From Off-Grid Struggle to Solar-Powered Success: Krystal’s Journey

Apr 23, 2024

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Krystal and her family were living and working in the South Island. However, as the pandemic unfolded, both Krystal and her partner lost their jobs, leading to financial struggles while renting. 

 “We just couldn’t afford to live and rent anymore, so we moved back to Northland because, we’re from Pataua originally. We didn’t want to be homeless when we have whenua land and be close to whānau. We started off living at my parents’ house, we had two little cabins and we lived in those for about a year and a half. They didn’t have kitchens, and we pretty much cooked outside. It was like constantly camping. Over three years we slowly started getting little bits of timber here and there, where we could and started building a foundation for a bigger cabin”, said Krystal. 

Their off-grid home relied on a generator for power, as connecting to the main power grid was too expensive. Despite the challenges, their family expanded to include additional members, accommodating nieces and nephews who lacked stable housing.  

“In winter, it got tough as we couldn’t heat the house. Even with the generator, if we were to use an electric heater, it just pumps the gas. We had been relying on hot water bottles and extra blankets to stay warm, and the kids ended up sick with bronchitis.  It wasn’t just the heating and lighting that’s tough living with no power, it’s things like having to say to your kids that you can only do your homework when the power’s on, or we don’t have enough petrol to let you go online today.” 

Their situation caught the attention of Te Manawa Ora, who then referred them to Habitat.  Habitat was able to secure funding through Te Whatu Ora and Healthy Homes Tai Tokerau. This support facilitated essential upgrades to their living conditions, including insulation, lining the entire cabin with plywood, installation of curtains throughout, exterior stairs, electrical works, and the installation of solar panels, batteries, and an inverter to power their home. 

“We can’t tell you how much of a difference having these repairs made and the solar installed. It’s something that we have dreamed of, it’s such a relief to know that we can come home and just switch the light on and be able to rely on having power rather than having to ask ourselves do we have enough gas this week? Are we going to make it through the week or are we going to go a couple of days without power? It’s also helping us move towards our dream of being self-sufficient on the land. Turning on the light or heater may seem like something small to your average person that lives on the power grid but to those of us who live off-grid, it’s the biggest achievement.” 

When the Habitat Tai Tokerau team went looking for affordable solar power options, they couldn’t find any suitable options. Healthy Homes Manager Cameron Mariu explains, “All their solutions were too expensive and honestly, they didn’t understand the need for modest solar solutions for whānau like Krystal’s. Her situation is not uncommon up here – a family just wanting to keep the light on, without the threat of their generator running out of gas. Our electrician Murphy’s Electrical understood the assignment so together we come up with a solution purchasing the materials and our builder Jordan researched and built the structure to house the panels batteries. The whole system was then signed off by an electrical inspection.”