Māui Energy is a startup company developing scalable renewable energy farms in partnership with Māori landowners – the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand. We speak with the team to learn about their journey to date.
Established in 2019, Māui Energy is a family-owned company with a vision for Māori to lead in solar energy transformation, using the latest renewable energy technologies, such as photovoltaic panels and agrivoltaics.
“Many Māori iwi (local communities) have landholdings in rural areas where it can be difficult to make a good financial return from their land,” says co-founder Lawrence Hamilton, “and traditionally, the most common way to generate income is to lease land to local farmers for pasture.”
Collectively owned by the local community, iwi currently lease around 450,593 ha to commercial developers engaged in primary industries, with many collectives locked into “less than ideal farming leases at nominal lease rates,” says Māui Energy’s James Ratahi.
To bring Māori communities around the country greater economic returns, the team believes agriculture and renewable energy infrastructure can coexist and enable more communities to collaborate in New Zealand’s carbon zero journey.
“Many collectives simply don’t have the financial backing to develop their land,” says Lawrence. “Our partnership model can assist them to overcome capacity issues or financial barriers.”
For example, Māui Energy is currently working in partnership with North Island energy power company Platinum Power Limited to establish a green energy hub utilising solar and new-generation vertical axis wind turbine (VAWT) technology at Ruakaka. “This is an exciting opportunity,” says Lawrence, “especially when combined with green hydrogen production.”
Reaching renewable energy targets together
The government has set a target of 100 per cent renewable electricity generation by 2035, and Māui Energy co-founder Marareia Hamilton believes Māori have a fantastic opportunity to lead the way.
“There have been significant developments in renewable technologies in recent years. We’re moving away from traditional energy sources, and we want Māori to be aware of these developments and prepare themselves. Māori have the opportunity to be leaders in the transformation of the energy sector.”
In their partnership deals, Māui Energy will deliver fit-for-purpose solar farms ranging between 1MW and 5MW, depending on land size and land ownership requirements. This will provide “a complete solar farm development package”, which includes services such as initial land assessment, project management and advice on the latest technology. To achieve this, Māui Energy has engaged with suppliers, engineers, energy retailers, financial institutions and investors to assist collectives throughout the development process.
“Many iwi and investors see this as an opportunity to achieve some of their strategic goals,” says Marareia. “They want an investment that achieves multiple bottom lines, but they also want to see tangible environmental and economic outcomes, guided and motivated by kaitiakitanga – the Māori concept of the guardianship and protection of the natural environment.”
In January 2022, Māui Energy won the grand prize in a campaign to address social or environment issues, led by Taiwan’s Bureau of Foreign Trade. Their proposal Solar Solutions for Indigenous Māori Communities took out the top prize of US$150,000, and the prize money will be used to begin a pilot project in the Waikato district.
Addressing the energy inequities faced by Māori
Lawrence says the majority of Māori land is in rural locations, and connectivity and reliability of power is a significant issue, “especially for those whānau (families) who are living on their papakainga, or ancestral land.”
The establishment of solar farms can bring a stable, reliable source of power to local homes including papakainga developments and marae (central community space and meeting house). This opportunity will not only support Māori in alleviating energy hardship within their communities, but also maximise land use to build economic prosperity.
Through their association with international renewable solar energy providers, the team is also exploring the idea of green energy hubs. “For landowners who don’t have the land area or geographical criteria to build a full-scale installation, we’re looking at building collective hubs near substations, so we have a smaller-scale solar farm, for example,” says Lawrence.
The COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions have presented challenges for the team when engaging with collectives in remote areas. “A lot of engagement with whānau, hapū and iwi has to be face to face”, says James.
“When we’re negotiating over land, we can’t do that over a Zoom meeting. It’s not culturally appropriate, especially among the older landowners. So that’s been a huge challenge.”
Support from Tātaki Auckland Unlimited
Māui Energy’s journey into agrivoltaics and renewable energy solutions has had long-term support from Investment Specialist Yan Zhang at Tātaki Auckland Unlimited. Yan’s first contact with the family business was through its founding company, Hawaiki Nui.
As part of the suite of services from Tātaki Auckland Unlimited, Yan identified the company’s needs and then helped them navigate strategy and business case development. She connected them with local professional resources, including financial, legal and engineering.
“We also engaged our Māori advisors at Tātaki Auckland Unlimited for valuable insights into Māori communities and their energy issues,” says Yan. They also introduced Māui Energy to a critical network of contacts who were able to provide advice about access to funding resources and highlight the steps required to get there.
The company benefited from Yan’s experience in the renewable energy space, her connections and her ability to engage the right global suppliers for renewable energy technology and hardware.
Yan says sourcing potential funding is also vital to Māui Energy’s success. “We started conversations with local and overseas investors early on and that’s still in development. We will help to engage smart local or inbound resources for optimal outcomes through effective structuring.”
As a social enterprise, Māui Energy brings its kaupapa (purpose) to life by empowering rural Māori communities. “We’re not a big company with deep pockets,” says Māui Energy Board Member Eva Chen. “We are building this from scratch, and we’re building from the humanitarian level. So that’s something new to the market.”
Find out more
Contact Investment Specialist Yan Zhang to learn more about renewable energy investment opportunities in Auckland, New Zealand.
DISCLAIMER: This article provides general information on potential investment opportunities in Auckland and is not intended to be used as a substitute for financial advice. The views and opinions expressed are those of the relevant author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited. Tātaki Auckland Unlimited disclaims all liability in connection with any action that may be taken in reliance of this article, and for any error, deficiency, flaw or omission contained in it.