Jemena Managing Director, David Gillespie

Appointed Managing Director of Jemena in late 2023, after 17 years with the business, David Gillespie’s wealth of leadership experience and long history in the industry made him an obvious choice for the role. He sat down with Utility Magazine to discuss the challenges currently facing the sector and the work that Jemena is undertaking to tackle them.

Jemena owns and operates a large and diverse portfolio of energy assets including gas and electricity distribution networks, gas transmission pipelines and gas processing facilities across the eastern coast of Australia and is responsible for connecting millions of homes and businesses to electricity and gas every day.

For almost two decades, David Gillespie has been with the business in various roles, starting in finance and moving up to the Chief Financial Officer position before December 2023. Prior to joining the team at Jemena, Mr Gillespie worked for Alinta Energy – which later became Jemena and Deloitte.

“I have been in the role a little over nine months now; it has been a busy start to the year and I don’t think it’s going to slow down,” Mr Gillespie said.

“The culture at Jemena is a great one, and I plan to continue and build on that culture to ensure our people are supported in the work they need to achieve. 

“Leadership is just that: leading. And you need a team to do that. COVID definitely taught us that as executives and people in leadership roles, that we need to step out from behind the desk and that people have families and homes and things important outside of work and you can’t just put a wall up and say, this is work and this is home. 

“We’ve fostered a great culture of supporting our people to lead meaningful lives professionally and personally, and this has not been by accident; I’m very proud of the work we’ve done to set up a framework that encourages all of our people to come to work as their authentic selves.”

Delivering a safe, affordable and reliable transition 

The transition to renewables is undoubtedly a hot topic in every corner of the industry, and while having the right conversations are a pivotal part of ensuring the success of this transition, the next and most important step is turning those plans into actions.

“The biggest challenge facing the industry is the transition. Anyone who is in the industry or adjacent to it knows that delivering on our net zero targets and decarbonising our energy system is the thing on everyone’s lips,” Mr Gillespie said.

“We’ve spent quite a few years, a decade really, talking about the problem. Now we are well and truly on the road to putting those discussions into actions. It’s incredibly important work, but what we also need to ensure, particularly as a distributor, is how do we deliver that transition safely, reliably, and at the least cost to the customer. And that’s where the challenge is. 

“Jemena is certainly on that journey, along the rest of the energy industry. In some ways, we are leading that journey. From the installation of community batteries across the network, to ensuring consumer energy resources (CER) such as EVs and Solar Panels are plugged into the grid in a safe and reliable way to finding new and innovative partnerships with other industries to ensure we are all on the same pathway and helping one another achieve net zero.”

To that aim, Mr Gillespie explains that the introduction of electric vehicles (EVs) is a major focus for Jemena.

“In the electricity system EVs and the introduction of them on our roads is a big focus at Jemena. As they become more commonplace and more families are drawing off the grid to power their cars, Jemena needs to ensure we have enough energy in the system for when it’s needed.

“We spent a lot of last year engaged in trials that helped us better understand how people use their EVs. This year we’ll be focused on working with governments to ensure that we have the right policy settings in place and the flexible services available to ensure people can charge their cars when they need to. 

“EVs are just one piece of the puzzle and we are also exploring things like Community Batteries, and taking steps to ensure our network can handle increases in things like rooftop solar. At the same time, we need to ensure that our customers are at the heart of all of these changes, that their needs, preferences, and vision for the future inform the work we do. To this end, we will continue to spend a lot of time engaging with and listening to our customers – particularly as we start developing our future pricing and services plans,” Mr Gillespie said. 

Forging ahead with renewable gas

Decarbonising the grid and reducing carbon emissions are also key focuses for Jemena when it comes to meeting net zero goals. Investment in renewable gas is pivotal to achieving these targets, and Mr Gillespie is proud to share that Jemena is leading the way in this area, particularly in biomethane production. 

“The Malabar Biomethane Injection Plant is co-located next to Sydney Water’s Malabar Water Resource Recovery Facility. Jemena has partnered with Sydney Water to create basically a circular economy where biogas is produced from organic waste at the Resource Recovery Facility and turned into biomethane. 

“At the facility about 95 terajoules of energy is produced annually which is the equivalent of 6,300 household’s yearly energy needs. By repurposing waste that otherwise would end up being emitted into the atmosphere, we can create a product which can be used in the same way natural gas currently is.

“In addition, participating in Channel 10’s MasterChef has been a real opportunity to demonstrate how renewable gas, in particular biomethane can be used in a very practical and tangible way. 

“It’s been a great undertaking between the entire industry including AGIG, TasGas, ATCO, the team at the Malabar site who had to get the biomethane to Melbourne. It was a real group effort. And as a result biomethane is being used in the MasterChef Kitchen that has come from the Malabar Biomethene Plant. This means viewers at home can see that renewable gas is here, it’s ready and it looks and works just like natural gas,” Mr Gillespie said. 

What’s in the pipeline for Jemena?

Gas shortfall is also a pressing issue for all utilities and their communities, and Victoria has been flagged as particularly high risk for shortages in the near future.

“Last month we announced the reversal of the Eastern Gas Pipeline, which could see up to 300TJ/d of gas being sent south from New South Wales into Victoria. Given forecast gas shortages in Victoria, this is an innovative solution designed to ensure customers in Victoria have access to the natural gas during winter when they really need it,” Mr Gillespie said

“We will also be finalising our pricing and services plans for our electricity and gas distribution networks in Victoria and New South Wales respectively, before submitting the plans to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) for review and endorsement. 

“We’ve spent the best part of 18 months developing the plans in consultation with our customers across our electricity and gas networks. Their feedback has proven crucial in shaping things like how much we invest in new energy services, such as renewable gas, as well as how we best navigate the transition while keeping energy affordable and reliable.” 

On the electricity front, Mr Gillespie explains that Jemena is continuing to prepare its network for the future, is noting that how customers use the electricity grid is continuing to evolve. 

“For our residential customers this means ensuring we’re prepared for things like an increase in rooftop solar installations and greater uptake of electric vehicles. For our large customers this means working collaboratively to ensure we’re designing bespoke solutions that meet their needs,” Mr Gillespie said.

“As a case in point, we’re working with a number of data centres who can, in some instances, use as much electricity as a small town. Data centres are a crucial part of modern life and contain the physical infrastructure which make things like the internet, AI, cloud computing and a host of other applications possible. 

“For these customers we are continuing to develop solutions which make available not only the large amount of energy they need, but do it in a way that ensures they can be confident  it will be there when needed, that is the system is reliable. 

“While it certainly is a challenging time for our sector, I’m really excited by the once in a lifetime opportunities the energy transition presents. The transition demands that we work collaboratively towards a shared goal for the benefit of current and future generations – something we can all be proud of,” Mr Gillespie said.

“I look forward to meeting new people over the year and reconnecting with long-standing colleagues and friends!” 

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