Middleton Group

Middleton Group has been selected as an ABA100® Winner for Community Contribution in The Australian Business Awards 2022. The Australian Business Award for Community Contribution [CCA] recognises organisations that implement initiatives that have a positive impact on the community and generate outcomes that have a long-term benefit.

Middleton Group has been recognised as a 2022 ABA100 Winner for Community Contribution for its pro-bono work supporting community sustainable energy projects, in particular community-owned wind farm Hepburn Energy, which needed to update its systems in order to install important new technology to mitigate bushfire risk, and Bendigo Tramways, which needed its electrical system upgraded to cope with hugely increased patronage.

“Middleton Group provides 1000 hours of free or low-cost engineering services every year for projects that have a positive impact on communities, especially those focusing on sustainable usage of power. By sharing our knowledge and partnering with like-minded community groups to deliver sustainable energy outcomes for Australasia’s towns and cities, we can shape a future that balances profit with the needs of individuals and groups.”

Keith MiddletonKeith Middleton, Founder, Middleton Group

Powering Australian communities
Middleton Group is an Australia-owned and operated consultancy that unites talented people to solve complex problems through innovation, collaboration and engineering excellence throughout Australia and, increasingly, in Aotearoa New Zealand. The company delivers services in strategy and planning, design and engineering, project management and delivery, and operations and maintenance to all the major engineering market segments: Industrial, power utilities, renewable energy, transport and water. Its engineering solutions strike a balance between commerciality, operational practicality and innovation.

Critically, Middleton Group, which is employee-owned, puts a strong focus on a diverse team of staff, a nurturing, collaborative, high-performance culture and strong core values. The shared vision is to create a sustainable energy future for communities and as part of that, the firm offers 1000 hours a year of pro-bono work – work at no fee or reduced fees – to help communities achieve that sustainable future. This entry focuses on the work Middleton Group undertook with two community enterprises, both in Victoria.

Hepburn Wind, a community-owned wind farm, had a deadline to install a compulsory new technology called a rapid earth fault current limiter (REFCL) to reduce the risk of bushfires caused by fallen powerlines. REFCL operates like a big safety switch in the electricity network. It detects when a powerline connects with the ground and limits the energy flow within a tenth of a second, reducing the possibility of fire or electric shocks. However, Hepburn Wind didn’t know whether its plant was well prepared for this new technology. Middleton Group supported Hepburn Wind to become REFCL-ready, reviewing its systems, indicating what components were not compliant and what testing was needed, and costing various options as well as outlining time frames for the work given the non-negotiable deadline.

Engineering work is highly collaborative, both internally and externally. Hepburn Wind had engaged multiple service providers for various aspects of this readiness project. Working with these service providers, specifically in sharing information and agreeing on steps forward, was essential for effective execution. This was particularly important as Middleton Group needed to custom-design an important component, which required a lot of collaborative effort with various vendors.

Overall, the Hepburn Wind project represented at least 40 hours of collaborative work. Hepburn Wind manager Taryn Lane praised the Middleton Group team, saying that what she most appreciated about their approach was “the openness and flexibility of the team to come up with a solution for our asset upgrade that was fit for purpose – not just for our existing operations but for the future ambitions of the site. The process was creative and got us to where we needed to be.” She also said, “Not only do they do a good job, but they are very supportive and really go above and beyond to ensure project completion.”

Bendigo Tramways, run by a trust, approached Middleton Group with a problem: Increasing demand for tram services had seen more trams on the line drawing more power, and this culminated in a disastrous day when the system overloaded and all trams stopped abruptly in the middle of the road. This type of power failure is called nuisance tripping and represents a safety risk to staff and passengers. Keen to avoid a repeat, Bendigo Tramways asked Middleton Group to review the existing direct-current load settings and propose new settings under which the network could safely operate.

Middleton Group staff needed to apply their knowledge of heritage tram electrical characteristics, Bendigo Tramways’ rail infrastructure, direct-current fault behaviour and direct-current protection settings, electrical network modelling software, as well as employ their knowledge of how to test various aspects of a rail network and draw on their expertise in providing risk-based assessments for protection settings. This work, totalling some 45 hours, was undertaken at no cost to the trust.

The outcomes of Middleton Group’s pro-bono work for Bendigo Tramways were wholly positive: the tramways are running safely to maximum capacity, and there has been no more nuisance tripping. Bendigo Tramways chief engineer Norm Grady, when asked to describe what he most appreciated about Middleton Group’s approach to solving problems, said he valued what he termed a “no-nonsense approach” and Middleton Group’s technical accuracy.

The outcomes of such pro-bono work don’t accrue to just the community groups that Middleton Group helps. Eric Bendtsen, who led both the Hepburn and Bendigo projects, was asked to describe the benefits of engaging in pro-bono work from both a corporate and personal perspective. “From a company point of view, it’s good for Middleton Group for the publicity and it feels good as engineers to use our skills to give back to the community,” he said. “Personally, it’s important to me as a human being and an engineer because it brings new challenges and opportunities.”

For more information, visit middletongroup.com.au/about-us/community-engagement

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