Seeing the future

MM82 Cape Bridgewater

Derek is the lead technician for Senvion at the Bald Hills and Wonthaggi Wind Farms, and he knows the fragility of the Earth having spent three winters at the South Pole.

There is a marker in the South Pole showing the southernmost part of the Earth that was designed and made by Senvion’s lead technician in Gippsland.

In small print above the Moon, Derek inscribed the words: "Accomplishment & Modesty". The reference was a tribute to Neil Armstrong, who passed away while Derek was crafting the marker, however it is equally fitting of its maker. A modest achiever, Derek started out as a fitter and turner fixing conveyor belts and dredgers for the State Electricity Commission-run coalmines in the Latrobe Valley where he grew up.

Today he has a curriculum vitae that reads like no other: three tours of duty wintering at the South Pole as the science “fix it” guy for the National Science Foundation; a cryogenic specialist working for the CSIRO on radio telescopes; a beamline technician who helped build the Australian Synchrotron (an industrial scale microscope the size of a football field that accelerates electrons to almost the speed of light); and now head of Senvion Australia’s service team for the Bald Hills and Wonthaggi Wind Farms.

Having seen the coal fields up close, looked out into the universe, glimpsed high energy physics and marked out the shifting ice at the South Pole – Derek knows full well the impact of pollution on the Earth and the importance of renewables to our children’s future.

“I’ve been fortunate to have been able to pursue the questions I have had in life. Looking back, it’s all related to energy. I’ve looked at the really big stuff, the really small stuff, and now I’ve come back to the power generation side of things I can see that renewables need to be pushed – it’s the future, and I want to be a part of that.”

“You never really know what you’ve got until it’s gone, so the best way of looking after what we have here for our future energy supply is definitely renewables.”

Almost three years spent on three scientific missions to the South Pole has provided Derek with an amazing experience that puts the world’s energy needs in sharp focus.

“Antarctica is a harsh and unique place – travelling in the interior is as close to going to another planet as you can get,” Derek says.

If you can imagine one night that lasts six months of the year, where the temperature drops to -74 degrees Celsius, and being constantly dehydrated because the cold freezes all of the moisture out of the thin air, then you begin to get the picture.

“To be in a place where there’s no life, there are no smells, there are no sounds – it has a strange and alluring beauty. But as you stand there on the ice looking up at our galaxy in total silence, alone in the dark, the cold biting at your fingers and reaching into your lungs, you know you are on the edge of existence looking out where no other life can survive. You can feel it.

“It’s such a strong and unique experience that really makes you appreciate what we have at home. You never really know what you’ve got until it’s gone, so the best way of looking after what we have here for our future energy supply is definitely renewables.”

As for the future of the power industry in the Latrobe Valley, Derek still sees the need for a coal base load system – but not the existing ones built in the 1960s with out-dated boiler designs. “Compare the fuel efficiency of today’s cars to ones from 50 or 60 years ago and you get the idea. Technology has come a long way.

“How you put an efficient base load system together with renewables and have an efficient running grid is the real challenge for politicians, but they need to work together. Renewables and an efficient coal system can definitely go together.”