In a new series, EcoGeneration shines a spotlight on women in renewables who are championing diversity in the clean energy industry. Meet electrical engineer and energy consultant Ruby Heard from Alinga Energy Consulting.
When Ruby Heard was a teenager, she only had eyes on one career. Upon leaving school, she set out on her path to be an engineer. With a passion for the environment, a future vocation in renewable energy came calling and she hasn’t looked back.
“I was lucky to know what I wanted to do when I was 16,” the electrical engineer, energy consultant and founder of Alinga Energy Consulting tells EcoGeneration.
“I wanted to become involved in recycling because as a kid it’s the main way you can contribute to the environment. Because recycling plants use a lot of energy and I was aware we created most of our energy from fossil fuels, I decided on electrical engineering so I could pursue renewables.
“I went to Victoria University, and in 2007 there was only one class they offered on renewable energy. They actually took it away as there wasn’t enough interest, which demonstrated how wrong they were about the future of energy.”
After graduating in 2010, Heard began working for Arup but at the time the company wasn’t significantly involved in renewables, and it was largely unfulfilling work in building services. That was until an opportunity arose to relocate to the US in 2015.
“I got sent to San Francisco where I specialised in complex solar arrays, and did a lot of work for Google, which had some really complicated building-integrated PV,” she says.
“I then moved on to continue my passion for renewables and volunteered for Engineers Without Borders for six months in Ethiopia to design and install solar minigrids. That was the best experience of my life.
“From there I had to figure out how I could do something like that and make it sustainable as a career. I started Alinga Energy Consulting and came back to Australia to work with Indigenous communities delivering energy projects.”
Having set up her own business, Heard has enjoyed the independence to pursue the projects she’s passionate about, with community-focused initiatives now comprising the bulk of her work.
“It’s the biggest focus of my business,” she says. “Initially, I was doing other commercial work to support the pro-bono side of things and low-paying community jobs, but I’m increasingly being pulled into doing more community-focused work through the First Nations Clean Energy Network.
“I’ve hit many of the goals I set for my business – such as flexibility and pro-bono work – and being able to contribute to other initiatives such as RAP [Reconciliation Action Plans] committees and steering committees has opened plenty of doors.
“[Fulfilling social conscience] is everything to me. I thought just being in the renewable energy industry was going to be that fulfilment piece, but working for companies such as Google, it hit home that it wasn’t enough. I really needed to work directly with people and not just big organisations.”