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Infratec wins community category at National Awards


02 October 2018

Infratec was named among the best in New Zealand’s sustainable energy sector at the Sustainable Energy Association (SEANZ) awards on Friday night (28 September).

The Alpine Energy-owned renewable energy company took out top honours in the best community project category for its Cook Islands project, delivering mini-grids on four islands to Atiu, Mangaia, Mauke and Mitiaro.

The project has transformed the islands energy supply from being 100 per cent diesel generated to 95 percent of the grid electricity coming from solar panels.

The awards, held at the conclusion of the of the SEANZ annual “Tomorrow’s Energy Today” conference, recognises excellence in the sustainable energy industry.

Infratec Chief Executive Greg Visser says the award is a testament to the dedication of the team who do more than install infrastructure, they build communities.

During the project, Infratec staff qualified in first-aid, trained locals and the island paramedics and nurses in first-aid. This training increased the capacity of local people to provide early help in case of emergencies.

First-aid kits were also distributed by Infratec to both paramedics and households on the islands.

Visser says because these are small communities, when we were working in them, we became part of them.

This was done by engaging in and assisting in the preparation of community events through the lending skills, equipment and labour.

“We were also aware that our presence the influx of money meant there would be some that benefited and others that did not. To counter this, we sought to spread the wealth by staying in the community halls and setting up a rotational system for meals so that families that wanted to earn additional income had the opportunity to do so.”

Visser says Infratec used primarily local workers enabling the islands’ communities to take ownership of the assets and develop the necessary key skills during the build that would assist them in the ongoing running and maintenance of the system.

“Local workers were employed as the primary workforce for both the civil and electrical components of the build.  We sought to provide the local workers with knowledge and skills that would serve both them and their communities after we had packed up and left.”

One of the highlights of the project was watching how much health and safety awareness there was and how this grew among the communities.

“The local people we employed took immense pride in wearing their personal protective gear over the course of the 16-month construction period. We saw how the health and safety awareness from the locals rubbed off on workers not directly employed by us such as local government workers.”

The new mini-grid systems and improved electricity network, says Visser, have made the islands’ power supply much more reliable and resilient.

The equipment was designed to withstand cyclonic weather events, meaning power can be supplied to maintain essential services like hospitals, water facilities and emergency shelters during natural disasters.

The SEANZ award and being a finalist in the New Zealand International Business Awards (NZIBA) in the Inspiring Preference for New Zealand category has seen Infratec take regional recognition – winning at the Champion Canterbury Business Awards in 2016 – to a national level.

The winners of the NZIBA awards will be announced in Auckland on 8 November 2018.