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Women in Renewables Profile: Cecilia Van Der Merwe


Mott MacDonald’s Principal Energy Consultant, Cecilia Van Der Merwe has been in the sector since 2015. Cecilia, who works across a vast range of projects, shares with us more on how she fell in love with Perth while working and studying full time, and more recently, Mott MacDonald’s experience as a sponsor of the Career Launcher Ticket program.

Tell us a bit about yourself personally and professionally

I’m a mechanical engineer, originally from Pretoria in South Africa (SA), with 16+ years of experience in the energy sector.

My career started out in the nuclear power industry before transitioning into renewable energy. In 2015, I obtained a master's degree in renewable energy whilst still working full time for an engineering consultancy who had operations in both SA and Australia. In early 2019, I took a short-term assignment in our Perth office for what was meant to be a 6-week project, but of course took much longer! I fell in love with Perth and the people, so I ended up taking a permanent role in January 2020. I then joined the Mott MacDonald Perth team in August 2022.

My Sundays are spent volunteering at Cat Haven, the largest cat shelter in Western Australia, where I feed the cats and maintain the kennels and grounds. Although physically demanding, the work is rewarding, and I love being part of a community that cares for the welfare of cats. I also organise fundraising events where members of the public can play with kittens for a donation, which leads to plenty of happy endings where the kittens find their forever homes.

Where do you work and what do you do?

I work at Mott MacDonald in our Perth office as a Principal Energy Consultant, which basically means I do a little bit of everything in the energy sector. This can range from helping clients develop decarbonisation strategies and roadmaps, through to doing detail designs of renewable energy infrastructure. My proficiency in coordinating and leading multidisciplinary teams to deliver successful outcomes for our clients, often means I take on project management roles within the team.

Can you describe a project or initiative you worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

One project that I’m immensely proud of is the development of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio project, which began as an idea in the late 1990s. The SKA radio project was an global vision to build the largest radio telescope in the world, and it went to international tender. I was fortunate to join the SA office in 2009 when they were shortlisted alongside Australia after the first round of tenders. My role was to help put together the power infrastructure report, highlighting SA’s energy plans and explaining why SA’s energy offering was more competitive – looking at things such as the percentage of renewables in the grid, the electricity price, and security. In 2012, the international panel of judges announced their decision to co-locate the SKA telescope as the project was too big for one single country. However, the power infrastructure report was very well received, with our energy offering being marked as a key strength in our proposal. It was great to receive such positive feedback, and especially given that Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell, a celebrated astrophysicist, was one of the judges!

Mott MacDonald is an active sponsor of the Career Launcher Program – What was the biggest takeaway for you personally after connecting with the WACEF Career Launcher Students in Perth last month?

It has been a very rewarding experience being able to give back to the community, and to talk to these future leaders of our industry. We spoke about the projects I have been working on at Mott MacDonald and where the industry is going, and I think they came out of the conference feeling like they had made the right career choice.

I think it helped that I’m a woman, they seemed to feel comfortable talking to me, but the fact that we didn’t even talk about being a woman in the energy sector shows that it’s no longer defining us, which is really encouraging.

What would you say to other members thinking of supporting the program and sponsoring women students looking to get into the industry?

Do it, you won’t regret it!

Of course, it’s great for the business to have that pipeline of potential graduates entering the workforce, but personally it is also so rewarding seeing someone else’s passion about renewable energy ignite. When I think back to when I was still a student, I would have jumped at the opportunity to connect with someone working in the industry.

What do you wish you were told when you first started out in your career?

Don't question your capability or your identity. All individuals are worthy and we all study equally hard. It can be easy to feel like you don’t belong, especially when you’re just starting out. And I think this applies not only to professional life, but also personal life. Ultimately, we're all just trying to do our best, and by recognising our own worth and that of others, we can create a more supportive and inclusive environment both in and out of the workplace.