Tauranga's PowerSmart Solar Electricity has, in quick succession, been involved in designing and installing New Zealand's two largest photo voltaic (PV) solar energy systems, says managing director Mike Bassett-Smith.

Late last year, the company completed the installation of a 99kW system on Peter Yealand's Yealands Estate winery in Blenheim. Then, two weeks before Christmas, PowerSmart won the contract to install a 100 kW system for the Palmerston North City Council.

"It's going to be the biggest PV system in the country," said Mr Bassett-Smith.

Palmerston North City Council energy officer John Debney said the $215,350 project would involve installing 400 PV solar panels on the roof of the Central Administration Building and the Convention Centre.


The solar panels convert sunlight into direct current voltage, and will be connected to an inverter which turns the electricity into alternating current to use in the building.

"We're fairly confident of how successful it will be given our experience with the solar electricity system at council's Esplanade Depot at Manawaroa St," said Mr Debney. The much smaller Manawaroa St site, set up in 2012, was designed to be able to generate as much electricity as it used and appeared to have achieved that goal, he said.

The new system would reduce by about 10 per cent the approximately 1,100,000kWh of electricity the administration building used annually, said Mr Debney. PowerSmart's modelling shows the farm will generate about 118,000kWh per year. As well, there should be a reduction in electricity demand charges because the council will be using less electricity from the network during times of peak demand.

PowerSmart will begin the project in mid-February, and it will take three weeks to complete, said the company's project manager, Shane Spicer. "Any excess power not used will be exported back into the grid."

Mr Bassett-Smith said the company had other interesting projects in the pipeline but noted the Government needed to do more to improve the regulatory environment covering the distribution side of the energy sector.

"I think that New Zealand's got technically one of the best electricity systems out there, but from a regulatory point of view it's an absolute disaster."

The solar energy sector did not need subsidies but rather a uniform set of terms and conditions to enable people to connect, meter and build a site-specific utility, he said.

"The reality is that current electricity distribution is a one-way system. It's a pipeline, not a network and the Government wants it to stay that way because that's how the financial flows work. As soon as it starts to become a network and people can generate and consume and store energy for themselves, it erodes some of the profitability of the retailers, and the Government is not interested in that."