The Vattenfall Heat UK team are focused on producing sustainable, reliable and affordable district energy. Last year they accepted two University of Bristol students—Hannah Spurgeon and Lina Drozd, both studying Engineering Design—to spend a year working with their team. To mark the end of the twelve months they discussed their time at Vattenfall with Digital Manager Jim Christian.
How would you sum up the last twelve months of working with Vattenfall?
Watch their full interview
Hannah: It was exciting, with lots of exciting moments. It was also a huge learning curve: I’ve learnt more across these past twelve months than ever before. It’s a completely new way of learning by taking a deep dive into an industrial sector. It’s really fun, too.
Lina: It’s crazy to think that it’s been a year. I have such a different view of how businesses operate and how projects are run. It was great to be in the deep end with the team and picking things up: I had one project at the start and much more going on by the end. It’s been great to be a part of that journey.
If you could go back twelve months and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
Lina: Always talk to people and ask questions. The work was really varied, so you get a broad perspective, but it can be hard to see how it all fits in to the bigger picture. Always ask why you’re doing something.
Hannah: I’ve never worked in a job where I’ve had to have this level of understanding, and I probably put too much pressure on myself at the start to already have that understanding. The team were aware that I would have to be brought up to speed because I come from a student background rather than industry; don’t worry about it and ask questions.
Is there anything you excelled at that you didn’t expect to beforehand?
Hannah: I’m not a shy person, but I’d not previously had the self-confidence to speak up in team meetings and make my opinion heard. During my placement, I’ve had a lot of positive feedback about how I participate and actively contribute during meetings. It’s really interesting to see how my confidence has developed and improved my professional conduct.
Lina: I’m a lot more comfortable speaking out. If you don’t know something, it’s really important to put your hand up and ask for an explanation. It’s helpful not only for yourself, but also to help get others on the same page. I was always curious, and I had positive feedback for contributing in any way that I could. It helped that we had a truly collaborative team environment, where you wanted everyone to do well.
What were your first impressions of the Vattenfall team?
Lina: You felt the energy of the office on day one: everyone was so excited, there were really fun projects, and you could feel that rush and excitement. It wasn’t the nine-to-five culture where everyone just does their hours—people want to do their best.
Hannah: I remember how inspired I felt on the first day. We were in the middle of this crazy project and everyone was so hectic. It was great to be thrown in at the deep end like that. There was a sense of trust that we could be given a task and do it—to be trusted like that so early on was crucial to our development.
You’ve both been integral to the growth of the team over the past twelve months. What are your impressions of the team now that you’re leaving?
Hannah: There were already loads of heat networks experts in the team at the beginning, but now we have people from all over the country and other people from Vattenfall who bring in so much additional expertise.
Lina: In the time we’ve been here, we’ve introduced new processes and ways of working. It’s really satisfying to see that we’ve contributed to that, and that these processes will impact the work for many years to come. One of the biggest challenges was not having a particular way of getting something done, and when others don’t have an answer you need to figure out a new method. It can be scary because it’s so open ended, but when you have your say and create a new process it’s really fulfilling.
Hannah: It’s so nice to have been trusted enough to create new processes.
What have you learnt from the placement?
Lina: How many opportunities there are in the energy industry, how complex it is, and how many amazing people are working in it. I’ve been able to see the energy industry from all angles—commercial, legal, governmental regulation—and that’s allowed me to appreciate the bigger picture.
Hannah: Getting that bigger picture has been vital in informing decisions about what I will do during and after university. I learned to appreciate the scale of the energy industry from working in heat networks, which is just one part of a much bigger whole. I’m now really excited to go back to university with the aim of contributing to the cause of fossil-free within a generation, which originally brought me to Vattenfall. The excitement of that cause was felt keenly in the Vattenfall team, and that passion is something I want to carry forward to projects within the university.
Lina: Across the wider industry, you appreciate that everyone is in this together. You can have commercial competitors, but everyone really has the same goal of decarbonisation which is really motivational.
What are your standout moments from the placement?
Lina: It’s been so great to have access to everything that Vattenfall does. We’ve been able to look at the cool stuff that’s going on in Sweden, Germany, and the Netherlands. People in other offices have been very open to questions. There have even been ‘mystery coffees’ where you are paired up with someone from a different country and talk about your work. It is so great having people working on so many different projects, but ultimately to the same ends. Looking back, I can’t imagine having a greater variety of work, or a better team than Vattenfall’s. It exceeded all of my expectations. And while it’s sad to leave, I am so excited to develop some of the skills I’ve learned.
Hannah: It’s really emotional thinking about how the year is over. We handed over to this year’s Vattenfall placement student recently, and it’s been a very reflective time. Vattenfall Heat UK had never taken a placement student before, so to accept two placement students into their central London office felt like some crazy dream. The placement was so genuinely interesting, exciting, inspiring and I learnt so much.
Any final comments for the team?
Lina: Keep up the energy, spark, and commitment.
Hannah: That spark is what makes the team such a great one to work in, and it’s what enables the creativity, so keep that spark and don’t forget us!
Lina: I know the team will develop and grow and achieve everything they want to. I wish them the best of luck.
Hannah: It will be so exciting to see how they grow.
Engineering courses with a Year in Industry
Bristol students now have the opportunity to undertake an extended paid placement between their second and third year of study. The professional knowledge, skills and experience gained can benefit students, enhancing both their academic studies and career prospects. The Year in Industry programmes are by transfer only. Eligible students will be supported to find placements by our specialist Industrial Liaison Office. Find out more on our website at www.bristol.ac.uk/engineering/ilo/students/year-in-industry/