Energise Ōtaki, with help from two interns

Camila Mazzo, Stuart Pritchard and Om Dolasia
Camila Mazzo, Stuart Pritchard and Om Dolasia (Click for full size)

Thanks to the vision and global contacts of Stuart Pritchard, Ōtaki has two environmental engineering students from Western Australia here for eight months work experience. Om Dolasia has a Diploma of Engineering, and is in his 4th year of an Honours degree in Environmental Engineering. Camila Fonseca Mazzo has a Bachelor of Environmental Control Technology from her native Brazil, and as part of a scholarship from Brazil and as part of her degree, has completed one year of environmental engineering at the University of Western Australia. 

A partnership between Stuart Pritchard, Energise Ōtaki and the Ōtaki Clean Technology Centre facilitated their coming as interns to Ōtaki to work on a range of clean energy projects in the town.   And a number of projects are already showing outstanding results. By the end of their eight month internship, they will have gained hands-on experience in real-world projects, identifying problems and finding solutions. Some of their work will be on projects made possible by funding received as part of the World Wildlife Fund national Conservation Innovation Award which Energise Ōtaki won in late 2014.   

Ōtaki College is a strong focus 

Coppiced willows
Coppiced willows

Currently the college heats classrooms via a natural gas-powered boiler. Energy consumption is measured at around 857,000 kilowatt-hours annually.  The goal is to install a wood gasification system which will supplement and possibly replace the gas supply which would be used as an emergency supply only.  Wood fuel which is carbon neutral would be used and would significantly reduce the College’s climate change impacts and save the College money as well.  

Om and Camila have worked with the college to identify 0.32ha of surplus land and have organised the Ōtaki College to plant poplars and willows that can be coppiced (harvested annually and allowed to regrow) giving around 18,100kWh worth of energy.  The resulting wood will be converted to pellets.  One tonne of wood pellets will generate around 5,000 kilowatts of energy, at a cost of 250Kw to produce.

In addition to coppicing the poplars and willows, an equivalent planting of Miscanthus, a sustainable grass capable of producing biofuel. Both techniques will generate learning opportunities for college students, in addition to reducing the college’s energy bill and help them become more sustainable.

They are currently researching/ sourcing the wood gasification technology for the College which will be used as a first step in exploring similar opportunities in the town for the future.  

Om and Camila will also be developing an energy plan and a sustainable water use plan for the College.  It will involve measuring energy use throughout the college to help reduce the consumption, and looking at water and wastewater management.  Currently the College’s water bill exceeds $8,000 annually. How can this be reduced? Can the college utilise ‘grey water’? Om & Camila will investigate.

The interns will also help develop a module on wind energy, including construction of  a small wind turbine, as a learning opportunity for the students with the idea of students building a turbine each year for the future – maybe with them being deployed around town.   

Working with Local Businesses

Another focus is on working with local Ōtaki businesses interested in reducing their energy use, costs and environmental impacts.  

An example is Kapiti Artisan Bakeries in Riverbank Road.  Om and Camila are looking at recovery and reuse of waste heat.  Currently excess heat from the bake-house is vented into the environment. A German-sourced heat exchanger will be installed to produce hot water, reducing the bakery’s energy needs.

Another example involves them working with Coral Tree to assess the production  of their organic apple cider vinegar, looking at energy efficiency and reduction of energy use and costs.  

A really big project will be undertaking a sustainability audit of a local Ōtaki dairy farm to measure greenhouse gas emissions, run-off and environmental impacts and looking at ways to reduce discharges into the environment within an integrated energy, water/ wastewater, and stock management system.    

They have been working on the Laurence Property Lollipops Childcare Centre in Paraparaumu undertaking a ‘ground-floor’ evaluation of a 500 sqm building project. It involves optimisation of renewable energy, including the selection of energy-saving componentry, such as LED lighting, exploring grey water usage, water & waste management and the installation of 50 sq m of PV solar panels to power the centre — making it more sustainable and a healthier environment for the children.  

Working with Ōtaki’s Clean Technology Businesses

Blended Fuel Solutions is undertaking trials in Foxton with its waste to energy technology across a range of waste streams.  As part of that work Om and Camila are evaluating the use of steel from the waste tyres used in the energy technology, as reinforcing in concrete products.  

They are also working with ZEV vehicles (the developer of the battery-powered vehicle technology used in the Council rubbish truck) to help in the marketing of the technology on a local and international scale.  This will also give them experience on the commercialisation side of the clean technology equation.  

Interning in New Zealand

The interns have been here for two months. They will depart Ōtaki having contributed to a number of energy-related projects. In return they will have gained ground-floor experience on energy systems, energy conservation and commercialisation projects and on the water management front.  Energise Ōtaki will be assisting with some of their daily travel costs but they are essentially unpaid and Ōtaki is hugely lucky to have them working on projects around the town.  

The experience will guarantee ready acceptance when they are ready to depart academia and enter the workforce. Om commented that employers see work experience as invaluable. He and Camila are being challenged in Ōtaki with projects that will equip them with demonstrable experience to enhance their CVs.

Meanwhile, Om Dolasia says what he likes about New Zealand is “more Nature, more outdoor fun, snowboarding”.  Imagine how much fun they will have when summer arrives!  Already their participation is paying dividends. They are helping Ōtaki become more energy efficient and sustainable, and are having fun on the way.