Te Papa aims to run entirely on sunlight as it bids to be NZ's biggest solar farm
Te Papa's ambitious plan to completely power itself by sunlight within a decade would make it the country's biggest solar farm.
The million-dollar proposal would mean the roof of Wellington's distinctive national museum would be clad in 3000 square metres of solar panels – roughly the size of 12 tennis courts – feeding into a raft of storage batteries that can be fed back to the national grid when the museum has a surplus.
Contractors from Europe to Australia are vying to get involved in the project as the field of solar technology advances rapidly.
The 500-kilowatt (kW) project would eclipse the 350kW solar farm at Auckland's Sylvia Park shopping centre, which is thought to be the country's largest solar farm.
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Te Papa chief operating officer Dave Robinson said a lot of credit should also go to early adopter Auckland Museum, which went solar in 2014, and which would be consulting and feeding into the tech loop.
"It's a great opportunity for us and Auckland to continue all the other work we do together," Robinson said.
Early discussions with energy companies such as Contact and Meridian are also on the table with a view to a sponsorship and tech support partnership.
"In terms of where solar technology is at now, the size and scale of this is unique. People want to work with us to develop that technology."
Robinson said the project was exciting, not only for staff but for those in the solar tech sector who saw the farm as being significant in pushing the technology ahead on a global scale.
It was part of the institution's three-pronged sustainability drive, including waste reduction and water reticulation, and it was hoped the solar array would take care of the museum's $800,000 annual power bill by 2027.
Plans have begun to renew the permanent Natural Environment exhibition, which Robinson said was a great opportunity to showcase the benefits of photovoltaic solar systems.
"We want to be world leaders in sustainability and this will be a case of practising what we preach."
The array could be made visible to the 1.5 million visitors the museum gets every year through an interactive display exploring sustainable energy production and climate change.
Te Papa well sited to soak up the sun, being essentially north-oriented, with large flat, obstruction-free surfaces.
The self-generation systems under consideration are expected to integrate seamlessly into the existing Te Papa electricity network and its connections to the main supply grid. The proposed system is expected to produce electricity locally and offset part of the grid supplied electricity.
Robinson also hopes it will inspire other large organisations and building owners to go solar.
If the project goes ahead, it is expected to take between one and two years to build.