Local students rise to the geothermal challenge

The future of Taupo’s geothermal industry is in good hands, if entries for the school science competitions held during New Zealand Geothermal Week are anything to go by.

A total of 55 entries were submitted from schools throughout the Taupo district, and the judges from GNS Science and MB Century were blown away by the thought and effort from the teams of students, some as young as 5 years old.

Henry Hall, Finn Knowles, Avery Lee and Alyssa Morrel (Year 3) from Wairakei Primary school won $500 worth of Mobilo for their school in the Year 1-6 “Our Future Engineers” competition. Their model geothermal power station came complete with reinjection wells, control values and pressure gauges, and even lit up the national grid! Competition sponsors MB Century were clearly impressed with the team’s “fantastic explanation of how it all worked and good understanding of the renewable nature of geothermal generation”. Tirohanga School and Waipahihi School each also received $250 worth of Mobilo, recognising the outstanding effort from student teams at those schools.

“The Future of Geothermal” challenge for Year 7-13 students was taken out by a team of Year 9 students from Tauhara College, Stevie Manunui, Kelly Karaka, Ella Johnson, and Pania Morehu-Rhynd. The brief was to create a vision for the future of the geothermal industry in the Taupo region, incorporating Vision Matauranga, with an iPad for each team member up for grabs. The winning team presented their concept for a village, Te Pupu, that incorporated housing, tourism, education, cultural uses, farming and an R&D hub, linking these together and acknowledging the deep connection that local Maori have with geothermal. A panel of judges from GNS Science unanimously agreed that this entry was the winner, stating it was “Overall a visually excellent presentation with well thought out ideas”. A Taupo-nui-a-Tia College entry from Year 10 students Angus Putt, Gabby Donald, Charlotte Rosenberg and Paige O’Sullivan was also highly commended by the judges.

The science challenges built on school visits by industry professionals during New Zealand Geothermal Week, to share their knowledge and passion for geothermal with the next generation.

Twenty-five industry “STEM Ambassadors” ran geothermal Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) activities at sixteen primary, intermediate and secondary schools throughout the Taupo district. The visits encompassed schools at every corner of the district, from Turangi to Mangakino, rural schools, kura schools and schools within Taupo town itself. STEM Ambassadors from leading local geothermal companies Contact Energy, GNS Science, MB Century, Western Energy and Geo40 came from a range of professions, including technicians, engineers, iwi relationship managers, volcanologists, geologists and geochemists. A team of staff and PhD students from the Geothermal Institute at the University of Auckland were also involved with the program. These STEM Ambassadors included two fluent Te Reo speakers, who ran activities at Te Kura o Waitahanui and TKKM o Whakarewa. Throughout the district, students got hands-on building model drill rigs, turbine blades and structures able to withstand a seismic challenge, and learnt how the science of rocks and chemistry is used to understand and develop the geothermal reservoirs that lie beneath our feet here in Taupo.

The inaugural New Zealand Geothermal Week, 26-31 July, was run by Taupo’s economic development agency Amplify, with support from sponsors Contact Energy, GNS Science, MB Century and event partners the NZ Geothermal Association and Women in Engineering. With overwhelmingly positive feedback from the local community, schools and industry, Amplify are keen to make this a regular event in the Taupo calendar.