Heritage Design Group office in Three Kings Walking the Talk of Self-Powering

An Auckland architecture practice supports a recent call for New Zealanders to take more control over theirown energy needs, and is walking the talk at their own premises.

In a report tabled in Parliament today entitled Electricity, Energy and the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, stressed the need for New Zealanders to be more responsible for their own energy needs, advocating the use of small wind turbines to produce up to a third of the average household’s electricity needs.

Niel and Jette de Jong of Heritage Design Group in Auckland applaud this message, saying it is one they frequently impress upon clients looking to build a more sustainable lifestyle into their homes.

By way of example, the couple installed ten photovoltaic solar panels on the north-facing roof of their Art Deco home and office in April this year. Combined with other simple energy-saving initiatives such as installing energy efficient appliances and using energy saving light bulbs, the addition of the solar panels has reduced their electricity consumption by between five and 12 kWh per day – representing a quarter to a half of their total needs.

On a sunny day in winter, the panels produce enough electricity to power the home fridge and everything in the office – five powerful computers, eight LCD monitors, phones, fax, printers, fridge and lighting when required. During weekends and over summer when production exceeds demand, the excess is fed back onto the national grid.

“As an architecture practice specialising in environmentally sustainable homes, we felt it was important to walk the talk,” says Principal Niel de Jong. “Many of our clients are interested in this technology, even in an urban environment, but they feel more comfortable adopting it once they have seen it in action.”

However, while the results of the de Jongs’ experimental work are impressive, many people are still put off by the cost of the technology.

“People ask us what the payback is,” says Jette de Jong, “and at the moment there is not much of a financial incentive to make your own power.”

The de Jongs believe central and local government should be much more proactive in encouraging home and business owners to contribute to their own electricity generation needs.

“We should be following the lead of the UK and other European countries by legislating to require a percentage of self-generation in all new buildings, and offering financial incentives for those wishing to add electricity generation capability to existing homes and offices,” says Niel de Jong.

The government has introduced an interest-free loan scheme for people wishing to install solar hot water heating, but the de Jongs would prefer to see systems in place that directly reward those who are making a contribution.

“Rather than giving money to a finance company in interest, they should be giving it to the home or business owner as a subsidy,” says Niel de Jong, “and there should be rules in place requiring all electricity companies to buy power back for at least what they are charging consumers.” At present, only Contact Energy does this, and only if the seller is a member of the NZ Photovoltaic Association.

Like Dr Williams, the de Jongs think we should not be sitting back and waiting for the government to tell us what to do.

“As individuals and as a community, we should not just be thinking about our back pockets – we should also be thinking about our back yard. Some of the current proposals to add more coal-fired electricity generation, or even introduce nuclear technology, are just outrageous when you consider the potential harm they can do to our environment - especially when you consider the alternatives that are available using free wind and sunshine,” observes Jette de Jong.

Launch – Eco Meets Deco (stage 1)

The addition of photovoltaic electricity generation is part of a project to make the de Jongs’ Art Deco premises completely sustainable. Other work in stage 1 has included installing a gas-boosted solar hot water system and harvesting rain water for potable use.

Details of the official launch of stage 1 of the project are below:

When: 
10.30am to 12.30pm on Friday 18 August 2006
Where: 
Three Kings, Auckland (address on confirmation of attendance)
What:
A tour of the house; brief addresses by the owners and the Hon. Jeannette Fitzsimons, Government spokesperson for Energy Efficiency and Conservation; and a light lunch.
RSVP:
Monday 14 August 2006

Contacts

Niel or Jette de Jong
Phone – 09 620-1939
Email – office@hdg.co.nz
Web – www.hdg.co.nz