37 years and counting…Veteran Reflects How Energy Landscape Has Evolved

In this issue, ON goes behind the scenes at EMA's Power System Operation Division (PSOD) with Mr Mah Wai Khay, a Technical Executive. With over 3 decades of experience in the industry, he shares with us how he teams up with his colleagues at PSOD to keep Singapore's lights on.

Tell us more about what you do.

I am part of a team that ensures that Singapore's power system remains reliable and secure at all times. This is done by controlling the production of electricity from the generators according to the market schedule provided by the National Electricity Market of Singapore. This is important because failure to maintain the delicate balance could compromise the stability of the system. This ensures that supply of electricity constantly matches the demand from consumers.

I also operate the electricity transmission system to ensure that the electricity supply can reach consumers in a safe and reliable manner. The system frequency and voltages have to be kept within acceptable limits so that electrical equipments can function normally.

As more than 90 percent of electricity is currently produced by natural gas, one of my new responsibilities is to keep the gas transmission system reliable to avoid any disruptions in our gas supplies within Singapore.

What motivates you to stay in your job?

I find the nature of the job very meaningful, as I contribute to ensuring that our consumers enjoy one of the most reliable supplies of electricity in the world. The positive and supportive work environment, and trust and appreciation of supervisors and colleagues, have kept me in this job for 37 years.

Job security and flexible working hours are some of the perks that I enjoy too. This may sound strange but while others favour regular working hours, I actually prefer shift work. This is because working on shift gives me the flexibility to plan my non-working hours to attend to personal matters.

What appeals most to you in your long career?

To constantly be able to try out different things in my 37 years on the job was something I really enjoyed. Through job rotation and career progression, I have taken on roles in electricity generation and transmission, and the latest gas related functions. All these experiences provided me with different challenges and keep the interest for the job alive all these years.

What are some challenges you face in your job?

As our power system grows, it will naturally become more complex. I have watched the number of generators in Singapore grew from less than 10 to more than 30 today. Moreover, the transmission system has progressed from just a dozen substations to more than 130 currently to meet the increase in demand for electricity from 800MW in the 1970s to the current 6800MW. Coupled with the liberalisation of the power and gas industries which require us to be familiar with the market rules as we are operating both systems, and the advent of technological improvements, we have to constantly upgrade our skill sets to keep pace with the developments and gear up for the new challenges at the same time.

In my time here, I've also experienced many different challenges where my colleagues and I had to respond in the shortest possible time. Every minute counts when you are on the operational front, especially for a job as critical as power system operations, and that is one of the biggest challenges!

What advice would you give to somebody who is considering joining the sector?

The energy industry is one that evolves continuously and has become much more complex over the last few years. For example, one emerging issue which EMA has been studying for the past 2 years is how we can facilitate the increasing use of intermittent renewable energy sources like solar without causing power disruptions to consumers in Singapore. We are looking at this in collaboration with partners from the industry and academia.

There is a need to ensure that our skills remain relevant, and we do this through on-the-job training and continual learning of new technologies over the course of our careers. In addition, equipping ourselves with soft skills such as communication, leadership and teamwork are equally important to ensure a positive working environment.

I would say be focused and persevere, and also learn from people who have been around. Take advantage of the many opportunities to train, upgrade one's skill sets and keep abreast with new policies and technologies to make a difference to your peers.