Code word for good con­duct

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

SUS­TAIN­ABIL­ITY is the new black for en­gi­neers. The old­fash­ioned images of en­gi­neer­ing be­ing a far cry from car­ing about and plan­ning for the en­vi­ron­ment have been re- drawn as a new breed of en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer seeks sus­tain­able so­lu­tions.

Like many en­gi­neers, 35- year- old Robert Met­zke en­joyed a strong back­ground in maths and science. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from Monash with a science and en­gi­neer­ing de­gree in 1995, he found the in­dus­try as sat­is­fy­ing as he had hoped.

En­gi­neer­ing pro­vided a ca­reer that al­lowed me to use th­ese strengths to pro­duce a tan­gi­ble re­sult,’’ he says.

Mr Met­zke works in the sus­tain­able en­gi­neer­ing field with So­lar Sys­tems, an in­no­va­tive Melbourne- based com­pany that builds and op­er­ated so­lar con­cen­tra­tor pho­to­voltaic ( PV) elec­tric­ity gen­er­a­tion sys­tem.

The com­pany also man­u­fac­tures so­lar power com­po­nents and has a sig­nif­i­cant re­search and de­vel­op­ment pro­gram.

My cur­rent role in­volves co­or­di­nat­ing a team to de­sign part of a so­lar pow­ered el ec­tri c i t y gen­er­a­tor,’’ Mr Met­zke says. The gen­er­a­tor should put out 154 megawatts of power which is roughly enough for 45,000 homes.’’

The heart of the con­cept is the use of mir­rors in the shape of a dish to re­flect the sun into a cen­tral col­lec­tion point, con­cen­trat­ing the sun 500 times.

An ar­ray of high- ef­fi­ciency PV cells con­verts the sun­light into elec­tric­ity. The elec­tric­ity is con­verted to grid- qual­ity sup­ply and ex­ported to the lo­cal grid.

In 2005, So­lar Sys­tems was a win­ner in the 2005 En­gi­neer­ing Ex­cel­lence Awards.

For Mr Met­zke, work­ing on the cut­ting edge means that there is no prece­dent for fail­ure.

‘‘ There is no man­ual to what we do, as it hasn’t been done be­fore,’’ he says. ‘‘ The re­sult of our work helps makes the world a bet­ter place.’’

Also work­ing to im­prove the planet is the man­ager of the en­vi­ron­men­tal prac­tice at en­gi­neer­ing con­sul­tancy Norman Dis­ney Young ( NDY), Mark Thompson.

‘‘ We are work­ing with the new Royal Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal to re­duce its car­bon emis­sion for com­pa­ra­ble hos­pi­tals by 40 per cent,’’ Mr Thompson says.

Re­spon­si­ble for the pro­vi­sion of Eco­log­i­cally Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment ( ESD) ser­vices across build­ing sci­ences, build­ing sim­u­la­tion and sus­tain­able de­sign, Mr Thompson says that the $ 900M project will in­cor­po­rate a wide range of sus­tain­able in­no­va­tions. It’s by far the big­gest project in Aus­tralia,’’ he says.

A grad­u­ate with a de­gree in en­ergy en­gi­neer­ing from Lon­don’s South­bank Univer­sity, Mr Thompson ex­plains that the ESD staff ad­vise on around 99 per cent of NDY projects. It is com­pa­nies such as NDY that Sus­tain­abil­ity Vic­to­ria ( SV) is seek­ing to at­tract through projects aimed at re­duc­ing green­house emis­sions.

‘‘ Sus­tain­abil­ity Vic­to­ria’s pur­pose is to show the way to us­ing our re­sources more ef­fi­ciently,’’ says en­gi­neer Lisa Crowley.

As a project man­ager con­cen­trat­ing on the built en­vi­ron­ment sec­tor, Ms Crowley is work­ing on re­duc­ing green­house gas emis­sions from build­ings to mit­i­gate against the im­pact of cli­mate change.

Ms Crowley, who grad­u­ated in 2003 with a dou­ble de­gree in busi­ness and en­gi­neer­ing from RMIT, felt that the com­bi­na­tion would al­low her to strad­dle two of­ten very dif­fer­ent spheres.

‘‘ You have to be able to do the busi­ness and the tech talk,’’ she says.

Ms Crowley adds that com­mu­ni­cat­ing sus­tain­able changes is crit­i­cal to get­ting busi­ness and in­dus­try on side: I think that sus­tain­abil­ity will change the way we all do busi­ness. In the fu­ture, sus­tain­abil­ity will be the foun­da­tion of what we do.

It does not mean that other busi­nesses and other ar­eas won’t cease to ex­ist, but their approach needs to adapt to re­flect the im­pact of what they are do­ing.’’

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Kim Dowl­ing, good en­gi­neer­ing de­sign is, by its very na­ture, sus­tain­able. We live and work in built en­vi­ron­ments. En­gi­neers de­liver th­ese to us and sus­tain­abil­ity is core to good eco­nomic, en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial prac­tice,’’ she says.

As Act­ing Head of School at the School of Science and En­gi­neer­ing at the Univer­sity of Bal­larat, Dr Dowl­ing feels that many univer­si­ties have gone down the nomen­cla­ture path to sus­tain­abil­ity, mean­ing they change the name of civil en­gi­neer­ing to en­vi­ron­men­tal en­gi­neer­ing.

‘‘ It achieves greater en­rol­ment num­bers ( par­tic­u­larly more women turn on to the no­tion of a bet­ter en­gi­neered so­lu­tion) but the con­text re­mains,’’ she says.

‘‘ The en­gi­neers re­spon­si­ble for many of the an­cient Ro­man towns ap­pre­ci­ated wa­ter and air qual­ity, were mind­ful of solid and liq­uid waste man­age­ment, reused ma­te­ri­als, built on a hu­man scale and built for a mind­set of the per­pet­ual and not for the throw- away,’’ says Dr Dowl­ing.

This is the job of our civil en­gi­neers, this is what our en­gi­neer­ing grad­u­ates do ( and while) the scale may not al­ways be as grand as an en­tire Ro­man town, even the small­est coun­try road can have a neg­a­tive en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact if poorly de­signed.’’

Re­duc­ing the car­bon foot­print: Work be­gins on melbourne’s new Royal Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal

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