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Bringing solar expertise to New Zealand

One of the United Kingdom’s most experienced solar farm designers and engineers has joined Ethical Power New Zealand as Technical Director from its parent company, Ethical Power Group, which is based in England.

Justin Mowbray arrived in New Zealand in October with more than 12 years of utility scale solar photovoltaic (PV) experience in the UK and Europe, designing and overseeing the installation of more than 600MW of large-scale solar farms.

Mowbray joins Ethical Power NZ shortly after the firm announced it had been awarded an engineer, procure and construct (EPC) contract with Lodestone Energy to build nine solar farms in New Zealand.

Originally from Cornwall, England, Mowbray trained as an electrical engineer and ran his own business for several years before developing an interest in solar PV and joining a German solar company, Solen Energy, and setting up its UK operations.

After leaving Solen, he restarted his own business briefly before joining the fledgling Ethical Power UK in 2013. The Ethical Power Group has now grown to 250 staff with operations in England, Spain, Greece, and New Zealand.

“Joining Ethical Power NZ in startup mode is a great opportunity for me to be involved in growing the business. There is a real buzz here and the conditions are right for development,” he says.

Mowbray says global solar park development is well beyond R&D phase. The equipment required is proven and good quality; and in New Zealand there is plenty of land available for large scale development.

“In many ways, the landscape and conditions here are similar to the UK. Plus, we have experience with many tricky installations in the UK – floodplains, former landfills – these are very bespoke. We will be able to use our knowledge of these conditions to tackle any project in New Zealand.”

The challenges for solar PV installations are more likely to come from restrictions on land usage, council planning rules and getting electricity network companies up to speed on connecting solar PV to local networks.

“Renewables benefit the energy infrastructure. Large scale solar can be useful in stabilising local networks. We will also be building solar parks at higher output levels that will connect into Transpower’s National Grid at 110kV.”

Ethical Power NZ Managing Director Matt Rowe says, “While EPNZ is keen to develop the solar workforce here in New Zealand, there is no substitute for having experienced practitioners on the ground. Justin’s experience will massively assist the skillset of our local resources moving forward.”

Justin Mowbray says the largest solar park in the UK is now an installed 120MW but that pales in comparison with sites in China and India, which is now host to the world’s largest solar park at 2,245MW.

“You need around five acres per megawatt so even a 20MW farm is a relatively large installation. We are expecting to build a couple of large solar parks in New Zealand. The beauty of them is you can still farm sheep beneath the panels offering the landowner or farmer a stable dual income stream.”

With few hydro and geothermal development options left in New Zealand, large scale solar projects are likely to accelerate.