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After studying Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at The University of Adelaide, Sam Drown (2011–16) has quickly established himself as a key player in large-scale clean energy projects.

31 May 2022

Recently I have been in touch with Pembroke old scholar Sam Drown (2011–16).

Recently I have been in touch with Pembroke old scholar Sam Drown (2011–16). After studying Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at The University of Adelaide, Sam has quickly established himself as a key player in large-scale clean energy projects. Motivated by the engineering challenges and a desire to help create a better environment, Sam’s enthusiasm for his work was palpable.

Tim O’Loughlin
Head of Publications

Hi Sam, what have you been up to since leaving Pembroke?

After finishing school I went on to study Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at The University of Adelaide where I was able to lean into my passion for everything ‘space’! This actually came about after meeting an industry professional, Mark Ramsey, at a Pembroke Careers Breakfast and seeing that this was a viable career—Thanks, Mark!

Upon graduation I was fortunate to go and work on the joint US/AUS Space Surveillance Telescope (SST) in remote Western Australia with a talented international team, where we principally tracked satellites and space debris—a situation that needs continued focus in the current environment. During this time I was becoming increasingly interested in the clean energy transition and the role that Australia can play in this space, and decided that a change of scenery was in order.

A few plane rides later while dodging COVID-19 I ended up working in Sydney with 5B, a clean technology company that accelerates access to low-cost, safely deployed, gigawatt-scale solar energy.

What is it about the clean energy transition that inspires you?

I strongly believe that the clean energy transition is of a scale we have never seen before. Almost every industry will be impacted and hence there is such a great opportunity to change current practices. I’m loving being a part of the innovative ideas that we are coming up with to address this global need at 5B, and it’s great to see other companies tackling such a variety of challenges worldwide. For Australia I’m hopeful that we are able to jump into and solve some of these challenges, and in doing so improve our economic complexity and futureproof our skill base.

As with any megaproject the clean energy transition relies on so many pieces working cohesively together, and the ability to unite behind a common mission is a great thing to inspire yourself to power through any long workday!

You mentioned when we spoke on the phone that the company you work with is embarking on an amazing solar project; can you tell us about that?

Working at a start-up has certainly been a stark contrast to being with a global defence prime but it is much more my pace. 5B is dedicated to developing low-cost utility-scale solar on a scale never seen before and is currently the preferred supplier for the world’s largest solar farm, Suncable, to be built in the Northern Territory, which will supply 15% of Singapore’s total energy needs (in addition to Darwin and the NT).

To execute on projects of the scale of Suncable we need to continue the cost reduction in utility-scale solar through innovation across the production, deployment, and operations and management of these systems. I was quickly given far more responsibility at 5B and am now managing a project to develop a custom vehicle for the deployment of 5B’s Maverick Solar solution, which will revolutionise our speed of deployment, driving down cost in the process.

Other interesting projects I’ve been working on relate to automating manufacturing lines through the use of industrial robotics and continuing our product development and optimisation journey across multiple regions.

With solar solutions being adopted globally it’s clear that larger solar farms will become commonplace, but it has been interesting to learn how different environments, such as high wind regions or areas with various geotechnical makeups, can influence the design and cost-competitiveness of different systems—after all, solar farms in cyclonic areas sound pretty crazy until you see them withstanding those high wind loads!’.

Sam Drown2

Sam Drown third from left, front row and colleagues with the US/AUS Space Surveillance Telescope

Do you have any advice to our students about finding the right career for themselves?

There is a lot of general advice out there from those with far more experience than me; so, trying to keep it practical:

The best way to navigate the current industry dynamic is to develop a strong skill base that can be applied across numerous sectors—principally, for students, I think this is learning difficult problem-solving through Maths, Science and, importantly, programming. If you’re interested in STEM you really must learn how to program—it will probably triple your career options overnight and allow you to command far higher salaries in the process. If it doesn’t fit into your timetable, the online resources are very comprehensive.

I also think that it pays to be aware of some of the opportunities that aren’t in broad daylight. For example, prestigious top management consulting firms (e.g. Mckinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group and Bain Consulting) don’t have a footprint in Adelaide but could be interesting career prospects for talented young individuals.

As a final point I’m very strong on surrounding yourself with people who are aligned with your goals. I love being around ambitious people and I find that it’s contagious, so seeking out those people is of utmost importance.

Do you have particularly fond memories of your time at Pembroke that you can share with the readers?

I spent a lot of time at Pembroke playing and coaching Volleyball for the School. Seeing the program grow and develop over the past decade has been extremely rewarding, culminating in Pembroke retaking its place as Interschol champions for the past couple of years and sending teams to state and national volleyball competitions. I feel very proud to have been able to play a role in this development and should acknowledge Andrew Clark for his continuing dedication to
the sport.

I have very fond memories of a number of my teachers, with Mr Duffy and Mr Hopkins, my Science teachers in Years 11 and 12, absolute standouts for their enthusiasm. In particular I remember one day walking into Year 12 Physics and asking Mr Duffy about gravitational waves—not 5 minutes later he had pivoted the class to a fascinating discussion dissecting the, at the time, recent developments at Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) when gravitational waves had been detected for the first time.

The buy-in from Pembroke’s teaching staff along with a fantastic cohort of friends made my time at Pembroke a wonderful experience, and it’s exciting seeing so many former peers executing so well on their passions.