Bianca Lindemann from Terra Firma Academy interviewed Xavier Balayer about his job as an engineer at Terra Firma Solutions

Why did you study to be an engineer?
Curiosity on how things work, how they are built, where they come from. It was an obvious choice for me. When I was small I played a lot with lego, mecano, building basic wooden structures with my dad’s tools and my grandparents gave me both an electricity and a chemical set when I was around 9. I learned a lot by playing around with these, mostly to the detriment of the garden’s insect population.
Where did you get your qualifications?
I studied at the University of Québec, Canada, in a city called Chicoutimi.
Why did you want to move into energy efficiency?
I came back to South Africa in my third year of university after having been away for 5 years. It doesn’t sound like much but while driving past the social housing projects from the airport it kind of hit me. It would be so easy to make minor alterations in these houses to reduce indoor temperature fluctuations and therefore potentially energy savings. I believe it is better to do the extra work on the engineering side during the design of a project rather than coming back later and saying “oh, why didn’t you do this simple thing that could have saved you lots of money?”. It annoys me when short-cuts are taken for a quick buck and left to someone else to sort out. That motivated me to start working on projects related to energy efficiency.
Tell us about your daily job?
One of the aspects I enjoy about my job is that every day is different. Each client has their specific needs and each project has their own problems that need solving. Then there’s also the fact that a lot of this is new to me, so I spend quite some time learning about the work I need to do. University teaches a lot of theory, a lot of things you thought you’d never need again or stuff that is simply memorised with some lonely malnourished neuron.
In the industry there are tons of details that can only be learnt by experience in the field. So I’ve been following Justin, our Senior Engineer, around on sites, taking notes and doing smaller tasks. These tasks range from keeping in contact with 3rd parties implicated in the project, preparing spreadsheets for calculations, doing some calculations, collecting data and some general admin.
It sounds much more boring than it actually is; every day there is something new that needs to be taken care of. Every day is different and challenging. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Is there a big demand for skill energy assessors?
South Africa has woken up and is now getting ready to move big time with energy efficiency. It’s the way forward for the whole world when it comes to energy, so the demand for assessors is going to boom.
Do you think one needs an engineering degree to work in energy efficiency?
For someone with no experience in the field, yes I believe so. While you do not need an engineering degree to understand the concepts, follow an implementation and work with the technical side, there are some little details that can only be known by having either studied the field or by having experience in it.
What types of technology save the most energy?
This is really dependent on the application and scale of the technology so I cannot give you one single technology that is better than others. I would say that there are two major philosophies when driving energy savings: the first would be to design a system from the ground up with lower energy requirements than what is currently available. The second would be to take what already exists and find ways to reduce that energy consumption, either by altering the system, by optimising it or by changing the way it is used.
What percentage of savings can a customer get in the office environment on energy?
A quick assessment could probably save around 15-20% with a return on investment of about 1.5 years. Again this all depends on the office itself, the equipment installed and whether or not the owner already has taken steps towards reducing energy consumption.
What would you like to say to people wanting to study the Introduction to Energy Efficiency with Terra Firma Academy?
It will give a very good overview on the different aspects of energy efficiency. Energy efficiency isn’t simply replacing light bulbs, I believe that in order to truly be efficient it is important to understand and be aware of interactions between different energy related systems. You’ll learn how easy it can be to save energy by putting just a bit more effort and how rewarding it can be in both the short and long term.