The sun was already shining down on the roof of Paekākāriki School at 9am on a brisk autumn morning.

Perfect for the newly installed solar panels which will provide around 25 per cent of the school's power.

The new solar panels are part of a bigger community desire for Paekākāriki to become more sustainable.

"There's been a group in Paekākāriki who have been trying to get wind turbines up on the former Perkins Farm," said Paul Callister, who has been spearheading the project alongside the school.


"The idea was to get renewable energy into the community.

"We're very green here but we've been frustrated by a whole lot of barriers that have stopped us putting the turbines in.

"I attended a couple of those meetings and thought if we can't do the turbines, let's do a smaller project that is quite achievable."

Callister often walks past the school and sees the roof baking in the sunshine.

"It's the perfect roof, it's always baking in the sunshine, it's north facing and there are no trees shading it.

"I thought if anywhere was going to be perfect for solar, that's going to be it."

Schools are ideal places for solar energy as they are operational when the energy is being generated — when the sun is at its maximum heat from 9am-3pm, unlike homes where the power is being generated when people are out at work.

"So we thought we would get together and find a way to fund it."


Using a rent-to-buy scheme, the school received a grant from the Paekākāriki Service Club and locals have invested in Otaki Energy Co-operative to fund the panels.

"We're happy with this rent-to-buy scheme because otherwise to have come up with a lump sum of money to get the project under way was going to be almost impossible for us," Paekākāriki School principal Julia Bevin said.

"The school rents the panels for four years and then we will own them."

"Using Otaki Energy Co-operative over other providers means rather than the money going out of the community, this way the school gets the benefits, the community gets the benefits, and the co-op get the benefits, so it's all community led," said Callister.

"At the end of the day it's all renewable energy."

With a 5.4kWt system, the panels are expected to provide 25 per cent of the school's power over the year.

"We have designed a system similar to ones that we have used in Ōtaki which are performing consistently," Otaki Energy Co-operative's Phil Malpas said.

"This is a very conservative estimate."

"We supply panels and advice to members at cost, plus a very small administrator margin," Otaki Energy Co-operative director Derek Gower said.

"After many successful private homeowner installs the co-operative completed a larger installation for Te Kura ā iwi o Whakatupuranga Rua Mano, an educational institute in Ōtaki and this success has now led to another at the Paekākāriki School.

"While it is too recent to get figures for the Paekākāriki School, figures from the Kura make it obvious that all schools with access to adequate sunshine should have solar panels on the roof.

"While the advantage for the domestic home owner is considerable, for a school it is overwhelming for the very simple reason that facilities are in use while the sun is shining and when the staff and children go home, the sun is setting."

Paul sees this as the first "baby step" towards Paekākāriki being a more green, sustainable and prepared community.

"We have bigger ideas to sell the power to neighbours and others in the community if we have excess, and when we're not using it such as on the weekends or during the holidays.

"This is part of a much bigger focus in Paekākāriki on green things.

"There's community gardens, lizards, restoration projects on the escarpment track — it's part of a much bigger biodiversity, sustainability package."

Paekākāriki School is also a Civil Defence Centre in emergencies.

"This adds to our preparedness and making sure we're in a good place not just for the school, but for the whole community," Bevin said.

"The kids are also very excited about them and we're going to build learning about sustainable energy into our curriculum."