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Marae DIY – Behind the Scenes with Kahn Denton

Kahn, of Tainui descent from Taharoa, is the Iwi Partnerships Manager and Marae Community Project lead here at solarcity. He works closely with Iwi to educate about the benefits of bringing solar power to their Marae, as part of their shared value of Kaitiakitanga (we are guardians of this land). The ‘Marae Community Project’ is an initiative led by Kahn to provide access to solar energy to help small Māori communities save money by switching their homes to clean solar energy. 

The Marae Community Project

The Marae Community Project was launched by solarcity in September 2018 with the installation of a solarZero system at Whangaehu - a marae near Ratana. Kahn consulted with the Whangaehu marae committee over six months to determine the needs and challenges the marae had with their existing power supply. As part of the project, we gifted the solarZero service to the Marae - meaning for the next 20 years the solar power produced from the solarZero system would be provided for their use at no cost. The solarZero service monthly fee for the system would have been $105 +gst, and over the 20 year service contract this gift represents a value of $28,980.

Kahn believes the Marae Community Project will help towards the goal to shift Aotearoa to 100% renewable energy, and solar is a perfect way that communities can help make this change a reality. 

Kahn’s motivation

Kahn’s young daughter is his motivation for him to be part of this change that will make a difference for her and the next generation.

Kahn showing how solar power works to a group of children.

“My main reason for joining solarcity was to be part of getting every Marae in NZ access this free energy from the sun. It’s not only about getting solarZero systems on roofs, it’s more about training and upskilling the rangitahi, and keeping within the kaupapa of our people, so that we show the rangitahi, that this is for them, and we can pass on this practice to the next generation.”

Growing the project

Following on from the project launch at Whangaehu, the next step in the project was for us to partner with Marae DIY’s new series to transform Marae around NZ, by consulting and educating the Marae committee and whanau about moving to solar energy to power their meeting houses, and other buildings on their Marae sites.

Over a period of three months, Kahn conducted site visits, where he visited each Marae and assessed their suitability for solar, spent time with the Marae committee members to educate and inform them about the benefits of solar, and then worked with the solarcity team to design the solarZero systems that would best match their needs.

Once the committee were in agreement, Kahn and members of solarcity’s installation team spent several days at each of the five Marae who were able to have solar, installing the solarZero systems - a combination of solar panels on roofs, technical systems to convert the solar energy to electricity, and smart batteries to store and exchange power to/from the grid.  

Kahn and the team became fully integrated with the Marae DIY project team and the communities who came to lend a hand to transform their Marae, even tending to gardens, painting, sweeping and cleaning up the sites.   

Highlights

Kahn says the highlights of rolling out the Marae Community Project to another five marae have been educating Maori across the country about climate change and how they can reduce their carbon footprint, meeting and spending time with the people, and hearing the local stories of the land and what it means to the communities. During his time working with each Marae, they talked together about the small changes that each person can make - and that even if they think its minimal, collectively if all Marae make a small change together it's a big change. 

Kahn Denton with hands in the shape of a heart.

“I didn’t actually realise there was a massive problem until I started at solarcity. Everyone says ‘global warming’s happening’. It’s not all about solar, but solar is a vehicle to be able to educate our people on what’s actually happening, and what we can do to make a difference. We should be at the forefront - this is our whenua, we need to do something about it.”

Challenges

Kahn says the challenges of the project were the long days and the back-to-back, fast-paced schedule of each Marae DIY project. For example, after completing a four-day long Marae project in Taheke (Far North), there was a six hour drive the following day to start the process all over again at the next Marae in Tauranga. With many of the Marae being in remote locations, internet connection was either patchy or non-existent. The solarZero system tech requires broadband for monitoring and management of the power supply, so alternative solutions are being explored to enable this function. At one of the Marae the wiring was found to be too old in parts of the buildings and the design had to be altered to accommodate this.

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