The installation of 48 solar panels on the roof of the Ecostore premises in Freeman's Bay, Auckland, is hoped to turn it into New Zealand's first net zero-energy commercial building.
The system is designed to generate 17,500 kWh a year, which is expected to be enough to meet the building's entire electricity requirements. Research shows that if further savings are made through altering usage there is even the possibility that the building could become a net positive energy building.
The project is an initiative of Ecostore's not-for-profit arm, Fairground Foundation, multi-network infrastructure company Vector and the landlord of the building. "The Fairground Foundation has been set up to take on projects that have traditionally been seen as too hard, making them commercially viable and then passing the learnings back to the general community. This project fits in perfectly with Fairground's mission creating a healthier, more sustainable world through on-the-ground action, hence the enthusiasm for coordinating this project which has taken over 14 months," says Malcolm Rands, Ecostore founder and owner.
The solar system allows solar power to be intelligently integrated into Vector's electricity network. By combining solar panels with battery storage and a smart control system, the energy produced from the solar panels can be stored and used both when it is needed in the building and during times of peak network demand. The solution is designed to offset the tenants' electricity usage during the day when usage will be at its peak and also have the assurance, through the battery storage, of being able to use solar power when the sun isn't shining. The batteries are a Lithium-ion battery pack, the same technology used in the car industry to power hybrid electric vehicles. The batteries also provide a measure of resilience with some backup in the unlikely event of a grid outage.
Vector currently operates a solar pilot residential programme with a limited number of Auckland homeowners, one of which includes Rands.
"The idea is to bring smarter energy choices to all Aucklanders. We have taken the learnings from our early successes in the residential solar programme and are applying them in new areas," says Simon Mackenzie, CEO of Vector.