Kia Whitingia ‘To be shone upon’

In New Zealand you will find many ‘marae’ around the country – they are fenced-in complexes of carved buildings and grounds that belong to a particular iwi (tribe), hapū (sub-tribe) or whānau (family). Māori see their marae as their ‘tūrangawaewae’ – their place to stand and belong. The five marae involved in this project belong to six different hapu in the Manawatū-Whanganui region of the North Island of New Zealand. In 19th Century New Zealand, as many iwi and hapu lost their land as a result of land confiscation or purchase, several hapu migrated to Te Reureu Valley to protect their land interests and have held that land since around 1840’s (Tamepo, 2015). As with many hapu, their marae is their main point of co-ordination. The hapu have big aspirations to work collectively to manage their agricultural land and support socio-economic development and prospects for the community. Although the hapu have explored options for solar PV throughout the years, this project was one of the first projects the marae have worked on collectively together, and was their very first energy project. It involved installation of rooftop solar PV on five marae as well as on the roof of three local Kāinga whānau – families living on ancestral Māori land – across the region. By working with a community retailer, Our Energy, surplus electricity is sold to 12 vulnerable households at a low-cost energy tariff (0.06$NZD/kWh, approximately 18% of retail price).


This project was led by Graeme Everton, a local entrepreneur with longstanding family roots in the area, in close collaboration with John Campbell, a long-time advocate for community energy and founder and CEO of Our Energy, a leading energy innovation start-up deploying online local energy market platforms. The project received the Sustainable Energy Association NZ 2023 Ara Ake Award for Innovation.

Graeme Everton passed away unexpectedly three days after the community battery was installed and as we were wrapping up this case study. This project is his legacy.

Project Information
City, Country
Te Reureu Valley, New Zealand
Duration (Start/End Dates)
April 2022 / On-going
Funding Source
Māori and Public Housing Renewable Energy Fund
Project Lead (Organisation)
Te Reureu Kotahitanga Ltd on behalf of Ngāti Pikiahuwaewae
Project Partners
Our Energy, McNae Solar


As designed

As built

No. of participants

20 households and 4 marae

5 marae + 3 whānau with solar PV, 10 other whānau, all with whakapapa links to local marae / hapū.

Generation (kWp)



Storage (kWh)



Unit price ($/kWh)



Project cost ($)



  • Lower electricity bills for five marae, allowing redirection of capital towards facility upkeep and services for whanau, hapu and iwi.
  • Lower electricity bills for 15 households, either through offset of demand by solar or through a low cost electricity tariff to offset part of their utility bill. Recipient households save 20% compared to regional average electricity prices, and, if we include community pool distributions from the project, save 33%.
  • A battery installed in February 2024 will be used to either trade battery power against peak spot prices to optimise net revenue of the project, enabling pooling of funds for community development, or to offset demand.
  • Community support and confidence for further collective and commercially financed projects involving hapu across the region.


  • What problem(s) does the case study aim to resolve?

The case study primarily aims to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and lower energy costs in a rural Māori community, where there are limited job prospects and where marae struggle to encourage hapu members to remain or return to live in the valley. Although the marae were grid connected and were not dependent on diesel generators, it was an ongoing struggle to finance upkeep and maintenance of community facilities. In addition, a substantial proportion of households struggled to pay their electricity bills. There has been a longstanding interest in solar energy in the community, with previous work on feasibility of solar power systems on the Marae dating back to 2017 in response to continued power outages in the valley. It was recognised as part of a Marae development plan that Marae are often used for Civil Defence purposes and that it would therefore be advantageous to have solar energy as a backup option in emergencies. The 2020 COVID outbreak impacted jobs and family incomes and highlighted the need for the community to become more resilient. During this time local Hapū and Iwi played a critical role in supporting whānau across the region and as the community looks to the future they wanted to continue this work and find new ways to support whānau to reduce issues like energy poverty while supporting the upkeep and ongoing viability of their Marae which play a critical role in the cultural, social and economic fabric of our whānau. In 2020, the marae jointly applied for a regional economic development fund (Provincial Growth Fund Marae Refurbishment) – they were successful in obtaining the funding but the solar energy systems were excluded from the funding. When MBIE’s expression of interest for MPHREF came out at the end of 2020, John and Graeme seized the opportunity. Both wanted to set a broader precedent for energy solutions that can empower Māori communities by enabling them to generate and trade their own clean energy.

Graeme Everton
My philosophy, I think, goes back to the reason that we’re doing this: the valley is and wants to be independent, it wants to chart its own way, it wants to be able to lessen its unbalanced relationship with the crown. So that’s the background to this. But we’re also very practical because we’ve got to live day to day, and we’ve got to make a living for our families. So we’re not averse to say that there’s a bit of business involved in this” 


  • What were the social objectives (if any)?

The social objectives of the project include reducing energy costs for target households, thereby supporting vulnerable populations and reducing energy poverty, and improving health and wellbeing outcomes. Another key objective was to connect participants to their Hapū (sub-tribe) and Marae, fostering a sense of community and identity, and show the hapu what they are capable of, inspiring confidence in the ability of the community to “chart its own way”.

Graeme EvertonNormally, if you can model something up and take it back out there to see, you know, where the benefits are, and how you make it stand alone, I think that’d be the way to captivate everyone. Because people are visual, they like to see something”.

Rowena “ it’s all about mobilizing people’s thinking not just about energy, but about things right across the board. If you want change, you’ve got to be the change, and you have to model that. So that’s what I think we’re doing”.

JohnWe thought: if we can put a decent amount of effort to get this one off the ground, it really provides the working model. It says: actually, this is not just an idea that we’ve drawn up on a piece of paper – here’s one down in Manawatu that we’ve actually already launched, it’s operating, these are all the benefits it’s providing”.


  • What were the environmental objectives (if any)?

Through community events (“hui”) it became clear that members of Ngati Pikiahuwaewae wanted less dependence on the grid, to reduce their reliance on non-renewable electricity and to encourage the use of renewable energy sources (solar power). Implementing a community battery to store excess energy would help to further reduce grid reliance.


  • To what degree were participants actively involved in design or operation?

The project proposal was presented to hapu by John, Graeme and elected trustees of each respective Marae, discussed and voted on. Members raised questions and concerns on different aspects of the project, which were openly discussed and decided on. Participation in these meetings was voluntary.

Once the project received support from all hapu, Graeme worked with Marae trustees to identify and approach potentially vulnerable households who would want to host or receive solar power.


  • What degree of demand response flexibility was provided?

In February 2024 the team installed a 120kwH community battery to install alongside the marae with the largest solar array enabling the project to store excess power and buy power from the national grid when tariffs are low.


  • Integrate a strong educational component to engage end-users from the outset
  • Build fewer larger installations on commonly owned infrastructure, such as community facilities. This gets you a better return on investment and also simplifies implementing effective demand side management.
  • Align solar and meter installation to earn revenues from Day 1
  • Work with a coalition of the willing to demonstrate benefits

What outcomes were anticipated from the pilot?

Affordable and Sustainable Energy (reducing energy hardship): The pilot aims to reduce energy hardship among local whānau, particularly those living in rental accommodation and facing low to medium incomes. Participants in the pilot, including both marae and Kāinga whānau, are expected to benefit from more affordable and sustainable solar power. By providing access to affordable and sustainable energy, it can alleviate the financial burden of energy costs. The community-supported energy trading platform enables participants to trade excess energy, reducing overall energy costs, and allows subsidising those in need. This generates lower power bills and increased financial stability for households. Unlike other energy hardship programmes, this initiative does not rely on home ownership in a specific geographical area. It offers opportunities for whānau living in rental accommodation to access the benefits of renewable energy and reduced energy costs.

Income Generation for Marae: The pilot allows Marae to generate income by sharing excess energy production. This income can be used for the upkeep of Marae facilities, ensuring their long-term sustainability and ability to provide services to the community.

Disaster and Supply Resilience: The ability to generate power during power outages allows the marae to better service the community.

Trust, cultural connection and identity: The initiative involves participants with whakapapa links to local Marae and Hapū, and sets precedent as a collective project across 5 different hapu.

Capacity and empowerment: Over time, the initiative is expected to set precedent for similar more ambitious projects, some of which can be financed commercially or in public private partnerships.


What outcomes were delivered by the pilot?

Data on Kia Whitingia sales from in the month of December 2023 shows participants pay 20% less than average regional electricity price on a pkWh basis. Following community pool distributions, they pay 33% less than  average regional electricity price per kWh.

Rowena “For starters, being a collective, what you’re doing is you’re creating your own reality and your own system – you’re actually taking control of it. That’s all about tinorangatiratanga”



For more information on the Case Study
Contact Person: Dr Anna Berka, John Campbell
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