Aurora Energy and solarZero’s non-wire solution reduces the need for new power lines.

Upper Clutha Project Media Article - Wanaka App

Article originally published on the Wanaka App, written by Diana Cocks

‘Solar solution’ to meet growing local electricity demand

In a move to improve the resilience and capacity of its network, Aurora Energy has gone into partnership with solarZero on a project to provide a solar, battery flexible, non-network solution for residents in the Upper Clutha - the first of its kind in New Zealand.

The “non-wire solution” of solar panels and battery storage does not involve building new power lines to meet increasing electricity demand but instead allows Upper Clutha residents to store solar energy and use it during the summer’s peak late afternoon and early evening hours, solarZero CEO Neil Cowie said.

“Homes that have solar/battery will reduce this demand … as the combination of solar generation and smart control will allow the battery to store excess solar and low-priced grid power, to provide power during the evening peak period, lessening the demand on the grid...,” he said.

“If demand can be managed reliably in this fast growing region new power lines to Wanaka will not need to be built. This solution is a lower cost alternative to building new network infrastructure and ensuring the increase to supply can meet not only current demand but future demand also.”

“Globally, solar, batteries and smart control - which are collectively known as flexibility services - are increasingly recognised as being key to an efficient power system that supports the electrification of the economy,” Neil said. “This project is right up there nationally and internationally.”

“We are thrilled to be part of a first for New Zealand - applying groundbreaking innovation in the supply of electricity to the Upper Clutha region.”   

According to the Electricity Market Information website the Upper Clutha area has one of the highest uptakes of solar on a per household basis with roughly four per cent of all households employing solar power.

Together, solarZero and Aurora’s non-wire solution will create a ‘Virtual Power Plant’ (VPP), a network of solar and smart batteries that can be collectively controlled to help manage the network, Neil said. SolarZero already operates the largest VPP in New Zealand with around 5000 solar and battery systems. 

As part of this project, solarZero will be working with local businesses to upscale its capacity to provide for new local customers.  

Unlike many other solar companies providing for residential clients, solarZero customers “rent” the solar panels, system hardware, smart battery and software at a fixed monthly fee that does not increase with inflation for the entire 20 year service agreement.

Neil said solarZero assesses each household on their current electricity usage and patterns, the type of roof their home has and its aspect to catch the maximum sunrays, then determines the size of the system that best suits their needs.  

“Customers pay a fixed monthly service fee, based on the size of the system installed on their home. For residential customers solarZero systems range from six panels and battery, up to 15 panels and battery; monthly service fees range from $85+GST/month - $145+GST/month,” he said.

The system hardware is installed at the customer’s property with no upfront costs, or ongoing maintenance costs. The solarZero smart battery, which delivers backup power automatically during a power outage, is replaced after 10 years or at the end of its lifecycle.  

The system integrates five key technologies: solar power, solar battery, broadband, energy efficiency and electric vehicles.

Customers are guaranteed savings from year one, Neil said, and customers can save, on average, up to 30 per cent on power bills over 20 years. An Eco Bonus is also credited to all solarZero customers’ accounts each month in recognition of the value that solar and battery storage plays in supporting clean, reliable energy.

Neil said the company was also working on an option for local homeowners who already had a solar system installed but were interested in a battery-only service agreement with solarZero.

He said the solarZero service is available to residential properties only at present but the company is looking to extend its service to businesses, schools, and so on in the future.

Read more about solarZero and the Virtual Power Plant project in Upper Clutha: