Did you always want to work in the hydropower industry

I started my university degree in mechanical engineering at École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1999. At that moment, the aerospace industry was very strong in Montréal and it felt natural for me to integrate into this area. However, at the end of my engineering degree, the aerospace industry was weakened by the September 11th event in 2001. At the same time, I wanted to deepen my knowledge and so chose to do a masters in the newly emerging lab of fluid-structure interaction at Polytechnique de Montréal. My masters project was about tube instabilities induced by internal biphasic flow and by the end of my studies, I knew I wanted to work with vibrating structures. After two years working in a small company, I had the opportunity to join the mechanical analysis group at GE Hydro (now ANDRITZ). It was a perfect match for me. I was proud to work for the renewable energy industry and the technical challenges were, and are still, very interesting.

What is your experience and expertise within the hydropower industry?

I performed finite element analysis of all the main turbine components. I also worked with the R&D group to develop tools for the Francis runner rotor-stator dynamic stress prediction, a destructive phenomenon appearing in modern, high-energy density, hydro turbines. I was then responsible for programming the tool and validating it using prototype strain gauge measurements. After ANDRITZ’s acquisition of GE Hydro in 2008, I participated in the harmonisation of the runner stress prediction and fatigue life calculation methods and tools in the new global organisation.

From 2012, I continued working in R&D for dynamic stress prediction. There were new challenges related to deep part load conditions with intermittent vortices and the transient dynamic stresses during turbine start-ups. These phenomena are becoming unavoidable with the required enlarged operating ranges to equilibrate the grid when facing more intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar. I contributed to many publications on these subjects with my colleagues and presented at many conferences such as IAHR, CEATI and Waterpower Canada conferences. I also directed some master and PhD thesis through university collaborations. 

I was nominated Team Leader of the mechanical analysis group of the Montreal office in 2014. My team has grown in members and in skills through the years and is offering highly advanced analysis services to ANDRITZ customers worldwide, including design, static and dynamic stress calculation, fatigue life calculation, fracture mechanic and remaining life calculations of hydro-turbine components. I also participate in root cause analysis workforce, the elaboration of several internal ANDRITZ design rules and was nominated as one of the 25 ANDRITZ Global Turbine Principal Engineers in 2019, being the first woman in this role. Since 2019, I am also an expert member of the IEC group working on turbine runner fatigue life prediction.

How did you feel about being awarded the Woman of Waterpower for 2022? 

I was very honoured. I was also surprised that this award was given for a technical career. The fact that I received it is very nice recognition for all the people who are working on the technical solutions for our hydroelectric equipment. It recognises that we need talent in technical positions, not only management, so that we can meet the challenges that the energy transition is presenting us with.

Has gender ever been an issue for you throughout your career? Has it hindered or helped you in any way?

I must admit that my gender has never been an issue for me. When I began my career, I felt I had to make people know I was a graduated engineer to avoid misunderstanding. But in the end, I have only met very open-minded incredible men and women. I guess I was born at the right place, in the good decades. My only regret is not having more female colleagues. I would like to tell young women not to put extra limits on themselves. Just do what you like. You may find that many glass ceilings have already been broken and some others are just waiting for someone to break them.

Some people can also think motherhood is a brake on your career. Indeed, parenthood brings its share of responsibility and tasks, but it also allows you to develop a lot of skills that may be very useful in your career, such as efficiency and organisation. I have three children born in 2008, 2009 and 2011 and it has never prevented me to give my 100% at work.

Are there increasing numbers of women coming through the ranks in similar positions to you? If not, why do you think that is?

Unfortunately, there are still too few women in mechanical engineering. And honestly, I don’t know why. Mechanical design necessitates a lot of creative work which is very interesting from my point of view.

What would you say to encourage other women who may be considering working in the hydropower industry?

Go for it! It is a wonderful way to contribute to the green energy transition. We need young talent to push back the boundaries of each design. There is no river alike, there is no project alike. Each time, we are designing a new prototype. Innovation is part of the daily job in the hydropower industry, and it makes it very motivating. Even though it is an old industry, the operating conditions of the hydro plants are changing to equilibrate the fact that the grid is facing intermittent supplies of wind and solar energy. In the optimisation of new designs, turbines now have to accommodate fascinating flow phenomena which threatens the equipment reliability. We need to do more to make hydropower equipment reliable, to secure our energy supply toward the green energy transition.

What can the industry do to try to encourage more women?

Make them know they are appreciated. Give them responsibilities and interesting projects. Trust them. Give greater flexibility for a work-family balance – for both men and women. 

What would you say have been some of the highlights of your career to date?

Over the years, I worked on so many new projects and refurbishments that it would be impossible to name them all but here are some of the highlights: Ste-Marguerite 3 replacement runner, Cheakamus replacement runner, Mica U5-6 on the Columbia River, Lower Mattagami River Project, Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River, plus Sir Adam Beck 1 G1-2, among many others.

Any other comments?

I would like to thank Canadian WaterPower and the Women in Renewable Energy for this award, my managers at ANDRITZ who proposed my nomination, my colleagues at ANDRITZ without whom I would not have accomplished any of this, and my spouse who shares equally the mental load at home. I’d also like to thank my colleagues from other compagnies, customers, competitors and suppliers, because we are all working towards the same objective, to improve the quality of our equipment, secure our energy supply and making it greener for our future.