Windsor substation sustainability project: “A small building with a big heart”

What’s it all about?

Unison is embarking on a new and visionary way of constructing sustainable and eco-friendly substation buildings, in a bold move towards our vision of leading a sustainable energy future.

Substations are an essential part of Unison’s electrical generation, transmission, and distribution system. They transform voltage from high to low (or the reverse), as well as several other important functions. Unison manages and maintains 25 substations in Hawke’s Bay.

Equipment within Windsor Substation, located on Sylvan Road in Parkvale, Hastings, has been identified as reaching the end of its useful life. The upgrade and replacement of the substation equipment required a new building – presenting an opportunity for Unison to reassess how it approaches the design and build of substation buildings in its network.

Working in partnership with experts from across the sustainable building industry, our engineers have designed and built a substation that reduces our carbon footprint and uses materials that are kind on the environment and people. The design of the substation is also modular, meaning it can be replicated and built again across the network, and relocatable, if it is needed elsewhere in the future.

The Windsor Substation is the first of its kind in New Zealand. Unison will monitor how the building responds to the demands of the network and the environment in the years to come, to inform future decisions on how to approach the redevelopment and replacement of substations in the future.

The Windsor Substation will be fully operational from January 2022.Windsor substation design

What’s the driving force behind this project?

Unison’s vision is “to lead a sustainable energy future”, while our purpose is to “deliver energy needs through a dynamic, flexible and sustainable electricity system”. This project presented an opportunity for Unison to materialise this vision and purpose, and showcase how modern substations can be flexible, sustainable and beautiful.

Substations traditionally aren’t designed for aesthetics, but for function and safety. However, their construction typically utilises materials that aren’t considered to be environmentally friendly including reinforced concrete – cement is the source of around 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide – and PVC.

Assisted by Charissa Snijders Architect and Tricia Love Consultants Ltd, Unison hopes this small substation can become an exemplar showcase of sustainability.

The first substation design to meet the Living Building Challenge

The Windsor substation upgrade not only responds to the urban location and Unison’s operational needs, vision and purpose, it also aligns with the philosophy of the Living Building Challenge – the world’s most rigorous proven performance standard for buildings.

Living buildings are:

  • regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community
  • self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site
  • create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

The Living Building Challenge is organised into seven performance areas, or ‘petals’ – place, water, energy, health & happiness, materials, equity, and beauty – that consider tangible elements of a building design as well as the intangible elements of how humans thrive within our built environment and communities.

Unison aims to have this substation certified as a Living Building Challenge building – Zero Energy, with aspirations to obtain Petal Certification:

  • Zero Energy Certification requires 100% of the building’s energy needs on a net annual basis be supplied by on-site renewable energy.
  • Petal Certification requires achieving in full, at least one of the three petals (energy, water, materials) in addition to all imperatives required for CORE certification. 

The Living Building Challenge is performance based and Windsor substation’s performance will be assessed after it has been in operation for a minimum of 12 months.

Completed Living Buildings in New Zealand:

Unison Project Engineering Team Leader, Paul Humphreys, says this small building has potential to not only help meet future demand, but to help build engagement with Unison’s customers and the wider community, and to set a precedent for the wider electricity industry.

“We ultimately hope this small substation can become a showcase of sustainability, and in doing so, continue Unison’s leadership role in this sector. The substation upgrade will provide Unison with a platform to reap the benefits of sustainability for the future of substations, and ultimately the community and the network,” says Paul.

Key design features:
  • The new stand-alone substation will be installed in front of an existing building.
  • Replacement of the switchboard will include construction of a new switch room; replacing the 11kV switchboard, associated cabling and the existing mechanical protection relays; installation of arc flash protection; and partial discharge monitoring of the 11kV switchboard.
  • Salvaged materials have been used alongside products that are healthier and non-toxic compared to traditional building materials.
  • No Red List materials have been used – Red List building materials contain chemicals designated as harmful, and are deemed the worst materials prevalent in the building industry.
Key milestone dates:
  • Construction commenced: May 2020
  • Expected building completion: September 2021
  • Official opening: Summer 2022
  • Living Building Challenge certification: end of 2022

Story of place

Aerial view Windsor Park and Makirikiri Stream    

The Windsor Substation has been designed with its place in mind, so that aesthetically it blends in and complements the landscape on which it sits.

Understanding the geology, the natural and human history and culture of place are the first steps in defining what is unique about a place; and can help bring alive the interplay between the building and the place, and how both can evolve with their environment.

The Ngaruroro River borders the Hastings area. One branch of the Ngaruroro is the Makirikiri Stream, now known as Awahou stream. A small kāianga (settlement) existed on the shores of the Makirikiri Stream, one of the numerous waterways which meandered in aimless fashion across the Heretaunga Plains. In modern times the shallow, shingle-bed stream percolates mostly underground, rising to the surface at Hastings racecourse, going underground through the central city before making its way back to the surface at Windsor Park.

Reflecting the legacy of Makirikiri as a life and energy source for those who settled this place, this substation will similarly power our local community by delivering energy needs through a dynamic, flexible and sustainable electricity system.

For any further information, contact us via our online form or at 0800 2 UNISON (0800 286 476).