Carnegie Mellon University
September 05, 2016

Internship - Hydroelectric Power Infrastructure

Internship - Hydroelectric Power Infrastructure

CEE graduate student Peter Tschofen (MS ’17) knew he would one day like to work at at company like Illwerke VKW AG, a utility company in his home country of Austria. This summer he had the opportunity to do an internhip at Illwerke VKW AG where he worked at their hydroelectric plant. 

CEE: Tell us about the work you did this summer.

Illwerke VKW AG is a utility company in my home state in Austria that basically only does hydroelectric power. It generates electricity from water flowing down the mountains, and pumps the water back up the mountains if need be.

I was accompanying the surveying crew as they did measurements of the terrain and checked the infrastructure to see that everything worked as expected. If the terrain shifts a little they have to check to make sure everything is still working.

CEE: How did you find out about this internship?

This is my hometown so I was aware of the energy company and I just applied for a job directly. When I started studying civil engineering I knew I would likely want to work at a company like this.

It’s uplifting because it’s a very green form of energy. It’s a nice company to work for and it has been a very important employer in the area for many years, and working there strengthened my intent to work for a similar sort of green energy company.

CEE: Were there particular CEE classes that helped to prepare you for this internship?

The energy courses I took, including a course called Energy Demand and Utilization taught by my adviser Costa Samaras.

Another class that I took called Infrastructure Management, taught by Sean Qian and Don Coffelt, was helpful; since I got to know all these different pieces of infrastructure, I got to see how infrastructure management works in practice.

CEE: What skills did you pick up or develop through this internship?

I didn’t study civil engineering in undergrad, so for me it was all new. I got to know a lot of the technical details of doing measurements, and I got to know the pieces of equipment that they’re using, which is very interesting.

CEE: What would you say was your favorite part of the experience?

One thing that was really great was that I got to know every part of infrastructure they have. I visited the dams, I got to see the pipes. The company is currently building two power plants so I was able to visit those sites as well.

I also got to interact with a lot of people. It’s a typical utility company but it’s very influential in the Vorarlberg region and it provides electricity to a lot of nearby industry, particularly in Germany.

Germany is currently working toward abandoning nuclear power and using more renewable sources, so everyone has very strong opinions about the energy sector and about which renewables are actually useful. The people working at Illwerke are convinced that they’re working on the best type of renewable energy, and I like working with people who have that conviction in what they’re doing.