Visiting engineer seeks to involve people in solutions

British engineer Dr Malcolm McCulloch, University of Otago's William Evans Fellow, works on...
British engineer Dr Malcolm McCulloch, University of Otago's William Evans Fellow, works on marrying technology with the way people live to save energy. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
He is an engineer visiting a university with no engineering department. While it might surprise and perplex his colleagues, Dr Malcolm McCulloch is finding the experience invaluable in his understanding of how technical, social and economic issues can be brought together to find effective energy solutions.

"It has sowed the seeds of a richer understanding."

Dr McCulloch, Oxford University's engineering and science department's Electrical Power Group head, is visiting Dunedin on a six-week William Evans Fellowship based at University of Otago's Centre for Sustainability.

He describes his interests as learning how technology could be used effectively, taking people into account by "playing to their strengths and supporting their weaknesses".

"For me, technology on its own is never going to solve the problem. You've got to have people involved."

He had met the Dunedin City Council to discuss energy issues and believed it was quite "progressive" in its thinking compared with other councils he had spoken to internationally.

"My concern is that they don't make rash decisions to sell off assets ... they may regret it long-term and they could deliver a lot of value to the council and the whole community ... if utilised effectively."

New Zealand and "in particular here" faced two big challenges, home insulation levels and transport, he said.

"You have to work with people to find low-cost, easier solutions for everybody."

The country had a "blind spot" when it came to transport. The average age of the New Zealand vehicle fleet was 12 years, compared with the United Kingdom's six, but on the "flip side" the country had good energy supplies from hydro and geothermal, he said.

At both a local and national level, it was important to look for long-term "resilient solutions" which would protect capital, social and environmental assets for future generations.

"We need to make sure we do not completely screw it up for them."

Dr McCulloch, who was also helping the Maldives work towards becoming carbon-neutral, will speak about the challenges of a low-carbon society at the St David Lecture Theatre at 5.15pm today.


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