KiwiRail graduate joins the fight against climate change

Malia Vehikite - KiwiRail

In an industry traditionally dominated by men, Malia Vehikite is young, female, and making a name for herself in the energy sector. Malia is working hard to help her organisation reduce energy waste and significant carbon emissions in the Strategy and Sustainability team at KiwiRail, as part of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s (EECA) graduate programme.

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After a few false starts as a student, Malia embarked on a degree in energy management, where her eyes were opened to how the poor energy management of businesses contributes to significant greenhouse gas emissions. She quickly found her passion while learning how to apply energy management strategies to businesses. Through her studies, Malia also realised that climate change is already affecting her family’s homeland of Tonga and other Pacific Islands – for example, through sea level rise, ecosystem changes, and the warming of the atmosphere contributing to more severe weather patterns – just the beginning of disastrous effects predicted for the islands.

Malia’s family back in Tonga have already experienced the effects of increasing frequency and intensity of cyclones. Her uncle’s resort was damaged in a cyclone, forcing the family to move back to New Zealand to start over again.

“I realised the most tangible way I could help out communities struggling with the effects of climate change was to tackle emissions from big business. Working as an energy graduate at a big organisation like KiwiRail gives me the opportunity to help reduce emissions on a large scale.”

Working with KiwiRail to help them achieve their sustainability targets, Malia feels there is a real potential to make a difference.

“KiwiRail is quite ambitious with its carbon reduction targets. Their commitment to being environmentally responsible in their business practices by setting such targets is inspiring. I am part of KiwiRail’s Carbon Zero team, where business-specific teams (i.e. Rail, Interislander, Facilities) meet and discuss ideas for what we can do to further reduce energy and emissions.”

The business has committed to a 2020 target set with EECA to reduce their annual energy consumption by 73.5 gigawatt hours, as part of a longer term goal to be net carbon neutral by 2050.

“Having these goals in place is hugely motivating for the team. So far, our biggest obstacles seem to be the limited available alternative fuels (and supporting infrastructure) and limited available energy efficient technologies fit for trains and ships.”

In spite of these challenges, the Carbon Zero team at KiwiRail is already achieving great things. They estimate a savings of 18,761 tonnes of carbon dioxide emission a year (from 2020) as a result of energy-saving initiatives. Several projects that Malia has supported and been involved in have made big gains by reducing significant energy waste and carbon emissions. For example, providing technical advice and support to the Facilities team saw the replacement of an old gas-fired boiler with a 500 kilowatt condensing boiler, estimated to be 15% more efficient, resulting in a saving of 190,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) per year. Facilities lighting upgrades at larger sites also saved around 273,750 kWh annually – about $57,000 saved a year. 

“The project I’m most excited about is the ‘Energo ProFin’ propeller caps, which reduces drag from one of our ferries (the Aratere), and therefore fuel consumption by an estimated 2%, which equates to a monetary saving of around $150,000 a year. Another initiative I’m proud of, which KiwiRail rolled out in 2016 is the Driver Advisory System (DAS), which is a navigation type system that advises train drivers when to brake, coast and accelerate therefore optimising fuel economy. In the first year of its implementation, there was a diesel fuel reduction of 5.7 million litres.”

Another big project Malia and the Carbon Zero team are undertaking is a nationwide staff engagement project influencing behavioural and cultural change within the organisation in terms of energy and emissions, by emphasising the importance of reducing the company’s carbon footprint to its employees.
“Most employees are passionate about helping us meet our targets, but there are also areas in the organisation where deeper engagement and communications is needed to help shift the thinking in this space, and to change traditional practices that may have been the same for decades, in order to be more environmentally friendly. We are undertaking a big educational drive to ensure the culture of the organisation going forward will be receptive to all changes put in place, and will enable us to meet our emission reduction targets – not just for the good of KiwiRail, but for the good of New Zealand as well.

“I hope that in the future, businesses won’t be asking: how can we make energy efficiency important, or even, why is it important? The understanding of energy and carbon and its importance will be embedded in what we do day-to-day – business as usual.”

Malia VehikiteKiwiRail graduate

Find out more about how EECA Business supports large energy-using businesses to employ energy graduates and more broadly via the links below;

Related links

 Energy graduate support

 Funding & support

 How EECA Business can help your business

 Energy management journey tool

 Efficient technology showcase

 Video gallery

 Case studies