An innate drive to find a better way to do things has shaped Shay’s personal and professional life from a young age. This is what led him down the path of engineering in university and later what attracted him to the solar industry, which for the last few decades has been evolving at a very fast pace. It is also why he and his partner, Jo Woods, decided to build the Zero Energy House, a ground-breaking project that has become a key sustainability reference in New Zealand. His company, Revolve Energy, is involved in various innovative projects and he is continually thinking of new ideas and applications for renewable energy technologies.
Shay started engineering school thinking he would eventually go to the UK to study naval architecture, but changed his mind once he understood the broadness and potential of his mechanical engineering degree. After working for a few years for Fisher & Paykel and then as a superyacht engineer in Europe, Shay realised he wanted to find a more meaningful stream of work, one where he could make a positive difference. This is how he found his way into the world of solar energy, a move which led him to London where he got a job at Solarcentury, an innovative, mission-led solar company. There, Shay met his partner Jo, with whom he moved back to New Zealand in 2007.
Years of living and raising a family in the Zero Energy House have allowed Shay to understand how special and fundamentally different their experience is.
With the knowledge and experience accumulated during his time in Solarcentury, Shay started his own solar energy consultancy in Auckland and would later join Solarcity as head of design and innovation. It was while working there that together with Jo, who had now joined eCubed Building workshop as an ESD consultant, Shay began to think about building a home. This was the perfect opportunity for the couple to implement first-hand the ideas and lessons they had learned in their work with buildings. Shay and Jo chose Zero Energy as the cornerstone for their project. “It was a simple measure, an objective that we could measure and come back to,'' says Shay. Alongside this lofty target the couple also wanted a house that was healthy and comfortable, and they wanted to demonstrate that this could be easily achieved by small improvements on the way homes are typically built in New Zealand.
Years of living and raising a family in the Zero Energy House have allowed Shay to understand how special and fundamentally different their experience is. A house that is comfortable year-round without the need for mechanical heating means they don’t have to worry about high winter energy bills or the health related issues derived from living in a cold, damp home. And in his never- ending quest for improvement, Shay continues to think about more efficient ways of using the energy they buy and generate. The family has been driving an electric car for a few years and more recently they’ve installed a battery to store surplus energy produced during the day to be used at night.
During the construction of the Zero Energy House, Shay and Jo, along with their friend Matt Fordham, created a website to share their journey and inspire others to follow suit. The learnings from this communication campaign led Shay and Matt to start Evident, a company working on innovative projects integrating perspectives of energy engineering and communication. The campaign for the house would also lead to new projects such as Camp Glenorchy, whose founders Paul and Debbi Brainerd were initially interested in the way the Zero Energy House’s website was used as an educational vehicle.
Shay’s involvement in Camp Glenorchy started with the concept for the controls system, before he was also commissioned to design and deliver the building automation and energy management solution for the project. His role would eventually evolve into a broad and complex one. “I was across the whole project to some extent,” he remembers. “Because I was working in the control system which touched all of these other systems, as well as helping to build the energy budget, I ended up having all these conversations with consultants and suppliers about how they were contributing to the objectives of the project.” Even though Camp Glenorchy opened for business in early 2018, Shay continues to be involved with the project and is currently working on improving the integration between the solar garden, the grid and the recently installed batteries.
From Shay’s point of view, having a client that was actively driving the project, challenging the team and asking questions was central to Camp Glenorchy’s success in spite of its complexity. During their time working together, Shay found in Paul not only a client but also a mentor. “He is continually encouraging me to do more, and trying to make me more accountable for not achieving enough, quick enough,” says Shay, “there is a lot more we can achieve”.
In 2018, Shay founded Revolve Energy to focus on developing customised energy solutions that use a combination of renewables, energy management and building automation. Although he works with a wide array of projects, he is particularly interested in exploring the potential of micro grids and economies of scale, which can help communities share resources more effectively. He is also interested in the control of loads that have inherent storage such as hot water cylinders, electric vehicles and batteries, and in the way they respond to changes in the grid including price variations and surges in demand.
Shay is particularly interested in exploring the potential of micro-grids and economies of scale, which can help communities share resources more effectively.
With his work Shay hopes to create a positive impact in the world around him. He approaches every project with a critical eye, wanting to understand the what and the why before the how; he is guided by the premise “it shall be better after I've gone than when I arrived”. From his practical approach to life and work, Shay believes the biggest challenge we face regarding sustainability is a lack of awareness and action. He would like all New Zealanders to “understand what we actually have to do and get on and do it”.
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