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Harnessing the power of the sun

Kim Stewart Dec 12
Harnessing the power of the sun
Wanaka Solar focuses on installing both grid-tied and off the grid solar systems.

Matching current energy usage with the correct solar system, future proofed for anticipated growth and emerging technologies, is key to retaining consumer faith in renewable energies like solar says Dean Dunning, managing director of Wanaka Solar Ltd.

An Englishman by birth with a long held interest in the environment and renewable energy, Dean qualified as an electrician before journeying to New Zealand in 2008 in the pursuit of adventure.

After a brief spell living in the West Coast and guiding in Franz Josef, the beauty and gentler climes of Otago won out and Dean decided to make Wanaka his home.

In 2012 Dean started studying renewable technology at the Southern Institute of Technology.

“From the get go this ignited my passion for energy efficiency, sustainable building and renewable energy – solar in particular,” says Dean.

“Solar seemed to make so much sense to me. You put solar panels on your roof, leave it there and do nothing, and it will produce electricity for you for at least the next 25 years.”

In 2014 Dean founded Wanaka Solar and now employs two permanent staff, including an apprentice, to meet demand.

Focusing on grid-tied and off grid solar, Dean says that the majority of his work still comes from grid-tied systems with the trend being to retro fit a solar system to existing homes.

“A big focus for us at the moment is developing tools to help customers select the right size system for their needs and we have developed a ‘Solar Sizer’ tool that does just that.”

Energy data is downloaded from the customer’s smart meter and dropped into software that graphs it, showing exactly what power is used and when— creating the customer’s energy profile.

An estimated solar production for different sized systems is then overlaid onto the customers profile showing exactly what system will meet the customer’s actual needs – rather than installing a powerful system when actual power usage occurs at night time.

“We say to the customer, ‘here’s your energy usage graph and if we install a 3kw system this is how much power you will produce and when’ —so we can match a system to their energy profile.

“I’m so amazed at the accuracy of this tool. By giving customers the right size system they get so much more out of their solar,” explains Dean.

He says Wanaka Solar will keep developing tools to make it easier for customers to get the right system.

“Energy use is quite complicated. So if we can make it simpler, it is easier for us and the customer gets a better product. The future of solar energy is exciting, particularly with the increasing uptake of electric vehicles, which use the same batteries as grid-tied batteries.”

While grid-tied batteries are still expensive, Dean says their cost is likely to plummet due to mass production, in the same way that solar panels have.

“It will make for interesting times. As more homeowners install batteries and solar, they will become self-sufficient and not rely on the grid.”

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