As we celebrate the role of women in engineering, Helen Gaier-Laidlaw, License Programmes Manager at SP Energy Networks chats about the things she enjoys about her job as well as how she's been helping to prepare the company for the next price control period.
What’s your current role at SP Energy Networks and what does your job involve?
I am currently License Programmes Manager for our SP Manweb distribution license area, covering Merseyside, Cheshire and North Wales. My remit varies from the design and development of engineering schemes to the delivery of investment programmes from 33kV primary projects through Green Recovery Fund delivery to vegetation and ground maintenance management. I also look after low carbon technology connections for electric vehicles and heat pumps and technical support including SCADA and telecoms.
My biggest focus at the moment is successfully closing out our RIIO-ED1 price control contract with Ofgem that ends on 31 March 2023, which involves delivering our customer service, financial, delivery and performance targets safely. I am also preparing for the next price control contract, starting 1 April 2023. Like every other Distribution Network Operator (DNO) at the moment, we have submitted our RIIO-ED2 plan to OFGEM and are now preparing to deliver that plan by identifying the enablers we need to put in place to make that plan a reality and help the business prepare for what’s coming under the new contract. Until recently I was seconded into a role focusing solely on ED2 Readiness in areas such as recruitment, training, supply chain, system performance, environmental and sustainability, health and safety, and policies and standards to name a few. My experience in the networks business covers areas such as finance, commercial contracts and engineering design and delivery, so for this role I had to call on everything I’ve learned over the years!
What first interested you in being part of the energy industry and how did you join?
I joined the industry in an administrative role and quickly realised that as an industry there are so many aspects to what we do that really, the world is your oyster! It’s always changing, whether that be through technology and innovation, through the advent of digitalisation and telecoms changing how our network operates, or what our customers expect from us in today’s world where electricity is so key to everything we do in our everyday lives. The challenge of Net Zero has added such a vital and fascinating dimension to how we operate and how the industry is changing every day.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
Feeling like I’ve made a difference – that might be through leading our Emergency Action Centre during a storm response and working to get customers back on supply as quickly as possible in challenging and extreme circumstances. Or through finding a way to advance our customer design processes that means we can improve our EV infrastructure and take more polluting cars off the road in the UK. I also enjoy mentoring and coaching upcoming colleagues who I see as the future of our industry.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
The industry is going through the biggest change it has faced in decades as we journey to Net Zero and at times the uncertainty that comes with navigating unchartered waters can be a bit unnerving! But it’s also incredibly exciting and knowing you are part of that change is very rewarding. I’m surrounded by experts and people with enthusiasm and commitment and that helps enormously to keep me on track and collaborate with to make the challenges achievable. It’s hard but it’s worth it and I’ve learnt so much over the last 12 months.
How do you bring your previous experience from outside the sector to your current role?
I lean a lot on my academic learnings in this role to support the approaches I take to problem solving and techniques to develop solutions. I completed a double MBA in Global Energy in 2019, through a company sponsored programme, that has given me an excellent understanding of global energy environments and the wider context for some of the areas I am looking for solutions in. I am also passionate about diversity and inclusion in our industry. As chair of our women’s employee network, Connected Women, I believe that all of us need to be able to be our authentic selves in work and reach our potential, whatever they might be for us as individuals, as otherwise the journey our industry needs to take over the next decade will be a lot more difficult than it needs to be.
About Energy Networks Association
Energy Networks Association (ENA) is the industry body representing the companies which operate the electricity wires, gas pipes and energy system in the UK and Ireland.
ENA helps its members meet the challenge of delivering electricity and gas to communities across the UK and Ireland safely, sustainably and reliably.
Its members include every major electricity and gas network operator in the UK and Ireland, independent operators, National Grid ESO which operates the electricity system in Great Britain and National Grid Gas which operates the gas system in Great Britain. Its affiliate membership also includes companies with an interest in energy, including Heathrow Airport and Network Rail.
What are energy network operators?
Energy network operators manage and maintain the wires, pipes and other infrastructure which delivers electricity and gas to your home, business and community. They are private companies which are regulated by Ofgem and employ around 45,000 people in the UK and Ireland. They are represented by their industry body, Energy Networks Association (that's us).
Energy supplier or network operator? Energy network operators are entirely separate to your energy supplier, which is the company that bills you for using electricity and gas. Energy suppliers and generators are represented by Energy UK.