Energise Ōtaki

Ōtaki College and Energise Ōtaki:

Exploring a Renewable Energy Future

Ōtaki College’s partnership with Energise Ōtaki has led to a variety of projects with a core desire to increase renewable energy use at the College, reduce energy consumption, embed clean energy awareness and interest among students, and reduce the College’s greenhouse gas emissions footprint. Important focuses have been linking energy matters to wider issues like climate change, taking action for the future and helping local families, as well as supporting career opportunities for students.

Working with Energise Ōtaki advances sustainability as an underpinning theme in relevant areas of teaching, and provides students with opportunities to explore ideas and practical projects.

Some current and past projects are outlined below and in addition members of Energise Ōtaki have supported the College in making applications for funding for key energy infrastructure projects - e.g.double glazing of the Science Block.


Solar Farm

As part of the Energise Ōtaki solar farm project, a roof-mounted solar array was installed in 2020 on administration block buildings with 52 photovoltaic solar panels (23.1kWp) and one inverter (20kWac). The generated electricity will be bought by the College and the revenue will be put into the Energise Ōtaki Community Investment Fund to go back into community sustainability projects.

Consolidating Teaching Resources

Over the last five years a number of projects have been developed at Ōtaki College and the decision has been made where possible to consolidate the projects, bring them into the mainstream curriculum and develop resources that can be used as modules by teachers. This will include continuing to link the College with clean technology businesses and developing the Maori cultural input, such as the wider world view and scientific knowledge, into the teaching of science.

The themes included:

Climate change

Causes and solutions

Impacts and taking action

Adaptation and opportunities

Energy and Humans

Food and energy

Waste to energy



Energy production

Conservation in New Zealand

Pest history

Predator free NZ

Technology opportunities

Species and impacts

Rongoa and traditional herbal use


Sources and seasons

Energy used


Waste and alternatives

Protection – useful life, regulation and

seed banks


Water cycle

Streams rivers coast

Local impacts

Cultural ideas

Traditional management

How science and technology can help


Science and engineering

Impacts – social and environmental


Future technologies

Ōtaki College Swimming Pool Thermal Solar Array

In 2017/18 Energise Ōtaki facilitated the redeployment of some of the thermal solar panels previously used at the Ōtaki Swimming Pool to the Ōtaki College swimming pool. The project was taken up by the XŌtaki College Foundation Trust as part of a wider refurbishment of the pool. The goal was to extend the season for use of the pool by keeping the pool temperature to a usable level over a longer period of time which would increase usability for sport and enjoyment, and greater capacity for water safety education. The Trust also sought funding of a pool cover which would retain heat longer. Installation of the panels was completed in January 2018 and already the benefits of warmer water is being felt. The Phillip Family Foundation has provided funding for the pool cover, helping with reducing water heating costs.

Evolocity: The Regional and National Challenge

As part of the 2017 Unlocking Curious Minds project ‘From Waka to E-vehicles’, members of Energise Ōtaki facilitated the inclusion of the schools from the Wellington region in the competition. This is a competition to design, build and then a race an electric vehicle against other schools. Students were supplied with a standard electric motor and batteries to be used in the design. A junior and senior team developed single seater EV racers of two and three wheels to enter the race in the Wellington Regional Evolocity Electric Vehicle Challenge. Ōtaki College did spectacularly well, winning four race classes and qualifying for the national event in Christchurch in early December 2017. Two groups of students flew to Christchurch (some had never flown before) where they won three race classes in the national competition. Energise Ōtaki funded parts of the build (such as the curved solar panel on the roof, and other components via the Curious Minds funding) and members provided technical support to the teams. Other local businesses provided sponsorship and advice. Since then, Evolocity has been run each year both as a club and in class and continues to do incredibly well at the regional and national competitions.

Wood Gasification

Ōtaki College has a large gas boiler for heating parts of the school. The possible conversion from a gas-fired to a wood-fired boiler has been explored, mainly as a way to shift from use of fossil fuel and reduce carbon emissions. It was not economic to do so given the current boiler has an estimated further life of 10 years. An alternative is to explore installation of a wood fuel 'gasification' system which would convert the wood to gas which would also feed the boiler. Site assessment work has been carried out to establish the feasibility of accommodating such a system and its fuel store on site. This is an on-going project.

Food and Energy: Ōtaki College Community Garden

Ōtaki College and Energise Ōtaki identified that the College had one of the few college horticulture blocks remaining in the country and that the College was keen to see it and the associated curriculum developed. A small community garden was in place but it was struggling. Energise Ōtaki was keen to support a community/College based initiative, given the wider links to food and energy issues. Energise Ōtaki obtained funding in 2016 as part of the Unlocking Curious Minds Fund to start the process for linking initiatives at the block with a hands-on project based curriculum, working with a range of community groups and people. In 2017 the Working Better Together Fund provided funding to allow this to be further developed. In 2017 the project held working bees to develop the plot with a range of community volunteers and major input from Transition Towns Ōtaki, teachers and students; has students involved in planting, growing food for the Ōtaki Food Bank and experimenting with growing flowers to provide Hebe Botannicals, a local business.

Cultural Dimensions: Energy and Building, Transport and Natural Environment

In 2017, Energise Ōtaki received further funding from MBIE’s Unlocking Curious Minds to advance a key project at Ōtaki College in partnership with Massey University. The focus was on four sub-projects with a major emphasis on introducing the traditional Maori world view, traditional science and engineering and then involving students in projects. The idea was to explore how integrating understanding of Maori thinking and present day science would help link students coming from local Maori immersion schools and encourage other students to take pride in that tradition. The focus was on energy and building, transport (waka to e-vehicles) and natural environment. Volunteers from Te Wananga O Raukawa provided input and expertise. It was successful and we were able to track shifts in attitudes to science, levels of interest and whether students can see a future using science in some form or other. Energy and housing was one of the themes but Energise Ōtaki is also committed to the wider support for students.

Sustainability Themes: Designing the Curriculum

In late 2016, Energise Ōtaki volunteers worked with Ōtaki College teachers to develop a sustainability focused curriculum for the teaching of science and social studies (but also looked at ways of integrating other subjects). This has been developed from Year 7 and 8 through to Year 13 but with a more detailed focus on younger students. While Energise Ōtaki is primarily focused on energy as a ‘way in’ to bigger themes, social and environmental outcomes, and change focused action, they are also working within a sustainable development framework. Ōtaki College is committed to this kind of approach and Energise Ōtaki will continue to work with teachers to develop and shape the curriculum and bring people into the College to work with students around these ideas.

Coppicing and Exploring Wood as a Carbon Neutral Fuel

In 2016, with the assistance of Energise Ōtaki interns, and funding received from the World Wildlife Fund, a woodlot containing approx. 1200 willow and poplar trees was established at the far end of the College grounds. These were used to teach students about wood as an energy source, why it is considered carbon neutral, how to manage the block using ancient coppicing methods, and projects to use the fuel to earn funds for local social good projects chosen by the students. The woodlot was well established for two years.

Unlocking Curious Minds 2016

The Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has a programme for investing in practical projects which will encourage students to take up Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects and think about future employment in those areas. Energise Ōtaki received funding in 2016 to advance projects with Ōtaki College focused on food, energy and horticulture which were very successful. Subsequent funding from the Working Together Fund has helped us keep this moving forward. See also the Community Garden Project above.

Understanding Solar Power: Harnessing Solar and Thermal Energy

From 2015 and the installation of the first solar array at Ōtaki College, Energise Ōtaki has worked with teachers to develop teaching modules and student projects, including working with clean technology businesses, to advance their understanding of solar energy and its benefits. This has included: developing a solar energy workbook which includes basic information and ideas; working with the inventor of Sunrayker Ltd to explore technologies combining solar and thermal energy; building simple solar driven cars and racing them testing energy properties of building materials using energy cubes built with the help of the Ōtaki MenzShed; monitoring outputs from the solar arrays; assessing school buildings and developing plans and writing reports to leverage funding to improve energy performance.

Ōtaki College PV Solar Array for Scholarships

In 2014/15 Energise Ōtaki developed a project in partnership with the XŌtaki College Foundation Trust (the College old students association) to install a 20kWp solar array at Ōtaki. The system would be owned by the XŌtaki Trust, would provide power directly to the College, and the revenue would be used to fund student scholarships. Stage 1, a 10.4KW system was installed in 2015 with primary funding assistance from Pub Charities and a smaller amount from the Ōtaki Community Board. Between 2015 and 2017 the system provided $7,000 in revenue for scholarships.

Ōtaki College: Experimenting with Emulsion Fuels

The programme involved Year 12 students exploring fossil fuels and their impacts and a practical initiative blending water and diesel for use in older diesel engines. During 2013 Leigh Ramsey of Blended Fuel Solutions Ltd worked with Year 12 students at Ōtaki College to run their own emulsion fuels trial using the college tractor and vans. Uzabus the local bus company joined the trial. The students learnt about the science behind the process and how to monitor progress. In 2014, Ōtaki College developed an Alternative Fuel Programme within the year 12 Chemistry Accredited curriculum and the course was extended to include biofuel into the 'mix' using recycled vegetable oils from local retail areas. It is anticipated students studying this programme will work with Blended Fuel Solutions NZ on the technology validation. The project was successful in encouraging student interest in the subject and increasing student enrollments in chemistry. In 2014, the students were invited to participate in the Festival of Education. Since 2014 exploring emulsion fuels has been part of the curriculum.

Ōtaki College Energy Audit

It was identified in mid 2013 that there were real benefits in supporting the aspiration of Ōtaki College in relation to its desire to become a centre of excellence around its sustainable teaching programme and its employment pathways aspirations for the students. To get an idea of College energy use a Level 1 audit was carried out by Energise Ōtaki