Experienced civil engineer Shane Govender joined the Whitfield Consulting Services team in summer 2023 and has been making a fantastic impression on our clients, using his expertise to work across a variety of projects in the power & energy and rail space. With his love of travel, exploration, and desire to be a part of the UK’s transition to renewable energy, Shane made the move from his native South Africa to join the WCS team in London.

We catch up with him as he talks about his current work in battery energy storage and rail, and his exciting background working on engineering projects across the globe.

Hi Shane. Tell us about what you do with WCS.

I’m a Senior Civil Engineer at WCS; my work is broad and includes everything from project feasibility studies; to detailed design; to onsite work supporting projects that are in their main implementation phase.

What are you involved with right now?

The Piccadilly Line Upgrade for London Underground Limited and UK Power Networks Services (UKPNS) is an ongoing project where I’ve now been given responsibility. This exciting scope of work includes substantial upgrades to two substations, plus new and upgraded 11kV and 22kV HV cable routes connecting those substations and continuing along a 10km part of the line in total.

It’s great to be involved with work on such an iconic part of the London transport network. While my background isn’t in rail, my extensive experience in the power and energy sector means I’ve worked on many substations before and can bring that experience to this role. To learn more about WCS’s work on this project, click here.

I’m also involved with several projects involving battery energy storage systems (BESS) as part of the UK’s drive to net zero. I was working on a BESS project in the Western Cape in South Africa when I first connected with the WCS team, who are very active in this area, and are well-respected for their expertise with these systems. It has been great to be able to bring my background in this area to the UK, getting involved in ongoing and new projects, building relationships with the fantastic clients and partners we work with in this area.

At a site in North Yorkshire, I’m working as a design coordinator, designer and reviewer on a new 320 MW battery energy storage system that will be one of the biggest in the UK. At Blackhillock in Aberdeenshire – another of my key projects – the work is at an earlier stage: I’m completing a feasibility study for another BESS installation.

Quite a lot of my time has also been on a battery storage project in Leicester. WCS provide design support and quality assurance as the Resident Engineer during the construction phase. I’ve been embedded onsite for several days per week for the past four months. Despite being a design engineer, getting practically involved like that and supporting a client at the sharp end is something I very much enjoy.

Drawing on your expertise in BESS – why are these projects so important for the energy network?

BESS is a really important technology. Many renewable energy sources are less continuous than, say, a coal-fired power station. Battery storage is required to take and store power when it’s not needed in the moment, and then add it back into the grid when demand spikes. It’s vital infrastructure, underpinning the 2050 goals the world has for sustainable energy.

Also, as a relatively new technology – the number of BESS installations is growing rapidly both in SA and the UK. With conventional power projects, the procedures and guidelines are well established. In this area, it might be that in 20 years, people will be looking back at the current wave of projects to establish those guidelines. It’s very exciting to be a part of that.

What about your role inspires you?

I enjoy continuously learning, and that I’m not doing the same thing every day. WCS is really good for Continuing Professional Development (CPD); there are speakers who come in regularly, as well as course learning.

Also, I like being onsite, seeing designs come to life. Site work is a bit tamer in the UK than in my earlier career. I’ve worked on sites before where there have been cobras; I had to wear snake gaiters and bite-proof footwear for protection.

While working in Zambia, I walked out of my hotel one evening, ready for supper. There were trees nearby, and then one of the trees moved; it was a giraffe, maybe two metres from me. I nearly had a heart attack and I moved in the other direction away pretty quickly.

As I reflect on my experiences working on projects across the globe, it certainly makes you aware that factors such as climate affect engineering. In Africa, often it was too hot to pour concrete; here, we sometimes need frost blankets because it is too cold.

What do you think is most important when managing a project?

Clear, consistent and effective communication is key to everything. That is true when supporting clients, but also key to working successfully as a team and something I’ve always emphasised as I’ve mentored younger engineers. This is something that drew me to work at WCS, as its ethos of being agile, and collaborating, really aligns with my preferred ways of working – and I see communication as a vital part of both.

On complex projects the repercussions of even small delays can be huge. If a problem isn’t spotted early, it can become a major issue. In my experience, regular communication and visits to site have a huge impact and that is how I make sure my projects progress effectively, to time and on budget. Being connected and present means if any issue arises it can be identified and managed proactively. My role is to be the expert on-hand when it comes to civil engineering design, and part of that is helping problem-solve for the client, and pre-emptively flagging potential challenges based on my, and the team’s, decades of experience with similar work.

Tell us some more about your career, and why you chose engineering.

At school, I was drawn to technical subjects – technical drawing as well as maths and physics. I drew up a shortlist of possible degree subjects – architecture, mechanical engineering, and civil engineering. I decided to specialise in the latter after realising the career and travel opportunities available in civil engineering.

Most of my career before WCS was with Trans-Africa Projects. The company is based in South Africa, but active throughout southern Africa and beyond. It was great to be able to visit so many countries for work. Internationally I also worked on projects in Argentina and Australia, although unfortunately travel restrictions under the COVID-19 pandemic meant we weren’t able to attend in person as planned.

Certain standards in South Africa are based on the Eurocode, loosely anyway. That meant I was able to hit the ground running at WCS. In South Africa, as in the US, we have the title of Professional Engineer in place of chartered status. Fortunately, there is some mutual recognition. After a transitional period of work and being mentored here, I should be able to transfer my Pr. Eng. title over to MICE as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Why did you make the move to WCS and the UK?

WCS contacted me directly about a role they had available, as they were impressed with my education and my experience in power and energy. It just seemed like a really good fit. One of the reasons I joined WCS is because of its commitment to sustainability and supporting the shift to renewable energy in the UK through our work on projects such as BESS, rail electrification and many more.

It was a big leap as I was living in South Africa at the time – and got to know the team virtually. But, having now made the move to the UK, it’s been a fantastic experience. From the MD Asa Whitfield to the graduate engineers, I feel I’ve been welcomed with open arms. I’m really excited about the future.

If you would like to discuss a BESS or other project in the rail and power & energy space, please get in touch by emailing info@wcs-consult.co.uk or calling +44(0)20 3581 7847.