07 February 2011

Heat: The future of power generation in New Zealand

Unlike other conventional theatre shows Heat uses self-sustainable energy means - powered off-grid with lights, sound and electronics from low drain and sustainable energy. This Spacewise unique energy installation on site at the theatre is a world first. 

Graeme Ebbett, Director of Ebbett Automation Ltd, tells drama on the waterfront all about his unique alternative energy system and its innovative partnership with a live theatre production.

DOTW: How did this unique energy system come to be partnered with a live theatre production?

GE: This system came about from a desire by the playwright, Lynda Chanwai-Earle, to simulate, as much as possible, the real-life conditions of the play.  We were approached as designers and suppliers of renewable energy systems for remote locations and the live theatre transportable package system grew from there.

DOTW: Can you tell us a little about the power generation system that is being used for HEAT? How does it work in the theatre?

GE: The power generation system replicates a typical hybrid system for a base camp hut in a remote arctic location as it would be today.  It uses renewable energy generated from the sun or wind and as back up, a small fossil-fuel burning generator when necessary.

In the theatre production mains power from the utility supply can be connected as a backup instead of the generator, but this is not necessary because, unlike the arctic location of the play, there is ample sunshine all year to power the show in New Zealand.

The entire power system is housed in a shipping container which opens on location to reveal four 125W solar modules on the roof and a 300W wind turbine on a pole clamped to one corner.

Energy generated by the sun and wind is stored in a 24v battery- bank.  A 2000W power inverter-charger converts the DC power in the battery to normal mains-quality 230v power which is supplied to the stage set via an aerial power lead.  Alternatively the inverter- charger can accept power from a backup generator (or mains).

DOTW: Do you see this production as the flagship for the future of interactive power generation in New Zealand?

GE: Yes, because the application is the perfect example of a typical domestic or small commercial renewable energy power system and the show gives it great public exposure throughout its Australasian tour.

DOTW: Are there any limitations to this type of power usage in a theatre production?

GE: Yes, there are.  Pivotal to the whole scheme is the ability to get the normal power usage of conventional theatre lighting down to manageable levels.

In this case lighting engineer Marcus McShane was able to use modern LED stage lights which consume less than 5% of the conventional lights. That made all the difference.

DOTW: What do you think having the alternative energy system adds – aside from power – to the production of Heat?

GE: It is my belief that the alternative energy system gives credibility to the production.  It adds authenticity to the stage scene and validates the various acts within the play such as having to turn off lights to conserve power and going outside to start the backup generator during a sunless winter.

Heat is on in Circa Two until 19 February. To book your tickets, please call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz

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