We’re shining a spotlight on three Pakihi Māori (Māori businesses) that have been through the Kōkiri programme, a kaupapa Spark has supported for several years. Manu Barrett (Tainui, Ngāti Maniapoto, Kāi Tahu) is the founder and director of Solar Sense. We talked to Manu alongside Operations Manager, Aubrey Te Kanawa (Ngāti Maniapoto, Tainui, Ngāti Koata), to learn about their business journey.
Solar Sense is an energy innovation company based in Kirikiriroa that is helping provide sustainable power to Aotearoa. They are innovating the energy sector by installing solar farms, and working towards a network of solar generation sites.
"We are on a mission to provide energy sovereignty and democratise the energy sector within New Zealand."
Manu started in the aviation sector, but when COVID hit and travel came to a halt, he decided it was time for a change. "I was looking for the next new challenge amidst a global pandemic and a redundancy."
So he entered the world of start-up businesses and began exploring solar power hardware.
In 2020, Manu, along with his wife Nikki and brother Pape, was chosen to be part of the Kōkiri business accelerator programme. Aubrey was running the programme at the time and this is where he met Manu. Two years later, Aubrey left Kōkiri and joined the team.
Manu and Aubrey both identify the accelerator programme as a highlight in their business journey. Manu shares that the journey was an amazing learning tool for building and growing a company. "Kōkiri enabled the networking connections and funding to be able to pursue a kaupapa which is very dear to my heart around energy sovereignty and energy hardship."
Another highlight that Aubrey shares is seeing their first project through. This work was part of an energy sovereignty project, in which they built a small solar array down in Waitomo. They then cashed out the credits and distributed these to families who were dealing with energy hardship.
"We were able to prove that it can be done, and also provide communities with energy sovereignty. And also a solution in energy hardship, all at the same time."
Aubrey explains that there is a big problem in New Zealand when it comes to the increase in demand for energy, and this could have some serious implications in the future. So The Solar Sense solution is for people to start buying their own energy assets. Currently, the energy sector works largely from energy generators through a national network. But since this is reliant on the national grid working, Solar Sense saw the opportunity to come up with their own system.
Now they are creating a vast network of small energy farms across the country and managing these through their software. This changes the way solar is done in Aotearoa."What we're aiming for is to have communities owning their own energy assets. With the way the energy sector is going, it's going to get more expensive. So unless you're owning the assets, you're going to be a slave to whatever the energy prices are going to be."
Manu and Aubrey are excited for Solar Sense to grow even more, with a strong focus on innovation and R&D (research and design).
The goal is to expand their offerings to everybody throughout the country, "being able to put the power figuratively and literally back into the hands."
To learn more about Solar Sense head to their website. Visit Solar Sense