Dr Oona Nanka-Bruce
Dr Oona Nanka-Bruce is a Principal Engineer for Parsons Brinckerhoff. Since completing her programme, Oona has continued in her role as a transmission planning specialist at Parsons Brinckerhoff, with a focus on projects in Africa. In recent years she has worked on major power development projects in Ethiopia and Kenya.
CourseEnergy Economics and Policy
What attracted you to choose Surrey and to study your course here?
Prior to choosing the course at Surrey, I was working as a Principal Power Systems Engineer at Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) with over 16 years experience in distribution and transmission network analysis. However I was very keen to extend my capabilities on economic issues relating to the energy sector, another area of business offered by PB. Initially I was looking for short professional courses which I thought would help me develop the necessary skills in energy policy as I wasn’t prepared to take on another university degree. However there was nothing suitable available so I finally decided to investigate university courses.
One of my main career goals is to formulate and implement energy policies for developing countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
I chose the Energy Economics and Policy course at Surrey because it was internationally renowned in energy economics and I felt the course would give me the necessary skills I required to pursue my career goal. In addition our company was located in Godalming, thus Surrey was best suited for a part time course. A Principal Economist at work, highly respected, also vouched for the course based on his knowledge of a previous colleague who had taken the same course. That was sufficient confirmation that I had made the right choice.
What is your strongest memory of your time at Surrey – what do you picture first when you think of being here?
Taking the course has been one of the fulfilling things I have done in my life. I enjoyed the friendly and stimulating environment in the Energy Economics Department. I found the lecturers and my fellow students very supportive. Although the course was challenging, it provided me with the opportunity to exchange ideas and work together with other students, and learn from the lecturers.
I established good strong relationships with some of my class mates and lecturers and stayed in touch on completing the course. Two lecturers, Professor Hunt and Ms Joanne Evans, supported me in publishing a paper after finishing the course.
What is the one thing you would say about Surrey (or your course) to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?
The strength of the energy economics course in particular was the fact that the topics were on current issues. I also found the energy modelling course very interesting and it helped me to understand econometrics better (which was a difficult subject for most students).
I think one of the important aspects with regards to research is your choice of supervisor. Professor Hunt was my supervisor for my MSc project and he was great. He was very structured with regards to arranging meetings to discuss progress, helping to develop ideas etc. That helped me to stay on track, which wasn’t easy because of pressure at work.
How did you change as a person during your time as a Surrey postgraduate, and how has your time here influenced your life and career since then?
I felt like I was stepping outside the purely technical power engineering box. My dissertation assessed which socio-economic factors had a significant impact on rural electrification in sub-Saharan Africa. My choice of topic was driven by my career goal of formulating energy policy in Africa. Following publication of an article based on my dissertation (see answer to next question), I was given the opportunity to speak at the Commonwealth Business Council Power Summit 2011 held in London on 1-2 March 2011, the presentation was on Rural Electrification - A Key to Economic Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. I believe rural electrification underpins the effectiveness of agricultural advancement through agribusiness and agro-industries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is therefore a key to economic growth for countries in the region. This in turn will reduce poverty in the rural areas, enhance food security and reduce migration to urban areas.
Since completing the energy economics course, I have continued in my role as a transmission planning specialist at Parsons Brinckerhoff with a focus on projects in Africa. In the last couple of years I have worked on major power development projects in Ethiopia and Kenya. Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) was appointed by the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo) in August 2012 to undertake the Ethiopian Power System Expansion Masterplan Studyto plan the development of Ethiopia’s electricity generation and transmission system for the next 25 years. I am PB’s Resident Field Manager for the project, based in Addis Ababa for 12 months with supplementary involvement in the transmission planning. The role involves the setting up and running of a branch office in Addis Abba, day-to-day liaison with the client, participation in meetings with EEPCo senior management on the impact of the study on policy issues.
In 2011, I also led the Africa Strategy Team for our Power Networks’ business unit in formulating strategic actions for our operations in Africa. As a result, I became responsible for the business development of Power Networks’ activities in Africa, currently focusing on Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia.
Access to electricity aids development, helps to improve quality of life, enables economic growth and ultimately will reduce poverty.
"I can say that my time at Surrey has influenced my thinking"
I am confident that I will get the opportunity to utilise the skills I acquired on the course, the activities I have been involved in since then plus my technical expertise of working on power projects in Africa to attain my future goal, which is formulating and implementing energy policy in Africa.
What has been your career highlight to date?
With regards to energy economics, in 2010, an article based on my dissertation was accepted for publication by the Journal of Energy and Development. The article was accepted first time, which is extremely rare, with minor revisions required. The Associate Director of the Journal said the reviewers believed the article was outstanding. In addition, the article was selected by the Journal to be highlighted on their website. The article was entitled “The socio economic drivers of rural electrification in Sub-Saharan Africa”.
What are your top tips for students aspiring to work in your profession?
It is hard work but very rewarding. I am not sure if these are top tips, but the following has helped me:
- Team work; motivating and supporting each other
- Effective communication with clients; understanding your client’s needs and using your collective expertise to meet those needs
- Flexibility on travelling and working in less developed countries