Timaru put on a wild welcome for Avinash Sampath, when he moved there from Auckland to take up an EECA graduate position at McCain Foods. A state of emergency had been declared as the Rangitata River flooded in December 2019, cutting off major roads and leading to evacuations.

The once-in-20 year flood was a dramatic reminder of the kind of extreme weather we're likely to get more of if we don't tackle climate change — something that motivated Avinash to work in the energy sector in the first place. "Working in the energy sector, I'm satisfied that I'm doing something by reducing emissions", he says.

(And, it turns out, not once-in-20-years, as Canterbury was deluged again at the end of May.)

Working in the energy sector, I'm satisfied that I'm doing something by reducing emissions.

Avinash Sampath, Energy Graduate, McCain Foods

EECA's Energy Graduate Support(external link) enables the country's largest energy users, like McCain, to employ a newly-trained engineer or science graduate to ensure their business commits the time and resources needed to analyse how energy is being used and the best ways to make savings.

Quick energy savings

Avinash completed a BTech specialty at home in Mumbai, India before moving to New Zealand to undertake a Master of Energy at the University of Auckland. While there, he interned in the solar sector, and even door-knocked for an electricity retailer for a time, "which helped me understand how the electricity sector works in New Zealand".

But despite the dramatic start, Avinash had energy savings projects up and running quickly, working towards his goal of identifying and saving 2GWh of energy at the Timaru plant in his first two years.

Image: John Jackson, McCain Foods Australia & New Zealand Agriculture Director with Avinash Sampath.

Avinash says in his first few months, "I devoted time to understanding the plant operation". Given that the plant operates 24 hours, seven days a week to process potatoes into frozen chips, there was a lot to understand. But Avinash was able to find several areas where savings could be made, some at no cost, right across the business.

For instance, he identified underfloor heating in the cold storage office was set to 20 degrees, but as he points out, "the heating is to prevent frost heave in underfloor, not to warm people", so there was no need to have it so warm. By reducing the thermostat temperature to 15 degrees, he made estimated savings of 15,856 kWh of electricity, costing $2,220 annually.

He identified similar tweaks to optimise the way other machines operated across the plant, including the coal boilers (which McCain is converting to biomass), refrigeration systems and office operations.

McCain Foods New Zealand Plant Manager Barto Greeff, based in Timaru, said that mitigating the plant’s impact on climate change was an essential building block to be best-in-class for sustainable practice. McCain has a global commitment to 50 percent reduction in CO2e emissions (Scope1 and Scope2), move out of coal and 100% renewable electricity by 2030, and McCain Timaru aims to cease coal use by 2023.

"Having Avinash on board as an EECA energy grad has been invaluable. Having a staff member dedicated to addressing our energy use has given us real insight into where we can make significant savings, and the same data helps us build the business case for capital investments and measure success."

In his first year, Avinash's projects saved approximately 0.836 GWh energy annually. The projects put him well on track to exceed his target of 2GWh of savings by the end of the second year, and in total, these projects will help McCain Timaru reduce its carbon footprint by 259T CO2e annually.

Having a staff member dedicated to addressing our energy use has given us real insight into where we can make significant savings.

Barto Greeff, New Zealand Plant Manager, McCain Foods

Avinash says he's pleased to play a part in McCain's wider decarbonisation work. He has assisted the team to execute the already established partnership with EECA to complete the action plan from Energy Transition Accelerator(external link), which provides a roadmap for organisations to decarbonise their operations.

Avinash says the ETA provided a great base for the team's work, as well as setting McCain up well to undertake bigger projects requiring more investment. McCain has also received co-funding from EECA's Technology Demonstration Fund to install a New Zealand-first Pulsed Electric Field pre-treatment system(external link) to dramatically reduce the coal used to provide heat in the potato pre-treatment process.

Most recently, they were successful recipients of EECA industrial decarbonisation co-funding to convert an existing coal boiler to biomass, with estimated 25 year lifetime CO2e savings of 845,375 tonnes.

Avinash says EECA's support has been invaluable. "The grad programme has given me a platform to gain practical experience in the field of energy efficiency, and helped me connect to wider group in this field – other energy grads and experts from EECA and The University of Waikato.

"This was the reason I came to New Zealand," he says. "I want to be part of a team actively tackling climate change with renewable energy options and McCain are focused on climate change initiatives. It's a big deal. I'm not just talking about it — I'm doing something on the ground."

Energy Graduate Support

Employing a newly trained engineer or science graduate can ensure businesses commit the time and resource needed to analyse how energy is being used and the best ways to make savings.

What's on offer:

  • Co-funding for up to 50% of an energy graduate’s salary costs capped at $70,000 over two years, depending on experience and skills.
  • The scope of the role or projects needs to be defined, such as:
    • process and energy flow mapping (energy and mass balances)
    • computer based energy modelling
    • investigating plant and process modifications, and conducting trials
    • investigating fuel switching opportunities
    • raising energy savings awareness in the business
    • assisting with project commissioning and verifying energy savings and associated carbon reduction.