Sawyers Bay School near Dunedin has sustainability and environmental education woven through its day-to-day curriculum. But at odds with that ethos, the school was heated by a coal boiler dating from 1956 that Principal Gareth Swete was keen to retire as soon as he could find a low-emissions replacement.

So when Gareth heard the Genesis School-gen Trust was opening applications for schools to receive a solar package, he didn’t hesitate to apply.

In January 2022, a 9.36kW Solar PV system was installed on the roof of the main school building. Nine months later the coal boiler was shut down and around $2000 of saved energy costs were channeled into learning programmes for the school’s 140 students.


“The solar install enabled us to make a conscious choice to use a more renewable energy source,” says Gareth. “It’s not only saving us money but also
providing a really practical example to our children of how sustainable energy works.”

A digital dashboard on an app shows students how much energy is being generated by the panels, how much energy is being used by the school, and emissions data.

“Kids are far more familiar with emissions terminology than previous generations,” says Gareth. “They can see how much carbon we’re saving through not having a coal boiler, and the app converts that number into how many km’s saved in travel emissions, or the equivalent number of trees planted, so puts it into terms the kids can understand.” The students are more aware of where energy comes from, and of not taking energy use for granted.

“They understand that energy has to come from somewhere, and the impact they can make on their environment through making good conscious choices,” says Gareth.

Sawyers Bay School was established in 1861 and serves children from Years 0-6 in its semi-rural community in Port Chalmers.

“Sustainability and environmental education are really important to our community. Sustainable energy options and being a considerate consumer of energy has always been part of our curriculum – it’s part of the nature of our school,” says Gareth.

“The solar package is a hugely valuable tool to illustrate to the kids what we’re talking about. Our thanks go to the Genesis School-gen Trust for allowing us the opportunity to really make a difference in what we’re teaching our children.”

Tracey Hickman, a trustee of the School-gen Trust and Interim Chief Executive of Genesis, said the Trust was proud to donate equipment to schools to help grow students’ understanding and interest in sustainability and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths).

“Our kids will play a vital role in helping New Zealand progress to a low emissions future,” says Tracey. “We’re proud to support tamariki by providing equipment to help them appreciate sustainability and grow their skills in innovation to meet the social, environmental, and economic challenges of our time.”