Positive numbers from our first year of solar power

Now that our 384 solar panels have had their first trip around the sun, Quintin Russ explained to NZNOG how it all came together and how well the numbers stack up.

Max calendar May 25, 2022 book News

If you’re running a power-hungry business and you have a bit of flat-ish real estate that faces the sky, you’ve probably wondered whether it would make sense to go solar. The environmental reasons are obvious. And if, like us, you value the chance to add a new source of power then the arguments in favour keep stacking up.

It can be financially appealing, too. But, as our Technical Director Quintin Russ explained to the annual conference of the New Zealand Network Operators Group (NZNOG) last week, every case is different. Here’s how it’s all worked out for us.

Quintin presenting to the New Zealand Network Operators Group (NZNOG) conference, in person and online

Our first solar year by the numbers

There are 384 panels on top of our two buildings, making for a system size of 142kWp. Each building has its own ICP (installation control point), and consequently its own inverter. We didn’t add any battery storage to the system because our datacentre constantly draws power. Anything we generate we either use or export.

In its first year this solar installation produced about 184,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. This was only slightly short of the 190,000kWh that our installers, Trilect Solar, had estimated. It’s good to know that we were using sound numbers when we worked out the likely return on our investment.

Installation in progress

On the environmental side, Trilect estimates that each year we’ll offset 24,000 tonnes of atmospheric CO2. There are more details in their SiteHost case study.

We can run almost entirely off-grid on a clear day. When Auckland was at its sunniest, in January, we even exported a little bit of power.

As Quintin told NZNOG, “the case for solar stacks up a lot better if you use every kilowatt-hour that you generate”. When we export power, only about one-third of its total value accrues to us. To put this another way, we can either be our own generator, transmission company, distributor and retailer; or we can be someone else’s generator.

A breakdown of the average electricity bill shows 32% going on generation. Retail, distribution and transmission add 50.5% and GST a further 13%. Source: Electricity Authority

All up, our 12 months’ experience confirmed a lot of expectations. We can now confidently say that return on investment (ROI) is about 15%, so this installation will take around 7 years to pay for itself. That compares well to the system’s guarantees and warranties, which cover periods of 10-25 years.

Because we’re using almost every kWh ourselves, the financial impact works out well. If we were storing power or exporting more, “the numbers shift quite dramatically”. Since our business is built on top of constant energy draw, the move to solar has been a good one.

How we got here

Quintin also covered our solar backstory, starting with our selection of Trilect Solar to work on our installation. He says, “they’re not paying me to say this, but Andrew and Pete did an amazing job.”

Pete, from Trilect Solar, unpacking solar panels in March 2021

As well as providing remarkably good estimates of the system’s performance, Trilect’s early advice included “about 15 different concepts for how we could lay out the panels” without affecting the air-conditioning and other bits and pieces that were already up there. They looked into other questions too, like whether the cost and complexity of angling the solar panels would pay off (answer: no).

After getting everything planned out with Trilect we thought we were all good to go. There was just a quick engineering assessment to get done first.

Strength before power

Our solar ambitions hit an early snag when an engineering inspection found that one roof wasn’t as strong as we expected. The roof could keep out the rain just fine, and it was even good enough for the building to be rated well for earthquake-resistance, but it wasn’t up to the job of holding a small power plant. This gave us three options:

In our particular case, option 2 (cutting the number of panels) weakened the business case. Option 1 (strengthen the roof) and option 3 (lighter solar panels) were both roughly cost-neutral. Since a roof lasts longer than solar panels do, we went with option 1. The wait was worth it.

Quintin’s talk was near the end of day one of NZNOG’s conference. It’s available on YouTube.

Many more good years to come

This is a long-term investment, and one that we are proud to have made. The carbon offset alone would arguably be enough of a benefit to justify the expense. But now we know that there are times when our datacentre is powered purely by the sun, and that the entire system will pay for itself in seven years. We have confirmation that this is as good for business as we expected.

Even though the roof is full, there’s still plenty of room in our datacentre. So if you want to discuss co-location or any other hosting options, we can definitely fit you in. Get in touch today.

Key Statistics

We have built the infrastructure and support team that your business can rely on, but we'll let the numbers do the talking.

100%

You can rely on us and our uptime. For the last month we are at 100%


Based on data from external third party monitoring. See our Network Status for more. Last updated: Today
68mins

We measure our response time to support tickets in minutes not hours.


Our average response time to support tickets during business hours this week. Last updated: Today
98%

Our customers consistently rate their support experience as excellent.


Based on the last 200 support ratings we have received which are asked for on every ticket. Last updated: Today

Latest News

Occasionally we find time to write about what we've been working on, lessons we've learnt or just something interesting we have found.

News

Our new ICANN accreditation will shorten the domain supply chain

Deregulation and market concentration are reshaping the domain industry, so we're working to improve our position.

Read More
News

International domain prices are on the move

Because we’re being charged more by our providers, we are increasing some international domain prices from July 1.

Read More
News

Positive numbers from our first year of solar power

Now that our 384 solar panels have had their first trip around the sun, Quintin Russ explained to NZNOG how it all came together and how well the numbers stack up.

Read More