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Papakura's swimming pools go solar

Board harnesses renewable energy

Published: 1 March 2019

Everyone loves a bright sunny summer’s day.

But Papakura Local Board has even more reason than most to enjoy the sight of the hot sun beating down on the town.

Having coughed up $170,000 for New Zealand’s largest solar-powered swimming pool heating system at the Massey Aquatic Centre, and thermal pool covers, all that’s needed to make that spending pay is for the sun to shine.

Panels now cover large sections of the roof at the complex, with the solar energy generated replacing the gas that was used to heat the water, creating a significant saving in the fuel bill while making use of a free sustainable energy source.

Board chair Brent Catchpole says it’s a great bit of business, with the decision to make the funding available made in response to a lot of feedback during Have Your Say submissions calling for longer opening hours for the popular facility.

"When the Long-Term Plan was being discussed more hours for the complex was one priority the board put out for consultation, and we got a lot of feedback about covering the outdoor pool too."

The board had planned on adopting an advocacy position that would have seen it urging the Auckland Council governing body to provide funding for pool upgrade projects.

Instead, it turned to its Local Development Initiative Fund, looked at all that free sunlight, and came up with a plan to go solar.

Moving forward, the savings recouped from lower energy bills will be retained to fund longer operating seasons for the pools.

"We’re not going to see anything spectacular this year, although we will be open for a bit longer than usual in the outdoor pools. But in the future we could see enough savings being made to pay for quite significant extra hours," Brent says.

"The complex is a real asset for Papakura. It’s brilliant to see it so well-used, from parents with wee ones having a splash through to schools having swimming sports and to exercise groups for our older citizens.

"So being able to have an asset worth a lot of money being used for longer has to make sense - especially when you can combine it with using fewer fossil fuels and tapping into a more sustainable energy source to help pay for it."

Albany-based company Solar Group Limited was contracted to install the system. Representative Ronit Netzer says the company had to deal with some complex mathematics.

The pools at the Massey Park complex have a surface area of 1700 square metres and contain more than 2000 cubic metres of water, meaning the system to heat the outdoor pools requires 540 square metres of ‘heliocol’ panels generating an annual solar heat input of more than 340-megawatt hours.

In layman’s terms, the pools are big and use a lot of water, so you must have a system with an awful lot of grunt to make it work, and Ronit is confident it will.

"There’s no doubt the system will extend the swimming season for the outdoor pools and it will generate cost savings of more than $30,000 a year.

"At the same time, it will have a positive effect on our environment, with an emissions reduction of 77-tonnes a year.”

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