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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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.