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Commercial solar trial under way

A trial into the viability of solar as a power source for local commercial buildings is under way in Tairawhiti.

Eastland Network recently installed solar panels on the roof of its Carnarvon Street premises.

“As the operator of the region’s lines company, we’re responsible for keeping the lights on,” Eastland Network general manager Brent Stewart said.

“Part of this responsibility is to explore additional ways that our region could be powered in the coming decades.”

In 2016, Eastland Network began a solar trial with a selection of residential properties to gather real-world data and help plan for the future electricity needs of the Gisborne, East Coast and Wairoa regions.

“The full results have now been assessed by an independent expert and the results will be released shortly. The second stage of the trial is to consider whether solar could be an option for some of the region’s commercial buildings.

“As electric vehicle uptake increases and commercial operations expand, there will be significant demand on existing infrastructure. We want to understand whether solar is a viable choice for businesses, as well as for homes.

“There is a lot of empty roof space around the region, and many businesses are open during daylight hours, when they’re drawing power — and could also be generating it.

“We’ve taken our building as a test case, and done some initial modelling of characteristics and viability. This trial will validate or challenge those models, and add deep learnings.”

Eastland Network assessed the standing daily load of their Carnarvon Street building during daylight hours.

“We have a large roof, the orientation towards the sun is reasonable, and — unless there are storms or other major events — our normal business operations largely take place during the day.”

Eastland Group then specced solar panels — a total of 15kW, or 5kW per phase — believed to be suitable to meet day-time power needs. The system is a Goodwe panel string with one inverter at the end.

The project was put out to tender and Electrinet was awarded the contract to supply and install the panels.

“This is all part of the learning process. We’ll monitor and measure the usage of electricity in this building, and monitor the performance of the solar panels,” Mr Stewart said.

The results would show if solar was a practical option for commercial premises, as well as what conditions would make it economic.

“The learnings could open up significant possibilities for Tairawhiti businesses, and other organisations such as community groups and schools, where power usage generally occurs during the day.”

Eastland Group chief executive Matt Todd said the domestic and commercial solar trials formed part of the company’s overall commitment to future-proofing Tairawhiti’s energy requirements.

“In conjunction with stakeholders, we’re exploring a wide range of local, largely renewable generation options, ranging from solar to a combined heat and power plant, wind, and anaerobic digestors.

“Our region has the opportunity to be leaders in renewable energy and technology. And, at the same time, we can ensure that our power sources are resilient, reliable and economic.”

The Eastland Network commercial solar trial will run for 12 months.

SUN CITY: Forty-eight solar panels have been installed at Eastland Network’s Carnarvon Street office for a 12-month trial to establish how solar power could be used to benefit commercial businesses in Gisborne. Pictures by Canaan Akuhata-Brown
NICE DAY FOR IT: Quinn Sidney from Electrinet installs PV (photovoltaic) panels on the roof of Eastland Network’s Carnarvon Street building.