Grid tie solar power is becoming a no-brainer! Photovoltaic (PV) solar power generation has made enormous advances over just the last two years. The cost of panels and assorted gear has fallen dramatically so that in NZ grid tie solar systems in the 2KW peak power range can be purchased for under NZ$10,000 (including GST) from many outfits.
Grid tie PV systems, to make sure its clear what I mean here, are systems consisting of a set of solar panels, often 10 panels of 190W and 45 Volts each, and a grid tie inverter which feeds the solar power into the 240V mains system at your home.
Once installed the power that is generated by the rooftop panels feeds into the 240V mains system. Power required by the home is then derived from this source. If the requirements of the home exceed what’s generated, additional power flows in from the mains and your power meter runs forward as usual. But if your home requires less energy than the panels are generating, often the case on a sunny day, the excess power is fed into the grid and your meter runs backwards, or so it should. More about this below.
A typical 2KW peak system will produce in a year some 2,500 KWh of electric energy. At a typical retail price of NZ$0.20 per KWh this is $500 worth of energy or a return on the $10,000 investment of 5% or more than most current mid term deposit rates at NZ banks.
Home-generated solar PV power has become cost effective and the so called “grid parity” point has been reached, at least at retail prices. Unfortunately, a meter running backwards when your panels are at peak power is impossible in New Zealand, because in order to legally connect your system to the grid you must install a two register meter. One of its registers runs only forward and counts the KWh delivered to your home by you power company while the second meter register runs the other way, registering the KWh that you have generated above your own consumption and thus fed into the net for others to use.
Most of NZ’s power companies will only pay you at the electricity wholesale for your feed in power while charging you at their retail rate for the power they deliver. But there is one shining exception: Meridian. Meridian will pay you dollar for dollar. This arrangement is fantastic as you truly receive a retail price level reward for each and every KWh you produce, either you consume it yourself and avoid paying the power company or you feed it into the grid and get rewarded just the same.
Meridian is rather shy about their good deed and does not advertise this deal, yet according to a statement I received from them, they are happy to confirm its existence (I guess you must simply ask when connecting).
Meridian spokes person Leonie Dehn told me:
“Meridian does not have any published material confirming out current one-for-one policy. I can confirm that for small scale distributed generation, we do credit customers for the electricity they sell back to the grid at the same rate as they pay for the electricity they use. This is subject to change, just like all of our rates, however we do notify customers of this in writing at least 30 days prior to any change.”
In other words, while the deal is good as it lasts, it has no tenure and Meridian can cancel it with 30 days notice. All other power companies I contacted will confirm that they pay a feed in tariff of the whole sale price around $0.06 per KWh only.
There is one other notable exception and I would recommend to check it out: The Sustainable Electricity Association of New Zealand has negotiated a deal for their members — any person can and should join — with Contact Energy.
SEANZ spokes person Brendan Winitana told me:
“Contact Energy has a standing arrangement with SEANZ that has been in play now for over 5 years, whereby SEANZ members and their clients (if SEANZ member works within the supply chain) can sign up for a payment of 17.25c per kWh. Although not a 1 for 1, Contact have not moved on their commitment and history supports the fact that there is certainty with contract tenure. They also acknowledge that they are losing money on each transaction but they will honour the commitment we negotiated. Contact are a SEANZ member and have initiatives in play to move into this space in the supply chain.”
So being a SEANZ member is not a bad idea and will get you about three times the standard wholesale rate for feed in power.
But all this compares rather unfavourably with the situation in Europe and even in Australia, where customers get special feed in rates in excess of their retail purchasing price and with a guaranteed tenure too.
Successive NZ governments have declined to introduce feed-in tariff (FIT) regulations in NZ, pointing to the fact that NZ already produces some 60+% of its electricity by sustainable means. This attitude is rather short sighted. Reducing emissions is not about gloating what you have already accomplished but about the pathways to reduce them further. Distributed PV generation is an ideal component for the NZ grid and what’s more, our confidence in our hydro power generation may well be misplaced. Climate change may well result in significant shifts in rain distribution and seasonal melt water run off. In dry years our hydro systems are already stretched to the limit.
What could be better than to enlist ordinary home owners to add solar PV to their buildings en masse, right now? No need to sell state assets or to tout for foreign funds to build our wind farms if thousands of residents can achieve just as much, one roof at a time. Also, with the likely increased use of electric vehicles commuters will find their cars parked and plugged in at their workplace during daytime hours in the future. What better really could we do than to add a generous helping of solar PV into our mix to charge these vehicle’s batteries?
Unfortunately, common sense when faced by the looming nightmares of global warming and resource depletion has so far not been the forte of our governments and certainly the history of our newly re-elected brigade of politicians suggests they would rather see themselves as the pariahs of the world than to betray their inner ACT…
So to hell with all of them. Lets get on and do it anyway. If you scale your PV system reasonably and avoid producing more than your needs, you will always reap the reward of avoided electricity purchases at retail rates, tax free and better than a bank deposit. It’s a dividend that will keep on giving for every year of your solar panels normal 24 year warranty (and likely well beyond), while doing something — anything — while your government pretends real action is too hard.