Daniel Pereira is originally from the Mighty Waikato, having grown up and studied there at the University of Waikato. He was still at university when he spotted the role of Energy Graduate at Open Country being advertised.

At the time, he was doing a paper called 'Energy in Society' as part of his Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree, studying the socioeconomic elements of energy and how to transition away from fossil fuels. The role tied in nicely to both that paper and his interests, so he went for it.

"I was drawn to the Energy Graduate role at Open Country because it offered the opportunity to be involved in projects from conception to execution while making a positive difference in society, which was a key factor for me."

Working at Open Country

Open Country is the world's second largest exporter of whole milk powders — but they also export milk proteins, milk fats and cheeses. The company has sites in Horotiu, Waharoa, Wanganui, and Awarua, with a head office in Auckland.

Daniel is the main person focused on energy projects at Open Country, a task that might sound daunting but which he is taking in his stride. As an EECA energy graduate, he’s tasked with making energy savings of 2GWh over the course of two years.

"Coming into the role, I didn’t know how to visualise 2GWh," says Daniel. "Unless you can actually see it in action, it's hard to grasp. Now I’m six months into the role and with several projects underway, it looks like we're going to beat that target."

Open Country's four production sites use a variety of different fuel sources — gas boilers, coal boilers, and now an electrode boiler. In his day-to-day, Daniel works with a range of different teams, from engineers and analysts, to marketing and logistics.

"Open Country is dedicated to a collaborative approach to reduce its carbon footprint and we work in an agile environment," says Daniel. "We're not afraid to pioneer a culture shift and be at the forefront of an energy transition."

"The work is challenging but really rewarding because you can quantify the impact you've made, say in cost savings, efficiency gains, or carbon reduction."

Energy and decarbonisation projects

Recently, Daniel has been putting together a case study on decarbonisation at Open Country's Awarua site in the South Island. The case study looks at the opportunities, barriers and limitations of fuel switching from coal to renewables for high temperature process heat. That work involves collaboration between electricity distribution businesses (EDBs), electricity retailers, Transpower, and EECA.

Open Country has already made a big move towards decarbonisation at the Awarua site, having recently installed a 13 megawatt electrode boiler, with co-investment through EECA's Technology Demonstration Fund.

Switching to the electrode boiler has saved 5,818 tonnes of coal in the first production season. The case study that Daniel is working on will set the scene for transitioning the remaining two boilers at Awarua.

Open Country's electrode boiler.
Open Country's electrode boiler

Open Country also received co-investment from the first round of EECA's Government Investment in Decarbonising Industry (GIDI) Fund to convert two coal boilers to use wood pellets and wood chips at their Waharoa site in the Waikato.

Learnings from one site can easily be transferred to other sites, Daniel says, making it easy to realise the benefits of new technology and efficiency gains.

Daniel is also involved in Open Country’s Energy Transition Accelerator (ETA) assessment. The ETA is co-funded through EECA and will help Open Country create a long-term pathway to emissions reduction by finding opportunities and initiatives for energy reduction. 

Learnings and growth

For Daniel, one of the most interesting and rewarding elements of working towards decarbonisation is new technology, and its power to drive real change. 

"Outside of fuel switching, emissions reduction and efficiency projects require a high level of innovation, like high-pressure heat pumps and alternative pasteurisation processes."

As part of the EECA graduate programme, Daniel gets the opportunity to spend time with graduates in organisations across New Zealand, who are often working on similar projects. He also has a support network within Open Country, and at EECA, that allows him to grow.

"The programme has great networking opportunities and I'm able to share learnings with other graduates," says Daniel. "I've received great input from Kanchana, my EECA Account Manager, and I’m learning from a strong team and community at Open Country."

"I'm really enjoying this role and working for a company that’s committed to transitioning — being cleaner and more efficient. My goal at Open Country is to turn every challenge into an opportunity to add value to our business and society."

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