The first step of the Energise Ōtaki solar farm is complete with 52 photovoltaic solar panels on the roof of Ōtaki Collegenow producing 100 per cent renewable energy.
The 23kWp solar array on the school's N Block is part of a project by charity Energise Ōtaki, which also includes a 108kWp system being installed next to the Otaki Wastewater Treatment Plant, due to be completed by the end of September.
The charity is aiming for Ōtaki to become a net producer of clean energy by giving people, businesses and community groups the tools to harvest the environmental, social and economic benefits of a different energy future.
With the Ōtaki College Foundation Trust, it earlier installed a 20kWp solar array on the administration block.
The system provides power directly to the college and to the wastewater plant, which they pay for at market rates.
Between 2015 and 2018 $11,000 was returned to the school for student scholarships. Now, the revenue from the new solar farms, at the same rate as external providers and the annual revenue, estimated at $25,000, will go straight into the Energise Ōtaki Community Investment Fund.
The goal is to have $100,000 by 2023, which will support a range of other community projects such as insulation improvements for households, education and employment in Ōtaki.
Monitoring at the wastewater plant will track the total generation and performance information, carbon savings and revenue grade metering, so the community can see the real-time sustainable power generation.
Energise Ōtaki's solar farm is being set up with funding from the Wellington Community Trust in partnership with Kāpiti Coast District Council and Ōtaki College.
But the project does not stop here.
Energise Ōtaki has identified five sites that could generate solar electricity and now the first two are under way, it is now investigating the potential of the other sites and sourcing funding for future site installations.
The instalment at Ōtaki College also gives students learning opportunities. Energise Ōtaki projects officer Kaylie Potaka will work part-time at the school over the next year, principal Andy Fraser said, working with teachers and students, "exploring innovative projects around energy in all its forms, and wider sustainability issues, contributing to helping students take positive action around impacts of climate change".
The college has already incorporated energy-based learning modules with support from Energise Ōtaki, and students use mini solar panels to make small vehicles, create solar ovens and investigate insulation and heat energy issues through energy cubes.
Future projects include resources and teaching units on energy topics around housing, solar and transport to be incorporated in the the junior science curriculum, Potaka said.
"One area that will develop within the next six months or so is the monitoring and optimisation of the thermal array on the swimming pool.
"We are hoping to get live-time data monitoring on all the arrays on the school, which means students can watch, learn and calculate energy generation and returns with data coming from their own school grounds."