Friday 28 July 2017

PowerPark: Paving The Way For The Next Solar Revolution!

We all know that solar energy is the most important source of energy for all life forms and unlike fossil fuels it is abundant, clean and renewable. According to the Clean Energy Australia Report released in 2016, renewable energy is now the cheapest of its kind when it comes to power generation, costing less than new coal plants and definitely much less than gas fired power plants. According to the comprehensive report, large-scale solar installations are almost half the cost of what it was previously and a lot more productive, efficient and effective, accelerating the growth of solar farms, rooftop solar systems and contributing to meeting Australia's national RET (Renewable Energy Target).

What does this mean for the general public? Well, for homeowners and commercial businesses, harnessing this green energy will mean significant cuts in electricity bills, more savings in the pocket and lower carbon footprint to benefit our one and only environment.

With innovative technological advancements constantly being made in this field, solar panel designs, structures, form and functionalities are changing to find new methods of harnessing this energy. Since solar power is the cornerstone of Australia's renewable future, consumers like you and me are looking for creative ways to incorporate solar power into our lives. Enter PowerPark.

I recently came across PowerPark, a company that has just delivered Australia’s first solar car shade. We all know what car shades look like, but apart from just providing shelter for stationary or parked vehicles they are an opportunity to harness solar power and generate clean energy. Now the question is why am I talking about renewable energy on an interior design blog? Well, because firstly the need for a cleaner and greener environment affects us all and secondly, PowerPark is now designing PowerPark+ and PowerPark Lite to cover public areas and home carports.

I had the opportunity to interview Paul Nealgrove, Project and Design Consultant at PowerPark on taking the next step in the solar revolution with their innovative initiative of solar power car shade systems for commercial and residential properties!How has usage of solar power or renewable energy evolved over the years in the Australian market?

Working in the solar industry in Australia for the last 8 years, one can only describe the experience as a roller coaster of ups and downs. Adoption of solar technology has increased from 153MW in Jan 2010, to 5834MW in 2017. But that incline has not always been steady. With residential consumer confidence marred by the abolishment of Government aided ‘Feed in Tariffs’ in 2010/11, and politically driven negativity regarding renewables being a constant burden on the sector. Thankfully, and unsurprisingly the Australian people’s thirst for clean, and affordable energy has continued to grow stronger regardless. There wasn’t much of a ‘commercial solar market’ in 2010, with system sizes ranging from 1.5 – 5kW being the most popular for residential homes. However, as coal fuelled energy costs have continued to spiral, the past 5 years has seen an enormous growth for large scale energy users adopting solar technology to help keep their businesses from running at a loss, whilst also helping to keep their emissions ratings in check.
What has been the inspiration behind PowerPark?

The concept of PowerPark was driven by several things. The frustration of potential customers of whom did not have adequate roof space to install solar, and the opportunity to create a renewable technology that Australia that had not seen previously. Opening up an entirely different platform of users, and opening the door to system sizes that can reach MW instead of KW.

And whilst also serving two purposes at one - shading from the fierce Australian elements, whilst at the same time harnessing its power for the good!
What differentiates PowerPark from other competitors in the Australian market?

PowerPark is about ‘solar architecture’. Not just putting solar panels on an existing surface, but taking solar technology and finding new ways to enable people to harness it. Incorporating solar into structures that provide duel benefits means the business case for PowerPark systems is a double edged sword. Often our clients may already be looking for some form of shading or shelter for an area of their premises, and also have solar energy on their agenda too. We enable the business to bring those two requirements together; stylishly, cost effectively and efficiently! The financial benefits provided by the solar energy, means they are effectively offsetting the cost of the shade structure AND their carbon footprint. PowerPark systems are also certified ‘Australian Made’ of which I think we are the only manufacturer in the country to have this certification.

How will installing solar powered car shade systems help in saving money and reduce carbon footprint?

The clean power generated from the system is fed directly to the premises during daylight hours. This offers a direct offset from the amount of ‘dirty’ power they need to purchase from their supplier. Meaning significantly lower cost energy bills, and as no fossil fuels play a part in its production, your carbon footprint is therefore minimised accordingly.

A great natural benefit of solar for a lot of businesses is that solar power generation is often at its peak mid-afternoon, due to the solar radiation from the sun being at its strongest then. This also happens to be the time of day that electricity is most expensive for many. So solar energy can have a major impact on peak demand charges as peak demand charges are a huge burden for businesses.
Can you describe the design and installation process the bespoke car shade solar panels?

There’s a multitude of requirements that we incorporate into our design process to make PowerPark the ‘go to’ brand for solar car shades. There’s some really cool designs out there, but a lot of them are very inefficient from a cost perspective, which renders them cost prohibitive for most. So we are constantly trying to reach the perfect balance of modern aesthetics, form, real world function, longevity and as always, affordability plays a key role too. We want people to be able to utilise this technology!

Once we’ve ticked these boxes on a design brief, we can then start to move on to the next level, which is the engineering specifics.

PowerPark incorporates a unique ‘slide in’ panel design. This makes inserting the panels to the system a lot more secure, whilst also A LOT faster than any other method we’ve seen. That’s a great feature of PowerPark systems. When you're talking about systems that in some cases can house several thousands of solar modules, that’s a great feature to have, particularly if you’re the guy tasked with installing the panels. But also the guy who pays his hourly wages.

We have a standard set of systems that can be transposed to a wealth of different car park layouts. Once we have assessed the layout of a particular car park we can suggest the most effective design. We can then advise on the solar power output for that given design. Once the client has approved the design, we get to work with completing the engineering specifics for the site, and move forth with the installation.

We’re embracing automation having invested in our very own ‘in house’ Robotic welding station. This is enabling us to stay future proofed in terms of production capabilities, whilst also ensuring a level of quality control required for the 25 year warranty on our systems.
What are you (PowerPark) working on at the moment?

We are very excited about our latest development, which is Australia’s first solar powered bowling green canopy which we have named ‘PowerBowl’. We believe PowerBowl will be a game changer not just for the lawn bowl community, but for all kinds of outdoor sporting facilities. Many of which have already reached capacity of their rooftop solar, so this brings together the benefits of shading from the elements, but also huge solar power capabilities of up to 500MW of clean power per annum.

We’ve spent a long time refining the overall look of the PowerBowl system. Working with such a wide spaning canopy of 40m+ is pretty challenging in itself, but we thought we wanted to go further than that, and ensure the visual impact of the structure could stand the test of time. There’s certain technical constraints that working with solar pv. We have to ensure the maximum exposure of the panels. Solar panels can be temperamental beasts, and they have a ‘sweet spot’ for peak performance in terms of the angle they are placed.

Then you have to consider the build up of debris (which effects the performance also), so we’ve designed the system to be the most effective at self cleaning. And then there’s the customer experience underneath the canopy. All of this and many more considerations have been factored into the final design, and we are now soon to be unveiling the first landmark PowerBowl system, at the Casino RSM bowling club in northern NSW, and we are extremely excited. It really will mark a new milestone for solar integrated architecture in Australia!

How would one go about creating a ROI/revenue stream from their commercial carpark or their home carports?

The most straightforward way would be to feed the solar power directly to your existing metering set-up. This provides a supply of clean energy to reduce the amount of power purchased from the grid. Then there’s the advancement in battery storage technologies, with the likes of the Tesla Powerwall soon to be a huge game changer. This will effectively allow people to control their own clean energy power station’s from their home or business. It really is a pretty exciting and empowering time for renewable technology.

Embedded networks are another game changer allowing businesses to be their own energy company. Generating their own solar power and on-selling at a fairer rate to their tenants.

What advice can you give those seeking a career in innovative product design? (Designing innovative car shade systems, solar panels etc)

I’d recommend getting a solid grounding in the principles of Photovoltaics and some of the constraints that it brings. Otherwise you could be running with an idea that may look great, but could be severely limited in efficiency. But saying that, aesthetics is vital. So aim for the best visuals, and work backwards from there. There’s loads of CAD design software available nowadays to help you play around with design concepts.

What 3 words best describe the brand - PowerPark?
Innovative solar architecture

How does integrated EV charging work and what does this mean for our future?

EV charge points can easily be incorporated. With the uptake of electric vehicles ever on the increase this is another key technology that PowerPark systems can assist with, by exporting clean power to fuel EV power needs. We’ve incorporated a ‘Chargepoint’ EV charge station to several PowerPark installations, and I think EV charging stations will soon become part of everyday life for all of us in the very near future.
What is the future of solar energy and more specifically solar powered car shade systems in Australia? 

The shift to battery storage will be the biggest game changer. So I think we’ll see businesses looking for ways to gain more access to solar power to feed into their batteries. Utilising driveways at home, or commercial parking spaces to extending on to existing rooftop systems will be the obvious next step. People will be expanding their existing systems and be looking for new ways to add solar. Different technologies such as solar roof tiles and solar windows will also play a role too.

What is your key message to the Australian market?

The technology’s there. It’s tried and tested. And its cheaper than coal power too. So let’s utilise it.The world is slowly yet surely shifting gears towards greater sustainability and becoming more environmentally conscious. Apart from reducing ecological footprint, solar energy is a long-term investment that will help produce clean energy and reap definite dividends. The fact that solar panels are no longer big, bulky, unflattering installs but sleek and aesthetically pleasing designs that are more affordable is a huge bonus!

When designing homes and commercial properties, architects and interior designers need to start incorporating discrete solar panels on rooftops, carports and garages creating greater functionality of under-utilised spaces and adding to the value of the home/property, saving money for their clients while benefitting the environment. This is the next step in interior, residential and commercial property design.

Till next time... have a think if you would like to incorporate a PowerPark carport in your home, save money and become an eco-warrior!


A huge thank you to Paul Nealgrove for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer all our burning questions about solar energy and providing us with an insight into PowerPark and solar car shade systems. Also a thank you to Nick Cavarretta for organising the interview. 

This post was created in collaboration with PowerPark. I only ever work or endorse brands that I love and I think you will too. Thank you for supporting the brands that partner with us.

1 comment:

  1. This is very promising for the future and great to see such forward thinking. Great that renewable energy companies are doing well in a competitive market.


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