Kasia Izdebska leading the innovation revolution at OPG
Before joining OPG, and shortly after graduating from university, Kasia Izdebska crossed off a major item on her bucket list by bicycling across Canada.
The 52-day trek from Victoria, B.C., to St. John’s, N.L., took her through mountains, small towns, narrow highways, and found her camping on the go each night.
“I remember it as if it were just yesterday,” said the professional engineer. “It was an accomplishment of a lifetime and helped me grow into the person that I am today – always believing that with dedication and consistency, you can achieve anything.”
Today, Izdebska is bringing the same ambition, resourcefulness, and anything-is-possible spirit to her role in driving innovation throughout OPG.
As Senior Manager, Enterprise Innovation, Izdebska leads a team of 25 people to develop and nurture an innovation vision for the entire company, from hydroelectric to nuclear.
As the first dedicated innovation department in OPG’s history, Izdebska’s group is now working to change ingrained thinking, encourage creativity, and implement new technologies and processes that provide value and efficiencies to OPG’s daily operations while helping the company meet its net-zero climate goals.
“I absolutely love my job. It’s very rewarding,” said Izdebska. “Every day is new, there’s no set agenda, and technology is constantly changing. You have to be very good at adapting to change, dealing with ambiguity, and making quick decisions.”
A big part of her job is developing products that don’t currently exist in the market.
That includes various patented wireless sensors that her team created from the ground up and are now in use across the company’s nuclear and hydro fleet.
These sophisticated sensors can improve equipment reliability and help avoid surprises by measuring how OPG’s equipment is performing. The sensors capture a wide range of data, including temperature, pressure, vibrations, voltage and current, leading to automation of many routine inspections and numerous efficiencies and cost savings for OPG.
“Historically at OPG, you’d have to go through a whole process to deploy any sensor,” she said. “Today, my team can give you a sensor and have it set up tomorrow. We’ve developed processes to create on-demand deployments very quickly. It’s this type of out-of-the-box thinking that will set OPG apart from the rest of the industry.”
The team also develops apps to streamline complicated work processes, manages OPG’s Generate Innovation pitch competition, and supports the use of agile robots for inspections as well as the use of 3D printers and other cutting-edge technologies.
Another major driver for Izdebska in her current role is ensuring OPG’s employees don’t lose their appetite for change – particularly in their day-to-day activities.
“Innovation is not just about technology. It’s also about how we do work,” she said. “Thinking about the way we do work and making sure we add value with each step of a process is also innovative, often times more so than introducing new technology.”
Throughout her career, Izdebska has always tinkered with technology and taken on product development roles in one form or another, which has involved identifying new technologies for OPG to invest in and taking ideas from ideation to fruition.
One thing she has learned is to “fail fast but fail small, and learn from your failures.”
“It’s difficult to say that something didn’t work out, but if we learn from the experience, that’s what counts. Continuing to embrace innovations that aren’t working can drown a company, so you need to embrace a culture of allowing people to fail and feel safe to do so.”
This was particularly true in her previous stint leading a company-wide COVID-19 solutions team to keep employees and operations safe. In this role, Izdebska had to sift through a wide-range of employee-generated ideas to develop viable tools and technologies to help the company manage the current pandemic and any future pandemics.
During this experience, Izdebska and her team designed and built their own thermal imagers to overcome a worldwide supply crunch for the equipment. Her group created more than 30 imagers, which are still in use at security checkpoints at OPG’s Darlington and Pickering nuclear stations.
Looking to the future, Izdebska is very interested in bringing her expertise and passion for innovation to OPG’s new nuclear project. She is particularly interested in helping to make the operation and maintenance of Small Modular Reactors, the next generation of clean nuclear power, as efficient as possible.
“I have a huge aspiration for new nuclear,” she said. “I would love to contribute with technology and new processes for operating and maintaining Small Modular Reactors to make our work as efficient as possible and not get stuck in old ways of thinking.”