Solar Silvia will charge your Prius for free


By Pete


In spite of its critics, “free” solar energy is increasingly used by individuals and companies to offset the power bill

Sylvia Park has switched on what is believed to be New Zealand’s biggest solar power installation.

The Auckland shopping centre has fitted more than 1000 solar panels to the mall roof in a bid to save money, with some of the energy channeled into shoppers’ vehicles below.

The 1134 panels cover an area the size of 12 tennis courts.

Kiwi Property facilities manager Jason Happy says it all depends on the sun, and at the moment we’re enjoying a “perfect run”.

“It’s about $80,000 a year we’re expecting to save out of these solar cells,” he says.

“Fifty-nine New Zealand homes is the equivalent output of these cells over a year. So today, with the sun out, it would be powering a small neighbourhood street.”

Powering lighting and air-conditioning, the system should generate about 16 percent of the shopping mall’s energy needs, and some of it is also flowing into electric vehicle charging stations.

Electric car owner Steve West says: “They’ve put in these charging stations and they’re not even charging for the electricity. So I guess they’re betting on people shopping while they’re parked here and that’s great.”

The company can even keep an eye on how much power the panels are producing using a real-time app on a smartphone.

“Funnily enough they produce their maximum power output when you get a bright clear day and it’s a bit cooler in temperature. So we should get good power production right through spring and autumn and actually very good power production,” Mr Happy says.

I’ve been toying with a portable 70W solar panel that feeds a portable battery so I can run a laptop and a cellphone off it so I can essentially work anywhere, anytime, as long as I have cell cover.   I’m currently using a Chromebook with 7 hour battery life, but am considering the new model which promises 10 hours on a single charge.

On that basis, we have a “mobile journalism kit” where even during overcast and rainy days, I should be able to be self-sufficient and not have to go and try to find a place to steal some electricity to recharge the gadgets.  By using Spark’s 1G free WiFi, you can even get up to 30G free data on the road in addition to your mobile plan.

Solar does feel like cheating and getting something for free.   Let me know if you’d like updates on my little experiments and I’ll keep you up to date.


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  • sheppy

    I’d love to hear updates about using solar in the real world. I use a home built system to heat the pool and clouds make a large difference. Current output around 23.5kw from 750watts of electric into the pump.

    • Teletubby

      Some 40 years ago some friends put in an asphalt tennis court and set several hundred metres of copper pipe into the asphalt. Water from the pool was pumped through the pipe and back into the pool, on a hot day the water from the pipe was just short of burning temperature

      • sheppy

        47 degrees was the highest I’ve seen so far from 34.6 input. I’ve got a reasonable flow rate but as none of it is insulated
        I’d expect it won’t get much hotter

  • Orange

    If you’re out for a set length of time then carrying a good battery is easier than a panel. Panels are ok if you have extended periods away from civilisation (a week?) and can leave it setup and charging all day. Not sure how to power a chrome book with it but I’ve found this kind of battery holds a very nice charge.

  • Teletubby

    Very curious to know the physical size, weight and cost of this set up please Pete?

    • Ed209nz

      Its a Goal Zero Yeti 400, checkout out the Map of the day sponsor they are avail available on our Website. pleased to see its working for you Pete.

  • metalnwood

    Another one that is cheap if you are a diy’er… If you are a home handyman you might have powerdrills with batteries.. I have 5 18V batteries for drills and I made an adaptor that the battery plugs in to giving me power which can be 5V or 12V. 5 of those batteries lasts me an extended time until I can charge them again and I have them, dont need to buy them.

  • Rick H

    My partner, myself and our two beautiful dogs love to go camping out by the river 1/2 hour from home.
    I already had a spare battery the same as the one in my car. I use it to
    keep the laptop charged using an inverter, and it would play movies for
    quite a few hours before dying; which then I would swap the car
    batteries and go for a wee drive to charge it back up.

    Prior to last Xmas holidays, I bought a really awesome solar battery charger for 85 bucks.
    With the solar battery charger, I no longer rely on the spare battery – the charger fully recharges the battery the next day; allowing us to watch movies on the laptop after dark.

    • metalnwood

      yes, if you can carry that around its better. I had to cart around some electronics gear that needed to run over a number of nights, 5 hours a night. I carried a 120 amp hour marine deep cycle. Heavy, yes but if you dont need to carry it around it’s a great option.

  • Rick H

    Free Charging – sounds like another of those funny oxymorons.

  • RightofSingapore

    It should read “By using Telecom’s 1G free WiFi, you can even get up to 30G free data on the road in addition to your mobile plan.”

  • If your using it for computers, please make sure the inverter is a full sine wave inverter, otherwise you’ll damage your computer battery. Learnt that the hardway