Jayamali Kasige is the Director of Engineering at Potentia Renewables, a leader in the renewable energy industry in Toronto, Ontario. Potentia is an experienced developer, owner and operator of renewable energy systems. The company develops solar and wind energy projects. Since 2016, Jayamali has participated in over 600 operating solar projects for clients such as the Toronto District School Board TDSB’s 300+ projects. She is an electrical engineer and a licensed Professional Engineer (PEng), and manages a team of 18 junior and senior engineers.
Finding and following her passion
Born and raised in Sri Lanka, Jayamali studied at the Tsinghua University in China. Jayamali graduated with a Bachelors of Electrical Engineering with a specialization in power generation & distribution. Eager to learn more in her field, Jayamali worked for the China subsidiary of Ormazabal, a European based medium voltage switchgear manufacturer focusing on power distribution. She worked there for 12 years before making the move to Canada, where she continued to develop her technical and leadership skills in switchgear manufacturing companies such as General Switchgear, and Crown Technical Systems.
Jayamali caught the environmentalist bug early on in her career. Mostly through social media, she became fascinated and eager to be part of the greener energy change that was happening across the world. She also wanted to experience working on the power generation side. When she saw the opportunity to follow her passion at Potentia by working on renewable energy generation projects, she knew she had to take it.
Working at Potentia Renewables
Potentia Renewables is a developer that works with clients on projects mostly based in commercial and industrial sites and schoolboards for rooftop projects. The company has expanded into ground mount solar projects and wind projects as well. Jayamali manages a team of 18 employees, consisting of junior and senior engineers. Her team is responsible for designing the systems, creating detailed drawings and specifications, and collaborating with stakeholders such as utilities, external consultants, and contractors. She explains that the typical design period takes about six months to a year, but several projects are designed concurrently. The construction phase takes weeks to months depending on the scale and capacity of the project.
After construction is competed, the solar panels or wind turbines are now a functional generation unit. However, as Jayamali notes, their work doesn’t end there – She and her team will provide engineering support throughout the life of the equipment and power plant.
Green energy generation comes with challenges
Jayamali explains that Potentia has made amazing progress in a short time, but not without its own set of challenges, such as: complicated permitting processes, upfront expenses, and technical challenges. Project developers also have to keep up with any new rules, regulations, and types of technology.
As the lead of an engineering team, Jayamali must remain abreast as well – she explains that areas such as market requirements, rules, regulations, and available technology are changing all the time. For example, the capacity, size, and efficiency of wind turbines and solar panels have greatly increased. Research into new solar cell technology is ongoing. From foldable solar panels to different chemical solutions for manufacturing solar cells, solar energy will continue to see growing efficiency and uses.
To stay up to date, Jayamali attends seminars hosted by organizations such as CanWEA and CanSIA. At these events, industry insiders, government officials and members discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the renewable energy industry, and can provide insight into to how developers, provinces, and utilities are looking to address these issues. It’s also a great opportunity to expand the company’s professional network while showcasing their stance in the sector.
Even without attending these seminars and/or tradeshows, Jayamali explains the internet is a great resource - a well-placed web search can provide thousands of links to educational sites, blogs, and news on the industry. And with social media, it’s easier for emerging professionals to grow their network through online communities and stay connected virtually.
A little push goes a long way
Reflecting on her role as a woman in engineering, Jayamali recognizes there can be challenges, but it hasn’t stopped her. Recalling an earlier time in her career in China, she talked about having to present at a technical summit. She was asked to represent her company at the conference, and as a junior engineer, she felt unsure about her abilities. But a supportive manager insisted she could do it – he expressed his full confidence in her capabilities to present successfully at the conference, and explained her team was always behind her to support her. She recognizes that moment as a stepping stone in her career, that gave her the ongoing confidence and determination to face any future challenges.
Learning from her experiences, Jayamali is consistently challenging and supporting her team to do their best in the work they do. She has been a mentor with the PEO (Professional Engineers Ontario) organization, and continues to support previous and current coworkers in their endeavours to achieve their Professional Engineering licenses, a respected certification throughout Ontario.
Explore the possibilities
Jayamali’s advice for people wanting to enter the clean energy industry: learn about the industry and be up-to-date. It is ultimately up to you and what you want to do. The industry has various career options available: some can become lawyers, others can become engineers, and still others can be business development managers and accountants. The important thing is knowing what you want to do through experience and time. And of course, you will come across people whom you can relate to and learn from along the way. The possibilities are endless.
As the interview came to a close, Jayamali expressed her thoughts on how the engagement of women in the industry can be improved. She says that “support and exposure have to start at a young age”. Currently, there are programs and workshops even for high schools, but she says this may not be enough. We have to go younger than that. She encourages teachers, parents and the public to engage kids at a young age to learn more about the energy sector. This way, they will start thinking and learning earlier about renewable energy and all the possibilities it has to offer!
Feature Project: Parque Solar Canoa – Dominican Republic
One of Potentia`s latest successful solar projects, the Canoa Project, has just started construction. Jayamali was proud to discuss this latest accomplishment, and noted that just last month, many of her colleagues were in the Dominican Republic for the ground breaking ceremony.
The Canoa Project is a 25 MW solar farm, and is a joint venture between local consulting firm, Cisneros, and Potentia, which has been providing project development expertise. Jayamali stated that she and her team worked on a tight timeline with various parties to complete their scope of work. They worked with Cisneros and the government of the Dominican Republic to conduct a feasiblilty study, assess requirements, and design the project. Upon completion, the project will also be locally managed and operated.
The Canoa Project is the one of three major solar projects planned for the North and Southeast regions of the Dominican Republic. By the end of 2018, these solar installations along with planned wind projects will represent a total 361MW of installed clean energy for the Dominican Republic.