There have been double-takes as passers-by have noticed something unusual in a paddock on Plantation Rd, Ongaonga.

Some people have even stopped on the roadside.

What they are looking at is not just unusual, it's unique.

It's the largest private ground-mounted solar panel array in the country and it's on Greg and Liz Wilson's property, Fairfield Station.

Advertisement

The system, designed and installed by Cameron King of Skysolar, is operating a 55kW pump delivering water to a pivot that irrigates 33ha and a gun irrigating 50ha.

The array is 80m long and consists of 160 solar panels, located beside the farm's biggest transformer.

When the sun's out, the array is capable of generating up to 50kW and any power not used by the pump is exported to the power network, for which the farm is paid 8c per kW.

Greg says he has always been interested in solar power.

"It's something worth investing in for the farm, but we had to make it a reasonable size to make a difference."

Liz said using it for irrigation was a "no-brainer".

"Power costs for irrigation are huge, about $30,000 a year. When we are using irrigation it's hot, the sun's out. It makes sense."

When Greg and Liz began researching solar power, Cameron King's philosophy was the one they liked the best.

Advertisement

"Cameron had the bigger vision," Greg says. Cameron, an accountant by trade, investigates how a business or organisation consumes electricity, what its costs for energy are, then looks for the best natural match.

"It's about solving issues by using a specified solar system ... not just installing a generic system.

"For example dairying is a really good match. Dairy sheds have a good roof for solar, they use power during the day and they dry off in winter when solar energy is low.

"Schools are another example, using power during the day when solar is available, then closing down at night."

Greg says farming is a good fit for solar.

"We farm for a dry summer, but this summer even we have been struggling. This summer has been horrible but one of the positives of solar in a dry season is that when it's a bad time for farming, it's a good time for solar."

Even crisp winter days are good for producing solar power, Cameron says. "It works very well on a clear frosty day."

Greg is also happy with the low maintenance aspect. The panels - an unobtrusive matt back - are easily cleaned by the rain, or a hose-down to remove dust or pollen.

The components have a 25-year warranty, and Cameron says the product has stood up well to sandstorms in Oman and cyclones in Fiji, so in New Zealand's "easy climate" the life cycle of the equipment should be up to 35 years.

"The panels are from Trina in China - top international suppliers in 2017 and 2018. The inverters are from Fronius in Austria, a large multinational that's been around for a long time. There's no point in using substandard equipment."

Installation was done by Hillmac Electrical, Havelock North, while JK Fencing of CHB assembled the ground mount structure.

Cameron says this has increased the skills base locally for future installations.

Greg says the entire project started with a conversation with Cameron last October, then it was "all go" by Christmas, with the actual installation taking two weeks. Then there was some tweaking of the monitoring and now Greg monitors the entire system using a phone app.

A further benefit of Fairfield's solar systems is that it takes pressure off the power grid, slowing down power charge increases for local communities.

"An issue in New Zealand with lines networks is they are at least 50 years old," Cameron says.

"Ongaonga's a classic. The population increases, power consumption increases, more things are being electrified including cars. It's a huge draw on the network, then lines companies put up charges.

"Having solar power plants everywhere takes the pressure off lines systems slows down excess power charges to the local community."

A planned SkySolar and Fairfield Station field day has now been cancelled due to coronavirus Level 4 status. For information regarding solar applications for your farm or business you can still contact Cameron King, phone 021 385 464 or cameron@skysolar.co.nz