Solar panels

Solar panels, also known as photovoltaic (PV) panels, generate electricity directly from sunlight. Installing solar panels at your school may help reduce your overall carbon emissions and energy bill.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • Boards
  • Proprietors
  • Principals and Tumuaki
  • Property Managers


Solar-powered systems are most suitable for installation when they are part of a school’s sustainability and/or energy efficiency programme. Ideally they would be installed after basic energy efficiency improvements have been completed.

These improvements might include:

  • new or improved insulation
  • installation of LED lighting
  • better energy controls (for example, water heater timers, central heat pump control, thermostats, the ability to turn off all non-essential energy)
  • energy efficient practices and education.

This is important as energy efficiency initiatives generally deliver more cost effective energy gains and carbon reductions than solar installation projects. 

Energy use and conservation in schools

You may choose to purchase and own solar panels at your school or you may enter into a lease arrangement with a solar provider who will continue to own the panels. In either case, you should speak with your property advisor before installing solar panels.

Making installation decisions

Before you contact your property advisor about proceeding with a solar energy project, consider the following factors. Make sure they have been addressed in the package/proposal you receive from a solar panel provider.

What is the payback period?

Payback from solar (that is, the time it will take to recoup the upfront costs of the solar system from savings made on your electricity bills) depends on 3 factors:

  • the total upfront installation cost
  • the cost per unit ($/kWh) for the generated electricity (variable charges)
  • the amount of electricity which is used during daylight when the sun is shining.

Is the solar reducing CO2 emissions?

  • How will the solar panels reduce carbon (CO2) emissions?
  • What other emissions reductions opportunities are available to the school?

Will it get enough sunshine hours?

  • Does the proposed solar panel location have optimal sun?
  • Is it in a shaded location (that is, what the number of sunshine hours where the school is located)?

Does the system include battery storage?

Battery storage should be a good investment for the school, taking into account the ongoing costs associated with the lifecycle replacement of the battery.

Solar systems will shut down in the event of a power cut as a safety measure. The exception is if batteries are fitted but unless a very large solar and battery system is installed, available energy services are likely to be compromised. Consider which energy services are essential for continuing the school day or in an emergency situation. Is the proposed system sufficient to meet these requirements?

What energy sources will the solar system replace?

This will normally be grid electricity, although it could possibly be backup generation which is likely to be diesel.

Has self-consumption been taken into account? Self-consumption refers to the use of solar PV energy directly at source – either immediately or delayed through the use of battery storage systems.

How can the school adapt their operational practices to maximise any energy efficiency and get the most value out of their installations? For example, how could the school move as many energy services as possible to when solar is generating, to maximise use of solar-generated electricity?

Making energy efficiencies at your school

What is the school’s current electricity usage?

Will the solar installation provide sufficient electricity to meet the school’s average and maximum demands across all seasons?

What cleaning and maintenance does it require?

  • What are the maintenance costs of solar panels (including any costs associated with health and safety requirements for working on roofs)?
  • What are the replacement costs of inverters and batteries if applicable if you own them and how they will be covered? Are they part of the provider’s package?
  • Is there safe access to the panels for cleaning and maintenance? (Refer to our roof safety page for more information.)
  • Have you considered the remaining life of the roof and any added expense and risks if solar panels need to be disconnected and re-installed if the roof requires replacement?

For your roof, consider: 

  • having your roof evaluated to make sure it can withstand solar panel installation
  • its remaining life, including whether it is currently included in the project list on your school’s 10YPP for maintenance works
  • undertaking any required repair/maintenance/replacement before installing the solar panel. This will avoid additional costs in the long run associated with removing and reinstalling the solar panels on the roof.

Roofing materials for school buildings

Warranties and guarantees

What warranties and guarantees are provided for the solar panel? 

The following warranties are applicable to solar panels. Have you checked the relevant warranty with your solar provider?

  • Panel performance warranty (industry standard is 25 years): The performance warranty is to warrant the degradation of the cells over 25 years.
  • Panel product warranty: The product warranty is to cover defective materials or workmanship in the manufacture of the panel. It is provided by the manufacturer of the panel, not the solar installation company. It is very important that your panels’ product warranty is at least 10 years.
  • Inverter warranty: The inverter warranty is probably the most important warranty you will need. The reason for this is because this is the component of your system that is most likely to fail. They are working day in, day out at high voltage. Inverters generally will have a 5-year warranty. Upgrades to 10 years are available with some brands depending on the manufacturer.
  • Installation warranty (provided by the installer): The final warranty, the installation warranty, is also very important. You need to assess what will you be charged for in case of a breakdown. It is the company’s policy that is important here. Will you have to pay for a service call if one of the components fails? Does the company take care of the entire system if there is any problem?

Opportunities for educational use

Are there possibilities to include an associated software package which is accessible, interesting and useful for students (with the level of analysis tailored to the students’ ages)? 

Impact on existing infrastructure 

Have you discussed the potential impacts on your school’s existing infrastructure with your property advisor?

Seek legal advice

If entering into an agreement with a third party supplier, boards should seek independent legal advice about the Energy Services Agreement.

It is a legal document that will apply for the duration of the agreement and often cannot be ended early. Boards should be confident that they are making a good decision on behalf of future boards and be fully aware of the risks and obligations that they are taking on.

The approval process

If your school is considering purchasing or replacing solar panels through your 5 Year Agreement (5YA) funding, this is a priority 4 item in your 10 Year Property Plan (10YPP).

This means you will only be funded through 5YA funding after all priority 1-3 items have been completed.

Solar panel installations require that your school’s 10YPP is amended in agreement with the Ministry because most solar panel installations have an impact on existing infrastructure.

5 Year Agreement (5YA) funding

10 Year Property Plan (10YPP)

Solar panel installation 

The Ministry requires that all solar panels are installed by the Sustainable Electricity Association of New Zealand (SEANZ) member installers to ensure compliance with all relevant standards and requirements.

It is a requirement regardless of whether the solar panels are owned by the Ministry, the school or a third party.

Professionals directory – SEANZ(external link)

This is in part because SEANZ members are required to complete an inspection/installation checklist and also provide equipment and workmanship warranties.

This is also because solar panels have the potential to change or damage electrical systems and roofs if they are not installed properly. Schools installing solar panels need to confirm with the appropriate suppliers if this will affect their roofing product warranties.

SEANZ installers must comply with:

  • the NZ Metal Roofing and Wall Cladding Code of Practice, especially section 2.6, 2.7, 2.6.9, and any additional recommendations on the New Zealand Metal Roofing Manufacturers Association (MRM) website and,
  • the Ministry’s weathertightness and durability requirements – detailed drawings should be provided for sign off by a Building Enclosure Specialist.

Solar energy panels and metal roofing – MRM(external link)

Weathertightness design requirements for new school buildings

After installation

MBIE must receive documented evidence for registration into their database.

Electricity and gas high-risk database – WorkSafe(external link)

Ministry-owned and third-party-owned panels

Ministry-owned solar panels

A number of schools plan to install solar panels that have been funded through the Sustainability Contestable Fund.

In these instances, the panels will be paid for with Crown funds and owned by the Ministry. Schools must take steps to maintain and protect these assets.

Sustainability Contestable Fund

Third-party ownership of solar panels

Solar panels that are owned by a third-party require an Energy Services Agreement (ESA) that incorporates property related aspects of the panel’s installation.

The Ministry has minimum standards that the providers (ESA) must meet. These standards are focussed on property protection and not whether the proposed installation is a good deal.

  • The providers' ESA must be approved by the Ministry before any agreement is entered into.
  • If a provider does not have an approved ESA, please advise them to email to review the proposed ESA and work with the provider to ensure it is compliant.
  • Once this is approved, the Ministry will advise the provider and you will be able to commence negotiations.
  • When your provider has an approved ESA and you want to enter into an agreement, please email the completed ESA from the provider to

The provider must also supply:

  • a structural report (for all roofs panels are to be installed on)
  • an electrical schematic (including any penetrations).

Maintaining solar panels

Schools can use their Property Maintenance Grant (PMG) to maintain and repair solar panels that are owned by the Ministry if the maintenance is not included in the package from their provider.

Property Maintenance Grant for state school maintenance work

What to expect from a solar provider

Schools should ask their solar provider to provide them with information about the installation considerations listed on this page.

Warranties are an important aspect of protecting a solar panel. Schools should ask their solar provider about warranties and guarantees they are offering as part of their package.

Schools are encouraged to get more than one quote if this is possible.

Sustainability Contestable Fund proposals

If you are developing solar installation proposals for the Sustainability Contestable Fund, you will need to take into account the above considerations and as well as the criteria and guidelines detailed in the fund.

Sustainability Contestable Fund

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