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Chanura Wijeratne – #TeamRenewables

by RES | Aug 26, 2021 | Reading time: 4 min

Our team at RES work together to produce as much clean energy as possible, and every team member has a part to play. Our energy networks team, however, are the ones that make sure the renewable projects we build are connected to the grid, to help us keep the lights on.

In this Team Renewables, we speak to Chanura Wijeratne, Energy Networks Lead at RES.

The Role

Chanura is the energy networks lead for the UK and Ireland. He helps delivery teams in both development and construction by looking at grid connections on each of the projects.

Career Journey

Chanura is a chartered electrical engineer, and gained a Master’s degree in Power Systems Engineering from Manchester University. His career spans the globe – working as an apprentice in Tunisia, a lead engineer for building installation projects in Sri Lanka, a production engineer in Slovakia and working in industrial distribution systems projects in UK before joining RES.

Chanura has been with RES for nine years, so how has his role developed?

“My role has naturally grown into what it is. When we think about power systems, we used to think about large coal power plants – but not anymore. The power system we thought about 20 years ago is completely different now, which brings new challenges for network operators and renewable energy developers.”

Chanura sits in the four-strong energy networks team, who look at different aspects of network development; Chanura’s focus is on supporting grid connection, compliance and delivery.

A Day in the Life

What does a typical day in the life look like for Chanura?

“Our projects, whether they are solar, wind or battery, need to connect to the grid. My primary task is to ensure our projects get connected to the grid on time in a cost effective and efficient manner.

“I support the project teams to build a grid connection – often 10 or 20km – which takes a lot of organisation, logistics and managing relationship with grid companies.”

The nature of the role is very dynamic. Chanura usually has 10-15 projects on his books at any one time, so – as with most members of the RES team – no two days are ever the same.

One day, he could be dealing with a highly technical issue, project managing or even resolving a challenge facing the property team. As such, Chanura works with a number of stakeholders on a daily basis, from National Grid to distribution companies and construction contractors.

“We develop renewables projects and then once we get consent to build, we sell it to different investors. After that, it is the investor’s asset, but we tend to retain the EPC (engineering, procurement and construction) and operation of the project.”

How does grid connection help energise projects?

RES builds grid connection to grid company specification and handover at the energisation phase. Becoming an Independent Connection Provider (ICP) helps to bring down the cost and manage project delivery risks. Getting grid headroom when there are so many renewables projects being built is a key challenge for renewable energy developers nowadays.

Grid Code compliance is an integral part of the role and of paramount importance before any project goes online.

“If you take a car, for example, you can’t just put that on the road. You have to do simulations and road tests to ensure acceleration, brakes etc are right, because it would be a risk putting a car on the road without the appropriate tests.

“It’s the same as connecting a generator. The lights need to stay on, so a new generator should meet on the necessary standards before connecting to the grid. Simulation tests and supporting technical documentation allow us to demonstrate to authorities that the functionality and capability of renewables projects meet the Grid Code requirements before connecting them. Once connected, we’ve got to prove it once again by operating them in real-time.”

Chanura is one of the key drivers of Independent Control Point delivery aspect of the business. RES recently completed its first major project, building 13km of grid connection with a mix of overhead and underground cables. Working with the DNO technical authorities and partners to develop and type test a brand-new overhead line design and increased the standard 33kV overhead line capacity by 60%.

“This is a huge achievement for RES as well as the industry as a whole. We challenged the traditional approach of DNOs and worked collaboratively to come up with a design that reduced cost while maintaining the safety.

“It is hoped that this will be the standard for future projects; there’s lots of learning from that.”

The best part of the job

What does Chanura enjoy most about his job?

“The dynamic nature of my role helps keep me motivated and enjoying my job. I also enjoy working with various teams to find solutions to problems. Having a problem in front of you and then putting together specialist teams to implement the solutions in real life is really rewarding.”

The future of renewables

“When Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb, the key challenge of the time was how to generate electricity and how to distribute it. Look at where we are now!

“The power system has developed massively in the 140 years since then. Some of the basic challenges that were around in Edison’s time have changed shape but remain the same, and there are new twists to deal with, as well as new options and technology to help us get around them.

“The question we now face is how best to cleanly generate electricity, store it and distribute it in a world with increasing energy needs.

“These challenges and how we respond to them – from connecting electric vehicle chargers to commissioning new solar or wind projects – drive how we achieve net zero and with RES I’m looking forward to playing my part in helping us get there.”

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