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Public Sector Turns on the Sun


27 November 2007

Public Sector Turns on the Sun

More New Zealand public sector organisations are turning to the sun to reduce their power bills and carbon footprint, while also supporting the Government’s mandate of creating a more energy efficient public sector.

The Department of Corrections, Landcare Research, Auckland City Council and Wairiki Institute of Technology, Rotorua are among the first public sector recipients of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority’s (EECA) “Grants for Public Buildings”, which provides funding towards solar water heating feasibility studies and/or installations for publicly owned buildings.

Since its launch in March 2007, the scheme has granted funds for ten feasibility studies and five installations to a variety of public sector organisations and projects. However EECA is keen to encourage more organisations to apply, given the numerous possibilities to utilise the Fund.

Solar is most cost effective for organisations which have a high rate of use of hot water and where water is currently heated by electricity. However eligible projects can be as diverse as recreational sports facilities or school swimming pool heating; large-scale residential accommodation or office block amenities; or kitchen and laundry facilities.

“Solar water heating is uncommon in most non-residential buildings in New Zealand. So an important part of EECA’s solar water heating programme is to provide information and demonstrate the advantages of the technology,” explains Mike Underhill, EECA Chief Executive.

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“Alongside the benefits of energy efficiency and power savings, shared learning from the feasibility studies and via installation monitoring goes a long way towards assisting organisations with their future decision-making.”

The Fund provides two options; up to 50 percent off the cost of a feasibility study for installing solar water heating; or up to 25 percent off the cost of installing a domestic-sized system, or up to 50 percent off the cost of installing commercial-sized systems.

Feasibility study grants support organisations to independently evaluate and make informed decisions about solar water heating. While it is most cost effective to install solar into new buildings during the construction stage, retrofits can be viable.

Public sector organisations who have been granted feasibility study grants include; Gisborne City Council for a shower, ablution and laundry block at the Waikanae Beach Holiday Camp; Wairiki Institute of Technology for hospitality training kitchens and restaurant at its Rotorua campus; South Waikato District Council for shower facilities at the South Waikato Indoor Heated Pools in Tokoroa; and Auckland City Council for its 18-storey Civic Administration Building.

Installation grants contribute to reducing the up-front costs of installing a solar water heating system once a feasibility study has been completed or there is sufficient information to satisfy EECA’s eligibility for funding. To qualify for funding for solar water heating installations in public buildings, a project is expected to have a less than 10-year payback period. This criteria aims to install systems into situations which make the most efficient use of the technology and can benefit directly through reduced power bills.

The Department of Corrections took advantage of the Grants for a feasibility study and a subsequent installation at Christchurch Men’s Prison. Keen to reduce its use of fossil-fuels for environmental and financial reasons, the Department installed a hybrid system consisting of 21 solar panels and a high efficiency gas boiler to replace the diesel operated system that previously heated the hot water used in the Prison’s laundry.

“We use around 7000 litres of hot water daily at Christchurch Men’s Prison laundry,” explains Cees Ebskamp, Energy manager, Department of Corrections.

“Installing solar was a carefully planned move that should help save the Department –one of New Zealand’s largest users of domestic commercial hot water – considerable money in the long-term. Utilizing EECA’s grants to firstly evaluate and then assist with solar installation, has given us the ability to consider it for other Corrections buildings and facilities – including off-prison sites.”

By contrast, Landcare Research has installed several domestic-sized solar systems into its Lincoln office and laboratory facilities and is now introducing it to its other sites around the country. As a Crown Research Institute focussed on sustainability from native flora and fauna to sustainable business and society, it made sense for Landcare Research to minimize its own environment footprint and set an example by sourcing as much of its energy from renewable resources – including solar water heating.

“We are keen to walk the talk,” says Graeme Rogers, Senior Technician at Landcare Research overseeing the solar installation projects.

“Solar water heating is one of an array of energy efficient initiatives we have adopted. At Lincoln we started out installing a domestic-sized system to cover some of our office and laboratory facilities, and have recently increased this to cover all our buildings there. It has been a gradual process as we have monitored progress and learned over time how to optimize the solar panel output, because our hot water demand can be very variable. The system at Lincoln is performing well enough that we’re now installing systems in Dunedin, as well as plans for our Hamilton and Palmerston North premises.”

EECA Chief Executive Mike Underhill says it is important that the Government and public sector lead the way in increasing the use of renewable energy, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving energy efficiency and inspiring New Zealanders to take personal responsibility for their energy use.

“It is fundamental that the public sector gets its own house in order when we are encouraging individuals and business to take actions for sustainability. That’s why the Government has committed to moving the public sector towards carbon neutrality as a core policy.”

EECA receives and evaluates applications for the Grants for Public Buildings Fund throughout the financial year. Government departments, local authorities, Crown entities, state-owned enterprises, district health boards, schools and universities are eligible to apply.

For further information and criteria for funding visit: www.energywise.govt.nz/solar


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