Smart Electrical Systems and Networks – Students and Graduates

Student – Amelia Ngo Minh Phuong Sergio Ricardo da Motta Pires Gregory Kotsis Akshaya Prabakar

Student – Amelia Ngo Minh Phuong


Name: Ngo Minh Phuong, Amelia
Nationality: Vietnamese
Name of Master’s Programme: MSc SENSE
Current University: TU/e

MSc SENSE student Amelia Ngo Minh Phuong is very passionate and masterful at expressing herself – whether she sharing stories from her time spent so far at InnoEnergy Master’s School or reliving a memory held dear to her. There is no doubt that she will be a top evangelical voice for the sustainable energy movement in the decades to come.

Why did you choose the MSc SENSE programme?

I really took my time looking at Master’s programmes, a few years.

MSc SENSE fits the best with my educational background and I also love the mobility that the program offers. Also, since my first job was with a start-up company where I had a chance to work closely with the founders, the additional exposure to the entrepreneurship aspect of the programme really speaks to me and opens my mind up to a lot of ideas.

When I started the business and entrepreneurial courses, it was like a bulb just lit up. Everything became clear and all my doubt washed away as I realised, “if they can do it, there is no reason you can’t!”

Why are you interested in sustainable energy? Do you have a specific passion within this field?

When I graduated in Singapore in 2010 with a bachelor degree in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. I was offered two very different jobs. One was to follow the predictable path of the IC Design Engineer, while the other was to take up an exciting new challenge and work with a start-up company in Green technology. Of course I chose the new path!

I just couldn’t imagine myself spending 8 hours in front of a desktop looking at circuits every day. This first job is where my interest in sustainable energy/technology started to germinate. The challenge of the start-up company and the exposure to many different and interesting encounters, all concerned with the benefits of conserving energy in one way or another – this is where my passion began.

Do you feel you were able to interact with InnoEnergy start-ups and industry partners during or after your studies?

Yes, many occasions! To name a few:

  • I had a chance to visit the RnD centres of Vattenfall – one of the biggest utilities in Europe.
  • There were also many different case-solving events that each InnoEnergy community organised at different cool locations such as Stockholm and Eindhoven.
  • While helping out InnoEnergy at the booth for one of the road shows, I was introduced to a lot of industry partners.

 Are there any special projects that you are working on at the moment – or have worked on before?

The most interesting project that I’ve worked on so far was with my group mates on the summer entrepreneurship project at ESADE business school. We were given a “real” need, and were taught how to creatively think and problem solve. This exercise taught me how to use my knowledge creatively – and really gave me a boost in my self-confidence. I realized I was really able to come up with a viable solution! I was able to use this same creative thinking at Hanoi Innovation Week. Our team of 5 went there and won the Innovation Challenge! I was so proud… and now I know that my ideas are viable and have great potential.

What is your best memory from your time with the Master’s School so far?

I have so many “best” memories that it is really tough to just choose one. The KICK OFF event in 2015 comes to mind, where I was so thankful for being introduced to these new people, this new world and the grand horizon that had just popped open to me. I went away from the event

Believing in myself, knowing that I can do whatever I want to as long as I put my mind to it. It was so powerful for me.

Another great memory: After working really hard through the summer with the business school and perhaps not seeing as much of Barcelona as I would have liked, it was the last night before we all parted our separate ways. My classmates and I partied all night. And at dawn, we all went to Bunker de Carmel and witnessed the sunrise. I still remember the chilled air giving me goosebumps but when I looked at my friends who were all admiring the peacefulness, I felt peace too.

How would you like to contribute to a sustainable future?

When I have moments of doubt as to whether I can personally come up with some remarkable new breakthrough in science and technology, I often tell people that I can be a good preacher for the sustainable movement. Back in Vietnam where I am from, sustainability is still a luxury most can’t afford. And I want to change that by spreading awareness, telling people what I know is true. There must be some change in the government but it also begins from the people on up – with education. I don’t have a more concrete plan yet, but I am sure that this is the path I was meant for.

Sergio Ricardo da Motta Pires

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Name: Sergio Ricardo da Motta Pires
Nationality: Brazilian
Name of Master’s Programme: MSc SENSE
Current University: Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya – UPC

MSc SENSE student Sergio Ricardo is a self-described geek for power systems. He choose the InnoEnergy programme in order to join the “big leagues” and to help him realise his dream of bringing clean energy to those in the world that still do not have easy and reliable access to electricity.


Why did you choose the MSc SENSE programme?

I had a couple of offers from different Erasmus Mundus master’s programmes. I decided for InnoEnergy because of the quality of the universities involved (all top 100!). I am extremely passionate about power systems (a geeky thing to be passionate about, I know!) and I am fascinated by how they will evolve to be smarter and more efficient. In this programme, I have the chance to be involved be directly in this evolution.

Why are you interested in sustainable energy? Do you have a specific passion within this field?

I am from Brazil, a country where there are still a lot of people without access to electricity on a regular basis. Being also from a region extremely rich in wind and solar resources, I saw this as a “missed opportunity” – and wanted to be a part of the solution. As an electrical engineer I could work with renewable energies. Then I saw the huge potential of improving the field power distribution and transmission systems.

Is there any special projects or a degree thesis that you are working on at the moment?

I really appreciate the fact that I am involved in more practical projects. I think that at this level of education a student should be pushed to get more hands-on practice, with the focus on “learning by doing” instead of just absorbing knowledge from books or classes. At this, the SENSE programme is amazing. We were involved in projects through almost all semesters and have the chance to enrol in project-based courses and also there is a mandatory internship at the path that I followed at UPC.

The incentive to be actively working in an external company or research centre is excellent and really a differential when comparing to other programs, and it can really be felt that the student is in control of his own education in that aspect. We have a lot of freedom to decide what we want to study, and the projects in which we will be involved – even the location.

What is your best memory from your time with the Master’s School so far?

There were a lot of amazing memories. I really appreciated all of the training that we received – one week in Barcelona and another week in Krakow for a Power Quality Module. This was definitely one of the high points of the masters. The technical visits at ABB in Vasterås and Ludvika, to see the biggest research facility in High Voltage engineering in the world, was also astonishing. It really felt like we were at the center of these developments, being trained to effectively make a change in the field.

The most remarkable memory I have is from when I arrived in Sweden. I told some friends that I wanted to enroll here to be in the “big leagues”, where the technologies for sustainable energies are being developed. And during the first week, I got out for a walk around the campus and I saw Dr. Stephen Hawking just calmly strolling around in the street. Seeing one of the brightest minds in the history of mankind on the street where I lived really made me aware that I was indeed now in the “big leagues”!

Do you feel you were able to interact with InnoEnergy start-ups and industry partners during or after your studies?

There are tons of events, like the Speaker Series, which brings entrepreneurs from InnoEnergy start-ups to discuss with us the challenges and opportunities. We also have a lot of interaction in career fairs and other InnoEnergy events. I did an internship at an InnoEnergy partner company and I know several other students that are either doing their internships or master thesis at these companies. We have the chance to work in a dynamic work environment and get our hands on actual challenges in the field.

How do you find the integration of business and entrepreneurship in the programme?

I think it is very good. We are incentivised to look for business opportunities with the technologies we are studying, and the ESADE Business Summer School in Barcelona was amazing – a crash course on entrepreneurship and business creation, which definitely made a lot of the students excited to pursue their own ideas.

Has the programme atmosphere give you any inspiration for products, services or companies?

In this sort of environment is very hard NOT to be inspired. I have never been much of a creative person to be honest, and I never even considered having my own company before starting this masters. But with the amount of training that you receive with focus on entrepreneurship and being involved in so many talks and discussions about exciting new technologies …this fills our heads with great ideas!

In what way, do you believe your 2 years at InnoEnergy Master’s School will contribute to your professional career?

I think that the opportunity to attend to two top universities in the world is going to be great for my career. The technical training that I received during this period was amazing, and I feel I am a way better engineer for having had this opportunity. The InnoEnergy Career Centre is also great in providing training for “soft skills”, and I feel I have also improved a lot on that. Just by being in an environment with so many passionate people who want to solve the same problems as you do… it’s extremely inspiring!

Gregory Kotsis

Year of graduation: 2014, currently project engineer at the Catalonia Institute for Energy Research (IREC) in Barcelona, Spain

“The master’s thesis is really what opened the door for me. Everything I studied has helped, all the knowledge I gained, all the courses and lectures, everything.”

Gregory started out studying electrical engineering and found the study of production and consumption of energy really stimulating. “The environmental problems were the reason I took an interest in sustainable energy. My ambition is to return to Greece. There is a lot of potential there when it comes to green power and I want to inject even more and make it more sustainable,” explains Gregory.

Spending time in different countries helped to develop his personality

Gregory thinks that his studies were a very interesting period in his life, spending his time in different countries. One of his favourite memories during his studies is his time at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden. “It was a very organised and high-quality university, so that’s a very basic reason. And of course the people,” he says.

Gregory also says that having the opportunity to meet many people from many different countries and cultures really developed his personality: “You gain knowledge when trying to explain something to people who think differently than you do. That really helps one to understand what to improve. The international experience was by far the most important part of my studies.”

Focus on your own field, but be open to others

Gregory finds it hard to think of anything he would change about the programme, but he recommends that future students study hard, and not only at lectures. He believes it is important to try to gain knowledge and experience in one’s own field.

“Focus on your own field in terms of knowledge, but be open to other fields as well, and be able to change your mind. That’s innovation,” he says.

The courses in entrepreneurship helped him develop some new ideas and improvise on new things, even though his business ideas have yet to be realised: “I had some business ideas together with some friends, but experience and knowledge are not enough if the idea is not good, you need to work really hard. In order to gain some more knowledge I decided to work at an institute.”

Consumption based on production

In the future, Gregory wants to return to Greece to try to make the energy production more sustainable. A reliable grid is the key: a power system that is able to supply power to all consumers without problems and at the same time complies with the EU goals for CO2 reduction.

Gregory says: “We need to invest more in green power. And we need to get the most out of it. We also have to make the energy storage systems more affordable in terms of demand response. We have to try to consume electricity based on the production we have. Consumption that follows the production is the key.”

Akshaya Prabakar

Akshaya shares her experience working on an innovation project at KTH in Sweden. She emphasises the importance of teamwork in innovation, saying that you need the input of others to make your ideas better.

 Why is sustainable energy important to you?

With the idea of sustainable electricity I could produce something that could be used for years without exhausting my energy resources. It’s like promising a better future for the rest of the world in the upcoming years. If you can contribute to this, I would say there’s nothing like it, and that’s what motivates me.”

Why did you choose the SENSE programme?

“My bachelors was in electrical engineering, so I thought this programme was the best choice for me. I chose Sweden and KTH and because of the innovation project that forms part of the course schedule. I really wanted to do something like that because it has a big collaboration with the industry.”

What sort of things do you think you will learn from it?

“The first thing I would say is project management, because there are six of us and the project is huge, so we have to divide it into sections. The second thing is research, because the topic will be completely new. The third thing would be working together, because this is an actual project so you really have to work as a team to provide the necessary output.”

Would you say there’s a good environment for innovation on the programme?

“When we started the innovation course, it was not just the MSc SENSE students involved. There were people from the Smart Cities programme and people from MSc SELECT and MSc RENE. We get to meet all the other people who are working on different aspects of sustainable solutions for the system as a whole, and they come up with different ideas, and it’s amazing – because they have ideas that we could use in a different way! It’s very enriching. In that situation it pushes you to think so much. Those discussions were some of the best.”

What does entrepreneurship mean to you?

“An idea that is feasible and can be put to use. It’s not about thinking of new ideas. I think a million people would already have thought of the same thing, but I think putting it into action and making it possible is what I would call entrepreneurship. There was a part of the SENSE programme where we had a guest lecture from one of the entrepreneurs at KTH and it was really good. The minute he left the room all of us were saying we HAVE to do something! I got the inspiration there.”

Do you have an idea for your thesis?

“I would like to work on energy efficiency in lighting systems.”

What about after you graduate?

“After graduating I will work a period in the research and development part of an electrical company. Afterwards I would go back to India and create a start-up for providing lighting systems.”

What sorts of skills to you need to be an entrepreneur?

“A lot of courage. When you have an idea you mustn’t lose heart. And the motivation. And of course the start-up money, but I would say that’s all you need.”

What sorts of students do well on the MSc SENSE programme?

“You have to show the passion somewhere, either in your studies or your grades or your work – for example some innovative project that you’ve been a part of. You really need the passion. If you do all of that and you don’t have the passion, I don’t think it’s really worth it.”