Thinking outside the box

We know that natural forces can be harnessed for power, but obtaining reliable data can be an obstacle for communities looking to move to renewable energy.

With this in mind, Associate Professor Ramesh Rayudu from the Faculty of Engineering has been working with iwi partners, including Ngāti Raukawa and Ngāti Tuwharetoa in Feilding, to generate data that could help them develop and effectively use renewable energy-based resources.

Together with his colleague Dr Daniel Burmester and students Angus Weich, Daniel Satur, and Jasper Kueppers, Ramesh has developed a ‘black box’ with sensors that collect information, such as the number of sun hours each day and how much wind the area is exposed to, to determine which renewable resources are available on the site. Dependent on location, this could be solar power, hydro power, wind turbines, or a combination.

The black box can also measure agricultural data such as water quality and soil temperature and moisture, which will help determine the best use of that area.

Ramesh says the idea for the black box came about when he and his team were approached by iwi wanting advice on becoming more self-sufficient.

“Some of the locations didn’t have any data of their land. The iwi at Omaio was getting its data from Tauranga—which is almost 200 kilometres away. We wanted to provide them with localised information that would be beneficial for them,” he says.

The first black box prototype was installed in July 2018 in Omaio, and Ramesh’s team is working on ‘version 2.0’. He hopes further boxes will be installed at Feilding and on Great Barrier Island later this year.

Ramesh and his team work with iwi to help analyse the data and decide their best options. He says the big-picture goal is to develop a solar and wind map of provincial New Zealand.

“While the primary interest of this project is in renewable energy and looking at what we can do to be self-sufficient, the black box will also provide intelligent information about cultural land.

“It can be used anywhere to identify renewable resources, especially by anyone with agricultural land who wants to find out about the sun hours and what kind of wind speeds and directions the land is exposed to.

“The great thing about the box is that you install it and the readings are transferred through wireless technology. You can just set it and forget about it.”