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A smart grid pioneer’s career in the spotlight

17 January 2019
Energy Australia CEO reflects on 20 years of success and challenge
For George Maltabarow, alumnus and former CEO of Energy Australia, having the opportunity to explore a variety of passions whilst at university were the foundations for a fulfilling, exceptional career.
Alumnus George Maltabarow

George was born in Bathurst, a regional centre west of Sydney, in 1949 to newly-arrived immigrants from war-torn Europe who had instilled in him the value of a university education. He was encouraged to become an engineer as it was a valued profession in Europe. 

At school, George excelled in maths and science and his academic achievements led him to receive an Electricity Commission of New South Wales cadetship.

 

At the time, the Commission was the State’s monopoly supplier of energy and a dominant player in the energy space. Electing to study electrical engineering at the University of Sydney was a natural fit for the cadetship and his interests. 

 

"I chose Sydney because it was Australia’s oldest and best-known University," says George.

 

Pivotal to George’s career success was Sydney’s learning tradition of nurturing a broad approach to intellectual training, compared to the narrower technical focus of other universities at the time.

 

"I took economics as my elective in my first year and developed a lifelong interest in this field and have found that it was highly complementary to engineering," he reflects.

 

Studying at Sydney allowed George to pursue a wide range of interests, taught him much about leadership, and the experience was invaluable for his career. He has spent almost 20 years in public administration and counts his experience as the Editor of The Union Recorder as a stepping stone into university politics and the position of the Director of the Union Board which he held for several years.

The opportunity to learn how to consider an issue from a range of perspectives gave me the ability to relate to people at all levels and was perhaps the most valuable lesson I learnt

At university, George realised that, while his interests were grounded in the technical aspects of the energy industry, he was fascinated by how the industry worked, how the big decisions were made, how consumers behaved and the underlying political issues.

These interests made the decision to leave the Electricity Commission and work at the (former) Energy Authority of NSW easier. At the time, the organisation was responsible for the regulation and technical, financial and economic coordination of the State’s energy industries.

A career highlight for George was his time as an Executive Director of Energy Australia. He successfully sought and achieved regulatory approval for one of Australia’s largest capital programs aimed at the renewal of electricity transmission and distribution system in Sydney, Newcastle and the Hunter regions.

Success wasn’t only found in receiving the program, but in the reorganisation of the company as Managing Director to deliver the program amongst some controversy.

"I remember the Press running pictures of Ausgrid staff hosing down transformers on a hot day and railing about 'crumbling infrastructure'," says George.

"Well, the system copes well on hot summer days now and at least some of the credit for that must go to my program of renewal."

Leading Ausgrid to become the first utility in Australia to manage the large-scale introduction of time-based tariffs was another career highlight.

Under George’s direction, Ausgrid was able to overcome political and media scepticism and put some 450,000 customers on these tariffs, transforming behaviour with the aim of reducing the need to build capacity to meet demand on the hottest days.

What many people don’t know is that one of the biggest challenges for George involved mobilising the resources needed to deliver the rapidly scaled-up capital program.

Smartgrid technology

George sought support through innovative partnership arrangements with the private sector and the resolution of industrial issues with a heavily unionised workforce historically opposed to “contracting out”.

The huge construction footprint on the suburbs of Sydney and Newcastle also meant that new community engagement and communications techniques had to be developed to ensure the smooth delivery of the program.

George was instrumental in the Commonwealth Government’s internationally-significant Smart Grid/Smart City program designed to demonstrate a range of technologies to benefit the grid and consumers directly.

The pioneering program included data and control analytics on the low voltage grid to facilitate the integration for distributed renewables as well as large scale deployment of smart meters enabling consumers to participate in critical peak pricing trials as well as direct demand response.

George understood how important it was to ensure that the new infrastructure was compatible with future deployment of internet-enabled analytics and controls.

Prior to joining Energy Australia, George was an Executive Director in the NSW Treasury and established a new framework for governance, strategic oversight and monitoring of the commercial operations of all state owned enterprises. He counts his time there as useful preparation for this future roles at Energy Australia/Ausgrid.

When I look back on my career, the thing that stands out most is the multidisciplinary approach which was needed to undertake the roles which came my way. Adopting this approach to challenges is something I picked up whilst studying at the University of Sydney.

In recent times, George has turned his attention to advocating for smart meters and technology-enabled services in Australia. The development of thought leadership initiatives has been an integral part of his work with Landis and Gyr, a global provider of smart meters, data management and data analytics.

Coming full circle, George is now President of the Electrical and Information Engineering Foundation at the University, supporting the work of the School of Electrical and Information Engineering in promoting industry engagement, awarding academic prizes and scholarships and organising relevant events.

Active in research development, George is also involved with a project which aims at using phase change materials (such as hydrated salts) to store heat or cool. This is the equivalent of a thermal battery, where domestic air conditioners can be “charged” using rooftop PV to run the air conditioning system when the PV output is available. 

Looking to the future of the industry George is hopeful.

“The innovations made possible by combining modern communications technology with traditional energy infrastructure and new distributed energy sources like photovoltaics will fundamentally change the energy industry," says George.

"Power, together with information, is beginning to flow both ways and consumers are increasingly becoming the generators. Energy storage will further revolutionise the power system as there will be no need for instantaneous balance between generation and load to be the dominant driver of the energy market.”

 

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