Solar power project helps create healthy homes for vulnerable communities

A joint project between Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington and Te Āhuru Mōwai, a Porirua community housing provider run by Ngāti Toa, will see the homes of vulnerable residents made healthier through the installation of innovative solar power technology.

Blue sky and sunshine

The project has received $414,000 in funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment under the Māori and Public Housing Renewable Energy Fund.

Associate Professor Ramesh Rayudu and Dr Daniel Burmester from the University’s School of Engineering and Computer Science will work with Te Āhuru Mōwai to install solar panels, power measurement sensors, and a community-based battery system, as well as trial new demand management technology, in a group of homes managed by Te Āhuru Mōwai.

“Solar energy can be a sensible solution for small-scale household power production, as it is low maintenance and has a reasonably long lifetime,” Associate Professor Rayudu says. “We can also ideally reduce the cost of power for these homes by allowing them to produce and store their own energy, rather than having to import it from the national power grid.”

The ability to store power will be crucial to making this endeavour a success. Households get the most benefit from solar systems when they can store power for times when it isn’t possible to produce energy from the sun. Associate Professor Rayudu and Dr Burmester have come up with a solution for the group of homes they are working with.

“We have been looking at alternatives to conventional solar power storage and have gravitated towards one of the most underutilised energy storage components in a household—the hot water cylinder,” says Associate Professor Rayudu. “Hot water cylinders have a massive capacity to store thermal energy so could be turned into an appliance for storing solar power.”

An initial design of this technology has been developed and published, and the solar power project will allow the University researchers to do further work.

“The long-term plan is to introduce this into the community. The cylinders in every home in the community will work together to store power for all homes, providing more effective storage for solar power and more reliable access to affordable, sustainable power for all residents.”

The solar power technology will initially be used to heat water, with hopes of extending it to other household heating soon.
“Access to warm water and heating are essential for healthy homes. Using solar power to make these affordable to vulnerable residents will greatly improve the health of our people,” Associate Professor Rayudu says.

“This is a first step towards providing long-term renewable energy-based solutions for Te Āhuru Mōwai homes, and we hope to do more work in creating healthy homes and reducing dampness and energy costs in the future.”

The project will observe tikanga Māori, taking a whakawhanaungatanga (relationship building) approach, and matching captured data with lived experience and Ngāti Toa knowledge.