Appointed CEO of Western Power in August 2022 after 15 years in the business, including eight years in executive roles, Sam Barbaro has played a pivotal role in the transformation of the Western Australian energy sector. However, Mr Barbaro says it’s the current unparalleled pace of change in the industry that will deliver the greatest opportunities for the community, environment and economy.
A passion for community outcomes and growth led to Mr Barbaro leaving the corporate sector to join Western Australia’s largest electricity network operator in 2007. Supporting customer outcomes has been a constant mission for Western Power and this will not change going forward.
As Western Australia prepares for a climate-resilient and decarbonised future based on a shift to net zero emissions by 2050, Mr Barbaro says Western Power will be a critical enabler of electrification.
“The network has continued to evolve to enable growth in renewable energy since I joined the business, with Western Power making the changes required to support the rapid growth of rooftop solar and now planning for the work required to enable the network to support the electrification of Western Australian industry and businesses,” Mr Barbaro said.
“There will be a significant increase in demand from Western Power’s network to levels never contemplated before. We are planning and investing for this now to provide the backbone of how we will continue to deliver energy effectively and efficiently in the future – and that means reliably, affordably and green.”
Western Power is investing in forecasting and modelling to understand changing loads and the impacts of the continued growth of rooftop solar, the increased numbers of electric vehicles and the volume of energy needed by its customers to meet their decarbonisation goals.
“Decarbonisation will influence our work over the next decade and beyond. Like all successes, collaboration is key – we are working with Government, local government, industry, associations, traditional owners and community associations to deliver the best energy outcomes for all customers and stakeholders,” Mr Barbaro said.
“We are supporting the State Government-led South West Interconnected System (SWIS) Demand Assessment, due for release by 2025, which will provide a better understanding of future industry demand, the changes in generation that will occur following the Government-targeted reduction in coal, and the scale of network transition that will be needed.
“This is important as it will allow us to ensure that the right capital investments are made at the right time to facilitate good social, economic and environmental outcomes.” Mr Barbaro said Western Power’s decarbonisation pathway was already producing positive results for communities through innovative solutions like stand-alone power systems and microgrids, which utilise greater levels of renewable energy, while at the same time providing a more reliable and safer supply.
Like many other organisations across the globe, Western Power’s supply chain has been impacted by the effects of COVID-19. “We have had delays to our projects and works programs due to the difficulty of sourcing items such as transformers, switchgear and metering units.
However, we have not let this hold us back and we have taken proactive steps to address this issue and prioritise our work so that we can continue to deliver the work programs required to improve reliability ahead of the coming summer,” Mr Barbaro said.
Another of the continuing challenges faced by Western Power, like all businesses, was the tight job market. “Unfortunately, or fortunately, there is a worldwide demand for electricity sector expertise given the global response to climate change. We need to maintain our highly skilled workforce to meet this growing demand.
We’ve ramped up our attraction and retention strategies, both locally and overseas, but it’s a challenge we expect we will continue to face in the coming years as various local and global 2030 and 2050 decarbonisation targets are pursued,” Mr Barbaro said. Despite the challenges of securing a larger workforce, Mr Barbaro says the safety and wellbeing of Western Power’s people remains at the organisation’s core.
“While there are many new challenges and opportunities over the coming years, the one thing that we will not compromise is our commitment to safety — it’s our core value. No matter what, our commitment to our people and their families is that each and every one of our employees goes home healthy, well and safe each day.”
A focus on reliability
Western Power’s network, spanning 255,000km2, is subject to various environmental factors, which can make the priority of maintaining a reliable supply for customers a difficult challenge. “We know that 100 per cent reliability cannot be guaranteed – but we strive to get it as close as possible and work to minimise any disruption. This challenge continues to grow as the impact of climate change increases. As such, we must improve how we communicate with customers and stakeholders in relation to outages,” Mr Barbaro said.
“We have reviewed and improved our customer and stakeholder communications in the lead up to, and during, outage events to keep customers better updated with timely and effective information, including greater SMS capability. “We understand the role we play as an important contributor to the state’s economy and we’ll continue to listen to and engage with community and industry as we work towards a shared energy future.”
About Western Power
Western Power is a Western Australian Government-owned corporation responsible for building, maintaining and operating an electricity network connecting 2.3 million customers to traditional and renewable energy sources. The South West Interconnected System (SWIS) is one of the world’s largest stand-alone grids, spanning from Kalbarri in the north to Albany on the south coast and east to Kalgoorlie; an area around the same size as the United Kingdom.