College invests in solar power

A large bank of 150 solar panels was installed on a roof at Whangaparaoa College over the recent school holidays and the college is confident that the significant investment in this technology will pay off.

The panels cost $95,000, which came from funds given to the college by the Ministry of Education. The funds were compensation for the sale of land alongside the school, at Grandview Road, which is currently being prepared for housing.

The money was tagged to be used for the property itself, rather than for educative purposes.

Principal James Thomas says he had to convince the Ministry that solar panels were a suitable use of the funds – “I put in an argument they couldn’t refuse,” he says. The rest of the money was put into an upgrade of the school’s café.

Mr Thomas says that solar system could reduce the school’s annual power bill of around $75,000 by $8000-$10,000 – paying for itself in around 10 years.

As well as those savings, he says, the panels provide an opportunity for students to learn about sustainability and new technology. The system will be up and running once an electrical inspection has taken place.

Students will then be able to access information online as to how much power is being generated, and there may also be a physical display in a prominent location that shows the readout of power gained, in real time.

Bright ideas for solar power
The uptake of solar reduces New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions in the near term.

The price of solar panels has been falling for many years and if it doesn’t stack up for you now, it may make more financial sense in the future.

The circumstances that affect how much value you get from solar can change over the life of the system (eg you may choose to sell your house, or retire and therefore use more electricity during the day). It is not always easy to foresee these changes when considering solar.

There are likely to be changes to New Zealand’s electricity pricing mechanisms over time that may reduce the financial value a household gets from solar (see the Electricity Authority website for more detail).

The amount of electricity generated by a solar panel reduces over time, so check panel warranty details before you invest.

There may be additional costs to install solar that are not included in an advertised price.

For safety reasons, grid-tied solar electricity systems do not operate during power cuts.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) recommends using the energy calculator, found on their website, before going solar. The interest charged on money borrowed to buy solar, or interest lost on savings used, has a significant impact on the financial viability of a solar system. The solar calculator can help you assess this. Source:

You may need a resource consent to install solar panels – for example if your home is in a heritage zone, or if panels on the roof affect height to boundary restrictions.

You will not need a building consent if you fix solar panels to your roof or on a frame next to your building but if you plan to install them as your roof cladding, you will need to apply for building consent.

Solarview, a free web-based tool from NIWA, tells you how much sunlight your home receives at different times of the year. This helps you work out whether solar power is a viable option for your energy needs. Input your address, which direction your roof faces, and its angle. The software already knows the terrain around your home and factors any hills and valleys into the data. Source:

Efficiency first
Improving your home’s energy efficiency is generally much cheaper than installing a solar system, and can give similar or greater reductions to your power bill without needing to change how you use energy.

Some of the best ways to improve energy efficiency in your home are: improving insulation, installing more efficient forms of heating, such as replacing plug-in electric heaters with efficient heat pumps or central heating systems; replacing incandescent bulbs and halogen lamps with LEDs; upgrading to more efficient appliances that have the Energy Star mark. Source: (resourced by

Heating for health
Indoor temperatures below 16°C increase the risk of respiratory infections, and below 12°C stress the cardiovascular system
Cold and damp housing can worsen asthma symptoms, and is also associated with an increased risk of asthma development and respiratory tract infections.
Unflued gas heaters and open fires can cause respiratory problems and indoor dampness. Carbon monoxide from unflued gas heaters can cause poisoning.