.

More recently, I worked on the Engineering Net Zero – Canadian Technical Report, where I had the opportunity to coordinate with subject matter experts across all sectors of AtkinsRéalis , identifying collaborative solutions for the reduction of carbon emissions in Canada over the coming years. 

What inspired you to take an active interest in energy?

I’ve had a keen interest in mathematics and physics from early on and was also very interested in economics and project development. During my studies, I came across professors and engineers who guided me towards a career in power engineering, and very quickly, I found that the energy field brings all those areas of interest together. I also had an interest in computer engineering, and so, I am very excited to see the ongoing digitalization of power networks and the potential for artificial intelligence (AI)/big data in energy asset management. I am thankful to work in a field that contributes to economic and societal development and brings positive change for communities.

What kind of energy projects have you been involved in professionally?

During my career with AtkinsRéalis , I worked on many international projects in power transmission and distribution. More specifically, I’ve worked on power system planning—helping utilities develop their transmission expansion plans over the next decades—offshore wind interconnection projects, as well as HVDC transmission projects. HVDC is an important technology in renewable energy, as it offers the opportunity to transmit power economically over long distances, both onshore and offshore. It can thus make large-scale renewable energy sources available to densely populated areas, which would not otherwise have access to those resources locally. I’ve also participated in several due diligence mandates, where we helped potential investors in the evaluation of energy assets from a technical perspective. I really enjoyed these projects as they were always “high-energy” endeavours in which we had to collaborate with experts, across various fields, in a short timeframe.

 What do you think the biggest change to the energy sector will be in our lifetime?

I’d rather think of it as a series of changes that will allow us to use our energy resources more efficiently and effectively. With many disruptive technologies on the rise, including energy storage, AI, carbon capture and hydrogen energy (just to name a few), energy sector professionals have the daunting and exciting task to look at complete systems, and come up with the optimal technology mixes that best serve communities and help preserve our planet. We are also seeing a change in how society approaches the energy question, and we are likely to see increased cross-sector and international collaboration tackling these challenges, unlike anything we have seen before.

Everyone has their favourite form of energy production, what’s yours?

I can’t say that I have a favourite one. One of the interesting aspects of being on the power network side is the chance to work with customers to identify the energy and technology mix that best suits their needs. Every project is unique when we consider the local economic, environmental and societal needs, the geographical footprints, and of course, the cost and schedules of the projects. The last decade has provided energy professionals with a wide array of energy sources, technologies and tools, and it is up to us to optimize their deployment in the future.