Solar panels generate interest

James Hardistry and Sally Brown admire the new solar panels which are helping to power Blueskin Nurseries and Cafe. Photo by Gregor Richardson. Blueskin Nurseries and Cafe is powering ahead.

For the past several months, the Waitati business has been generating electricity, thanks to the installation of solar panels on the roof of the neighbouring decommissioned St Brigid's Church.

While still in its early days, it was already proving to be beneficial as well as ''a huge talking point'', business part-owner Sally Brown said.

The solar panels have been generating interest among customers, keen to know what they were producing power for.

The Brown family, which owns the business, has been striving to be self-sufficient and live in a sustainable way.

Miss Brown's brother, Jock, is a chemical engineer in Norway with an interest in alternative sources of energy.

He is also friends with Hagen Brueggemann, who has been living the alternative energy dream on Mt Cargill.

They were all keen to go ahead with installing solar panels and the site was monitored for three months to gauge their effectiveness.

The most power generated was 35kW in a day and the least was 2.5kW. Waitati could get some ''good sun'' and the system could potentially produce up to 50kW. The average household use was about 15kW, James Hardistry, of Control Focus Ltd, said.

Electricity was only going to get more expensive and her family was looking ''long term'', Miss Brown said.

The installation should pay for itself in six to seven years. It was hoped in summer they would be generating 100% of their power.

The next project was to put ponds in to recycle water as water was their other big cost, she said.

If they did not have to pay for water or power, as they hoped would be the case in seven to eight years, there were not many other running costs, apart from maintenance which was ongoing, she said.

A computer showed how much power was being generated in a day. There was going to be a screen in the garden centre so customers could see the input and output.

It had gone ''pretty smoothly'' and everyone was enjoying it, Miss Brown said.

Much more electricity was used in the cafe on a cold winter's day, because of heating, but in sunny weather much more was used in the garden centre, as they were pumping water.

Mr Hardistry, who installed the system, said it was a ''win-win'' for everyone involved, especially if you could use all the power yourself, he said.

The solar panels were guaranteed for 25 years but would probably last for 40 to 50 years and they were virtually maintenance-free, Mr Hardistry said.

More commercial premises were considering solar energy, he said.

Mr Hardistry also imports windmills and is looking at installing some large ones on dairy farms in the Ashburton, Dunedin and Gore areas.

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