Powerman: solar PV, net metering and seeing the light in New Zealand

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.

[The Kinks, interpreted]

87 thoughts on “Powerman: solar PV, net metering and seeing the light in New Zealand”

  1. Sounds great in theory, but a guaranteed feed-in rate would be nice to ensure the investment makes sense financially. Emotionally it makes complete sense and I can see many people doing this especially as the price of power increases and solar voltaic decreases.

    The other problem I have with doing this is my experience with installing solar hot water systems. Having installed 3 systems, 1 on my own property and 2 in rentals, both of the installers/systems have had problems with less than stellar service from the installers. Unfortunately, there are few standards out there and even though both installers came recommend, I would not recommend either of the companies I had to others.

    So investing in green technology is great if the technology works as advertised, unfortunately in my experience it sometimes does not. More could be done from a regulation perspective to ensure that appropriate standards are met. Won’t happen with a National government of course.


  2. Sorry Leaps to hear your hot water solar installations disappointed you. I think the vast majority of hot water solar users are very pleased.
    There is the Solar Association of New Zealand to who is coordinating industry accreditation and provides services to customers and the industry. When choosing an installer you could look for those who are accredited.


    Solar PV has made huge strides towards reliability. Which other industrial product comes with a 24 year warranty on performance?

    1. Thomas, I know it’s becomes vastly complicated, but it should also be borne in mind that there’s also the cost of continuing business as usual. Every year we continue with the status quo, the more costly it becomes to mitigate the harmful effects of global warming (extreme weather damage, floods, droughts, insurance premiums etc, etc)

      That cost is going to have to be shouldered by every man, woman and child, in the form of higher and higher taxes, and you can guarantee the extra cost lumped on to manufacturers and producers will eventually be dumped on the consumer (how could it be any other way?).

      Any profit from money in the bank will eaten away by all these extra burdens.

      1. Exactly. The ultimate test is where society is at after 20 years, 40 years, the end of the century. In the end there is no alternative but to abandon the mining for energy paradigm as we will run eventually out of the source while certainly spoiling the planet with the detritus.

        PV-Solar has now arrived at the point where just looking at the monetary side of things those that can count 1+1 can see that its paying off for them, even if they they are immutable to the argument of the big picture and that’s the beauty of it.

  3. Sorry but you have done your calculations completely wrong!

    $10,000 invested over 20 years in a standard bank account = 25,202.41

    $10,000 used to buy your solar array, if ( and its a BIG IF) you achieve your savings target of $500 a year = 16,891.57.

    So over 20 years your solar array will cost you $8000 approx compared with the meter price.

    The reason your calculation is wrong is that after 20 years you have a life expired array and I still have my original $10,000.

    Thanks I think I will pass.

    As for feed in tariffs most of Europe is scaling them back or eliminating them all together, they are just to expensive. And without them PV is still a dead duck. Perhaps in another 20 years they will be worth it, just like they promised us 20 years ago……


    1. Sb, your accounting is completely flawed: You forgot that you will need to spend the interest of your $10,000 in the bank minus taxes to buy your power from the Electricity retailer!!!!
      So your idea that your $10,000 in the bank grows over time is completely moot.

      In fact, after paying taxes on the bank interest you will have not enough left to buy your $500 worth of power already in the first year and must eat into your principal to pay for the rest! In the first year you earn say $500 in interest and pay $125 in tax leaving you with only $375 to buy $500 worth of power…
      Assuming power prices grow by 4% annually you will have lost your entire initial $10,000 in the bank after 21 years and have nothing to show for it. Do the math!
      The PV owner however has his panels still on the roof and makes $1000 or so worth of power annually at year 21 and for many years to come and the panels won’t stop working the day the warranty is over.
      Take your pick!

    2. Let’s do another calculation. Fix inflation at 2% (which is conservative), and assume a 0.2% power reduction annually from the panels as they age. Use the whole 24 years of the warranty period. Interest is 5% (optimistic) and taxed at an effective rate of 30%.

      Now, at the end of your period, you have $22,000 dollars and a set of panels which are out of warranty, and saving you $767 annually until they stop working. If you had have managed to get a steady 5% from that $10,000 you’d now have $22,800.

      If you look at historical values for inflation, interest, etc, it’s not hard to see that there is a good chance it will pay off completely before then – perhaps even in 20 years.

      This is of course why capital is currently flowing into solar PV.

      1. samv, I guess you too forgot in your calculation that in the case of leaving the money in the bank you need to pay for the power you are buying in!

        In the example of a 2500KWh annual system the annual cost of that power exceeds the annul net (after tax) return from $10,000 in the bank significantly. So you have an annual negative return eating in to your $10,000 capital which after some 20 years or so depending on power cost inflation vanishes to nothing!

        With the panel on the roof you still have the equity of a 24 year old system producing at 80% of its original output on the roof and the cash savings from not having to buy the power it produces.
        The second option is clearly way on top!

  4. You are still wrong. I included paying tax on the interest. You are assuming far to much power will be generated. Most real installations are reporting real power generation at only about 50% target so you wont get the saving you claim. Additionally as we are working of savings not running costs my calculations are reasonably correct.

    The fact that your panels are still working is irrelevant to the calculation as I can still reinvest my $10,000.


    1. Sb: Solar PV systems in Auckland provide about 2800 Kwh for a 2KW system. Example here for an online system with a web server in the inverter (NZ product from ENASOLAR) where you can see the daily and accumulated production and every owner of such a system will be able to monitor theirs on the net.


      Its a live system so you see up to the minute what it does. The company running this sells a complete kit for $7999+GST.
      This system produced on average 7.7 KWh daily over its lifetime or 2800KWh annually. In places sunnier than Auckland things will be better even. @20 cent/KWh this system earned the owner $560 per year.

      1. Where on earth is that array? I know of 3 other arrays of about that size and the only one that beats that is in a desert region. The other two are producing about 1280 KWh per year?

      2. It still does not make financial sense to buy this array

        Lets do the maths again

        My house used 7178KWh last year. So over 20 years it would use 143000KWh at 25.5 per would equate to $36600(Owww)

        Using your example array producing 2810KWh per year the same array over 20 years would equate to (2810*20*25.5/100) $14300.

        So over 20 years it would reduce my bill to $22000.

        To get that $14300 saving I need to spend $10000.

        Sounds good until you start factoring in opportunity costs.

        $14000 divided by 20 is approx 700 dollars a year.

        700 a year for 20 years = 14000 (just checking the maths)

        If I put that into a savings plan it would grow over 20 years to $23000 on a realistic rate of return including tax’s etc.

        Put the whole $10000 into the same plan as a lump sum and $10000 and that will grow to $25000.

        The difference therefore is 25000 – 23000 = 2000.

        So your solution using real figures has cost me 2000 over 20 years or $100 a year. Not much of course but you have to factor in risk into it.

        I will still pass thanks, but it is much closer than I expected.

        1. You forget that after 20 years with the PV panel you still have that on the roof producing power @ 28C/Khw of todays dollars and nominally a lot more because you did not factor inflationary growth of power prices. But even if for arguments sake we consider your plan above to be sound, what do you prefer after 20 years: $2000 in the bank or a PV system on the roof that produces (power price inflation taken into account) some $1000 worth of electricity annually???

          1. I will go for the cash in the bank thanks!

            One thing you have not mentioned it you txt is the risk involved in this venture.

            An example: 15 years in your panels are not performing so you make a claim from your vendor, sorry mate they stopped trading 2 years ago your contract is meaningless. You approach the Chinese vendor – they give you the figure, or a discount on new panels but you still have to pay fitting and shipping.

            Maintenance costs, you have assumed zero costs for 20 years or more, how likely is that?

            Cleaning, theses arrays will need regular cleaning to perform. There are stories coming out of Germany about many arrays being abandoned due to cleaning costs. Many people would be unable to clean their panels without professional help. An array on my house for example would require either scaffolding or a cheery picker, more costs.

            Resale costs: Any estate agent will tell you that it would be very unlikely that if you resold your house with an array on it that you would get any more money that if the array was not there.

            Lets be clear I am not anti Solar – I just want it to pay its way. If it was giving me big savings then I could carry the risk but not at the savings we have identified here. I have twice had quotes for solar installations on my house and end the end I have walked away. The sales man still cannot make the correct package that I feel I can sign up to.

            If I was building new a house I was expecting to spend 15+ years in I would go for it 100% but not for a refit to an existing house.

            Not yet anyway


            1. Sb- “Lets be clear I am not anti Solar – I just want it to pay its way.”

              Do you feel the same way about the fossil fuel industry?. Why, after over a century or more, do they still need to be propped up by taxpayers dollars to the tune of over half a trillion dollars (globally) per year?

              It’s astounding how the ignorant can be so easily convinced to act against their own long-term interests.

              We get it, you don’t like solar. Your choice. Just don’t try to trot out all the pollutocrat’s lame excuses. It’s unoriginal and boring.

            2. Oh Dappledwater You deeply thought out response hurts me to the core!

              Are you able to provide anything to back up you weird statements – you know good old fashioned facts that sort of thing?

              “It’s astounding how the ignorant can be so easily convinced to act against their own long-term interests.”

              I quite agree – and many of those people call themselves “greens” and “environmental”

              I suspect from your outburst you are one.

              Whats so wrong about wanting facts rather than “faith” wanting spread sheets to add up – wanting details to be correct and complete.

              Or are you one of those people who when you come up against a fact that conflicts with your personal beliefs you just ignore it.

              “Your choice. Just don’t try to trot out all the pollutocrat’s lame excuses. It’s unoriginal and boring.”

              It sure is but at what point did I do this – want to give an example.

              Go on – go hug a tree it will make you feel better!


          2. Even if these accounting gymnastics turned out the right answer today ……..

            The plummeting drops in costs of PV and the steadily rising costs of grid supplied power means that the whole calculation needs to be reworked every 6 months. So, if you’re wrong now, you’ll be even more wrong soon. If you’re right now, you won’t be for long.

            1. Warren Buffett, perhaps one of the smarter investors in US history, thinks its a perfect time to bet $2 Billion US on buying a huge solar power plant in the USA and then more…


              This is what Buffett found in his latest purchase: a utility-scale solar power project with a long-term power purchase agreement boasting some very attractive rates.

              And mind you, his project will deliver power at wholesale rates!

  5. “Successive NZ governments have declined to introduce feed-in tariff (FIT) ”

    Good – Fit are proving to be very socially bad. You end up with poor people subsidizing rich people playing at power generators.

    Something that Europe is only just cluing on too!


      1. Come on Thomas I am sure you can do better than that.

        That’s a Straw Man argument. Wether a CEO is paid the right amount or enough makes no difference to the side effects of Feed in tariffs.

        FIT have the unpleasant side effect of transferring money from people who can’t afford Solar arrays to those who can.

        How does how much a CEO is paid effect this fact?

        Or do you think that two unconnected wrongs somehow make a right?


        1. SB: The FIT tariffs of Europe were instrumental for driving down the cost of solar and developing mass production. With the solidarity of the people voting for these schemes something truly remarkable has been achieved and we are at the threshold now where PV Solar is affordable to every home owner. Subsidizing PV is a step towards survival and sustainability, subsidizing fossil fuels as we do each and every day is going into the opposite direction entirely. Stimulating PV further is the right thing to do. Keeping people in the dependency of foreign fossil fuel companies is not. Putting PV and Thermal Solar on your roof is a step towards independence.

          1. “The FIT tariffs of Europe were instrumental for driving down the cost of solar and developing mass production. ”

            Yes correct I agree. However with the withdrawal/reduction of FIT schemes in Europe their solar economy(PV) is in complete collapse. Solar panel business in Germany is down approx 80% this year. Companies are going to the wall. Without a large unsustainable FIT they can’t survive.

            Both the UK and Germany have made major cuts in their FIT programs this year and are signalling further cuts next yet.

            “Subsidizing PV is a step towards survival and sustainability, ”

            Yes I have no problem with that – what I have a problem with is that FIT seems to be the worst possible solution to this problem.

            “Keeping people in the dependency of foreign fossil fuel companies is not. ”

            Well given that most foreign fossil fuels go into carsI am not sure how PV on your house roof helps with that unless you go the whole hog and buy a electric car.

            1. “unless you go the whole hog and buy a electric car.” …. which I build one myself and have been driving for three years and which will become increasingly available to the general public.
              PV makers are in trouble also because of the general financial calamities we are in. Customers are not spending as much and building projects are on hold. Nevertheless the resulting reduction in PV cost has made it now available to many more and even in NZ without a FIT it calculates out if you can count….

            2. Thomas, I remember someone at SkS linked to a huge list of these renewable energy myths that this Sb troll is trotting out. See if I can track it down.

            3. Solar panel business in Germany is down approx 80% this year. Companies are going to the wall. Without a large unsustainable FIT they can’t survive.

              What a pile of shite!

              How extraordinary that this troll has just arrived and is pulling numbers out of his… well, let’s be polite and say ‘hat’ shall we?

              Germany is undergoing a stepped reduction in its FIT as its massive roll-out has successfully dropped the price of PV installation. Exactly what the FIT was designed to achieve!

              Through September, Germany has installed nearly 3,400 MW from 130,000 systems in the calendar year. At the current rate of growth, analysts expect Germany to install as much as 5,000 MW of solar PV by the end of the year

              and notably from Wikipedia

              Price of PV systems has decreased more than 50% in 5 years since 2006

              Precisely how much energy are you hoping to generate from your burning trousers, Sb? 😉

    1. Hug a tree? Doesn’t take much to scratch the veneer off a denier troll does it?

      So are we to assume you think 100+ years of fossil fuel subsidies are okay? But solar isn’t?

    2. Dappledwater – “Your choice. Just don’t try to trot out all the pollutocrat’s lame excuses. It’s unoriginal and boring.”

      SB – “It sure is but at what point did I do this – want to give an example.”

      Too easy: SB”, Many people would be unable to clean their panels without professional help. An array on my house for example would require either scaffolding or a cheery picker, more costs

      Solar Myth 7 – Solar is hard to maintain

      Dude, so unoriginal. And plenty of people aren’t as physically useless as you.

      1. Great that Solar Myth page!

        This Sb dude is a cracker. He sounds like one of those guys who plays with military model tanks and that sort of stuff for a hobby, warding off the approaching ‘red army’ and their ‘greenie com-padres’….. 😉

        1. I suspect we’ll be seeing more like Sb as the climatic changes start to become too great for the public to ignore. The fake-skeptics will abandon denying the science, and begin aggressively promulgating renewable energy myths.

            1. Jim Hopkins is a humorist. Perhaps this is meant to be humour. Only his denialist streak is not very funny, Most of the first page of comments seem to be on to him. So there is hope!

            2. I think the point he is making is this; if AGW threatens the future of the planet – our very existence – why are we bothering to turn up for work, why are you still sitting in front of your keyboards right now, why are green MP’s more concerned about asset sales ?

              Think of the children !

            3. bennydale, the clever/silly Hopkins is actually wrong about the Greens being more concerned about asset sales than climate change, as he’s wrong about so much else that he sneers at. Here’s their recent press release

  6. The other thing to perhaps factor in is the possibility of using PVs to charge EVs, which is a project I am in the process of doing. If you travel an average 300kms per week, then at current fuel costs that comes to about $64000 of fuel over 20 years. With an EV you can travel 300Kms with ~30KW of electrical energy cf up to 54KW obtainable from PVs per week. So effectively EVs driving 300kms per week would be free for 20 years vs $64000 worth of petrol assuming fuel prices stay constant for the next 20 years. On the other hand if you use PVs to power your fridge etc. the cost savings may not seem as much. Also, power inflationary costs over the next 20 years will depend on demand, so the more decentralised energy production, the less likely high demand will push power prices up. Lastly, even if you are slightly better off with money in the bank after 20 years, what have you gained with a climate being allowed to go down the drain. We will see food production will be harder to keep up at current levels, and soaring food prices as humanity spirals into a deep abyss.

    1. The market will NOT prevail. It was neo-liberal market nonsense that got the world into the mess it is in now. The “Hidden Hand” has never saved us, it is a false god.

      1. The reason the Invisible Hand is can’t be seen is because it doesn’t exist!

        Does anyone still believe that ‘fully-informed perfectly rational actors’ nonsense? Christ, spend some time on the ASX investor forums (yes, I have. Rather too much, actually.) Veritable Shangri-Las of hope and willful delusion.

        And if AGW isn’t the mother of all Market Failures, then the Sixth Great Extinction – which we’ll get with or without AGW – cetainly is!

        And even the people who spout it don’t actually believe it. Benny was endorsing Lynas’ advocacy of nuclear power only the other day, which has roughly zero market support, and is about the most *ahem* ‘Socialist’ centralised enterprise imaginable.

        Outside of the Military Industrial Complex – the most egregious manifestation of the Corporate Welfare State – of course! And it’s amazing how many supposed followers of Smith can’t ever manage to identify that particular pachyderm even when it’s standing right next to the plasma widescreen…

        Oh, and when it all goes wrong and their investment tanks – they want a bailout!

        1. Exactly bill! A very perceptive link which says it all really.
          I’m working on an essay on the subject at the moment. I’m looking at the increasing environmental debt and the associated financial debt, where “developed nations” have over the past few decades been encouraged by the perception of unbounded resources, and a belief in infinite growth, to constantly overspend; loading onto to the future, the increasing cost of an unsustainable lifestyle. With the impending loss of “cheap” energy, following peak oil, the subsequent, collapse of a ‘faux’ economy, and the calling in of debt by the environment, the future for our children and grandchildren is not looking very bright.

            1. And you think that that is solely confined to Greece and Spain?? Are you unaware that for the past few decades NZers have overspent their income by up to a billion dollars annually. (Last year was the first time that income exceeded expenditure for 10 years). Furthermore, by constantly increasing our GGE we are further loading environmental debt onto succeeding generations, to say nothing about the pollution of waterways and the downstream effects of silted harbors and damage to the marine environment. All these externalised costs will come to charge in the future. (Just as today the people of Moanataiari ,> in Thames are bearing the cost of the cheap solution to getting rid of the tailings of past mining. They live and play and grow food on land that has arsenic levels well above that which is safe.) The externalised costs of today will all have to be paid for in one way or another, and are all part of the false economy.

        1. “And you think that that is solely confined to Greece and Spain?? Are you unaware that for the past few decades NZers have overspent their income by up to a billion dollars annually.”

          Macro, how on earth do you deduce that I think the problem is confined to Greece and Spain ?

          Those two countries are simply examples of self indulgent democracies that like us have lived beyond their means for decades. My point is, we must take their lessons to heart.

          We should also thank our lucky stars that a degree of financial prudence prevails, both within the Key government and the opposition Labour party. The greens and Mana are another story…

          1. benny – what we are talking about here is NOT govt spending! And you claim financial prudence from a govt that subsidizes water reticulation to dairy farmers, spends billions on uneconomic “roads of significance”, and $1.2 billion on a defunct finance company?
            But now we really are straying off topic.
            The simple fact is that the developed world has over the past 150 + years developed a lifestyle based on financial borrowing and environmental loading that is based on two fundamentally flawed assumptions – that GDP can grow exponentially forever, and that the earths resources are infinite. Any rational person can see that these are patently absurd, but tell that to the follower of Adam Smith.

            As Murray Rothbard wrote:

            ” It is not just that Smith’s Wealth of Nations has had a terribly overblown reputation from his day to ours. The problem is that the Wealth of Nations was somehow able to blind all men, economists and laymen alike, to the very knowledge that other economists, let alone better ones, had existed and written before 1776. The Wealth of Nations exerted such a colossal impact on the world that all knowledge of previous economists was blotted out, hence Smith’s reputation as Founding Father. The historical problem is this: how could this phenomenon have taken place with a book so derivative, so deeply flawed, so much less worthy than its predecessors? The answer is surely not any lucidity or clarity of style or thought. For the much-revered Wealth of Nations is a huge, sprawling, inchoate, confused tome, rife with vagueness, ambiguity and deep inner contradictions. There is of course an advantage, in the history of social thought, to a work being huge, sprawling, ambivalent and confused. There is sociological advantage to vagueness and obscurity. The bemused German Smithian, Christian J. Kraus, once referred to the Wealth of Nations as the ‘Bible’ of political economy. In a sense, Professor Kraus spoke wiser than he knew. For, in one way, the Wealth of Nations is like the Bible; it is possible to derive varying and contradictory interpretations from various – or even the same – parts of the book.”

  7. I can report on performance of a 6kW array in sunny North Canterbury. It delivered 8000 kWh in its first full year of operations (after which we stopped logging). So that corroborates the Whatpowercrisis performance.

  8. New Zealand has a better fit of power demand with solar supply than Germany does- we have much more sunlight, and we have plenty of hydropower to balance the grid, whereas Germany has to use gas – but it is still not very good. Our heaviest use of power is in winter, when days are short and cloudy and the sun is low and weak; this is also when hydro lakes are lowest. The power companies will have to provide enough reserve capacity, either geothermal or fossil fueled, to cover low-wind periods, but in spring and summer, when they have plenty of their own already paid-for capacity to use, the roof top PV producers expect the big providers to take their surplus at retail rates. This is only going to happen when there are only a few taking advantage. Essentially, the solar aficianado is demanding free storage; if he had to run an electric car without grid support, he’d have to either buy two sets of batteries, almost doubling the cost of the EV, or only drive at night. The feed in tariff system in Germany collapsed because the average tax payer and power user was having to contribute to billions of Euros in subsidies to an unreliable power source which contributed basically no power in winter, nothing at night, and yet on sunny days could hit the grid with a surge of unneeded power which had to be exported at below cost to other countries. Meanwhile about twenty lignite burning power stations are planned to replace the CO2 free nuclear plants being closed, and imports of Russian gas will increase to fuel inefficient fast-starting open cycle gas turbines.
    Sunnier places, like Spain and Arizona, are better placed than New Zealand to prove solar viable, but so far they are nowhere near it; maybe Australia can. If New Zealand doesn’t want nuclear power, we should go for the other tried and true, reliable, emission free energy source – build some big storage dams.

    1. Funny how you critique solar, but right at the end blithely mention nuclear power as if it were some kind of solution, ignoring all its many attendant problems.

      For sure, solar is no magic bullet. But the greatest problem is that most people, especially economists and politicians cannot accept reality. Perpetual growth is impossible.

    2. Electric cars, like all other cars, are parked during day time hours 9x% of the time. Commuters drive to work @7am and back home @5 or there about. Look at the parking lots of employers…. With even the tiniest amount of vision you can see that you will only need the one set of batteries in your car + a plug in place at work. EVs are especially good for predictable commuting. An NZ company has developed a contact less charging system that can be build into the tarmac of parking areas. Not even fiddling with plugs will be required…
      Further: Intelligent (well extremely simple actually) circuitry could adjust fridge and freezer power to available Solar flux or dish washers could be triggered to run while you are at work etc.
      We simply need to get a tinzi weeny bit smarter in our way we demand service from our energy supply to make significant gains to wards a sustainable (read survivable) living arrangement.
      It seems that the wonderworld of the exceptional and irrational growth explosion of the last century has made so many of us forget entirely that we have ZERO ENTITLEMENT to any of the riches we enjoy. We live at the moment on literally borrowed time and borrowed resources and we will need to learn one way or the other to live within the bounds of sustainable flows of resources and energy…

  9. “If New Zealand doesn’t want nuclear power, we should go for the other tried and true, reliable, emission free energy source – build some big storage dams”.

    Well, isn’t climate change expected to provide more rainfall – so more dams are an option, but which particular rivers do we start with ? However, I agree with your argument and fail to understand Germany’s angst over its nuclear programme. It seems like national economic suicide to me.

    How about the economics of increased tidal and geothermal power generation ?

  10. Thankyou Thomas. I was expecting soon to find PV the way to go and your story and the comments have firmed this up. Now I have this to add:

    I’m all for privatization. I hear it is the in thing. I’ve already partly privatised my water supply, and although in an urban setting (Auckland) where wind is all over the place, have reason to believe a little vertical axis windmill could keep the battery for the 12v marine pressure pump operating. However, I see I can “privatise” my power supply with a PV system on a larger scale, which in turn could help me avoid paying out to the fossil fuel gangs if I get an electric shopping trolley (read car).

    I am 72 years plus 3 cancer operations and don’t much care about payback periods. Having had my meagre savings put out of my reach for a few years twice in my life by banks falling over, I’m not much for trusting banks to keep adding value to my savings in these rather more uncertain times, nor am I worried overmuch about what interest I might get after 25 years! I am much more concerned to do what I can at whatever level I can to cope with climate change and all the other bits that go with it. The aussie floods for instance set off a flurry of home gardening about my place.

    So back to privatisation, individual initiative and all that ideological stuff. Let’s put the word to government and our fellow citizens that we are all for privatisation if that means managing our own resources with respect to water, food, energy and anything else we can think of. Well, what about percentages? Would better than 50 %, how about 80% – be generous about our targets. And if people get a little confused as to what privatisation means, what could be better? :))


    1. Noel, when conservatives like the National Govt talk about privatization they mean handing control to large corporations, not to the little people like you and me.

      And congrats on the home gardening. That’s one thing my wife and I (well, mainly my wife) have schooled ourselves up on. Almost all our veges are sourced from our garden year-round. No chemicals too.

      Just a word of advice, take it or leave it. I suspect an El Nino is likely for this time next year. Given the number of extremely dry periods we’re seeing up north in the last few years. I’d make sure you’ve got some water storage capability set aside to handle what is likely to be an intense drought.

    2. Noel, I love and congratulate you to your interpretation of “Privatization” read: Taking responsibility for the supply of one’s needs and of the impact on the environment of our actions.
      We tend to think in terms of some ‘amorphous’ state or government or global systems to solve our problems. This is a fallacy. The fastest way for humanity to move forward is achieved by every on of us doing sensible steps ourselves, may it be solar power, reduction in waste, reduction in energy and resource requirement, matching of needs with naturally available resources – in other words living a lot more like our forbears knew to do.
      So yes, we need to accept private and personal responsibility for our actions employ the many ways available to act accordingly!

  11. Geothermal is our only power source that is completely independent of the weather and also emissions free ( I think- not sure how much nasty stuff comes up with the bore water). Another advantage is, it’s closer to Auckland, so less transmission loss. The Kaipara tidal scheme would share those advantages; although power production would cycle up and down daily and monthly, it should be highly predictable, and is also much more energy dense than wind or solar. Economics could be difficult, as pioneering technology and with all the gear under fast moving salt water, but much better looking than wave power.

  12. Dappledwater”
    “Noel, when conservatives like the National Govt talk about privatization they mean handing control to large corporations, not to the little people like you and me.”

    I’m quite aware that to this government privatization means corporatization,
    but I rather fancy giving the word a different actually useful meaning. It’s a joke of course.

    Not just our place but all the nearby properties show substantially increased gardens.

    In the year of the last el nino I counted 7 months of drought – a day or so of light rain in an otherwise dry month does not count as a drought breaker. This year is really the first in several decades when I have not been able to drive onto the lawn without leaving a mark. Quite separately I like also to be immune to the various unheralded interuptions to the water supply.

    I use a first flush diverter which gives me an opportunity to measure the amount of dew collected off the roof which can be quite surprising on a fine night. I have wondered too if the white roof increases dew fall. It can, at times, drop below freezing in winter according to my thermometer – in Auckland!


  13. Noel, I’d be very leery about putting any money into a vertical axis windmill – heard anecdotally that none are worthwhile. Only personal experience was with one in Queensland that some hippies made out of a cut-in-two forty gallon drum to grind wheat. You could see it turning from right across the valley, but it didn’t have enough torque to do anything. Windpower scales with the cube of windspeed; anything below housetop or treetop height will only be a garden ornament, and anything higher will need to be solidly constructed to handle those occasional blasts that come in with three times the speed and nine times the power. That requires serious investment, and an ok from neighbours and the local authority, unlikely in the suburbs. Solar panels are less problematic but you need an inverter to connect to the grid, and that is more likely to fail prematurely than your solar panels.Specifying green power from your supplier and cutting emissions elsewhere is probably more effective, if you are already on grid in town

  14. John,

    I’m leery of course. My house is situated one rank down from a ridge with a WSW aspect. Housing and trees have rather tamed the wind which used to blast up the nearby gully but there is still a fair bit from SW, NW & NE, the last can be strong but turbulent as it is coming over the ridge. Even in light breezes there is a fair acceleration over the ridge of the house. I contemplate nothing more than a metre high for the rather trivial application of keeping charge on a small lead-acid battery which in turn powers the water pump – 117 seconds to refill the toilet cistern – easier to do with solar of course but fun too. Very good bearings and a sturdy bracket are requirements. While looking for numbers I noted one commercial VA turbine a metre high bracketed to a tree trunk! There is a rather larger eggbeater type on the market in NZ but it does not suit. A small VA turbine that intercepts the wind instantly from any direction and is not troubled by high winds and further more is easily seen by the flocks of birds that skimm over the ridge of the house is interesting – I’ve even put insulation all the way to the top of the hot water header pipe so birds don’t smash into that so often. I also would consider it a plus if the turbine did nothing but flail around a bit to keep these pesky creatures from crapping all over the white roof as is their want.

    So it is not a big deal nor much effort or money. However, I have a word to say on anecdotal evidence of the type you may have heard, by way of example.

    In 1974 I built a hydrofoil stabilized sailing kayak designed to dynamically balance with a heel of just 5 degrees and no more than 8 degrees with the onset of a gust, regardless of oft experienced wind strengths. Tested in williwaws to 60 knots and a voyage from Auckland to the Bay of Islands sailing through a cold front when everyone else wisely remained in shelter. But I had to find out if the numbers worked, Fortunately they did even when I had waves breaking over my head and sweeping right across the craft while reaching at about 12 knots..

    When I started construction other people told me they had tried the same idea but it just did not work. I admit it took me three rebuilds to get the numbers sorted but then I had heard, unlike them, of Robert the Bruce’s experience with a spider. I still have that kayak and it is still in service, the last effort being 120 km down the Waikato and back to Auckland via Waiuku and the Manukau in late January this year. However, wind is awfully unreliable in a small boat in a river so this was done with the aid of a 2 hp honda outboard, leaving the rig behind – just under 5 litres fuel per 100 km. A suitably performing electric motor is only good for about 2 hrs. I spent 7.5 hrs on the water. I recycled my petrol lawnmower and bought an electric one in compensation.

    So I’m not attached to the project but it would be fun to try – I just might..


  15. Noel: I have a Aerogen 6 on my yacht and can recommend them, I replaced the bearings resonantly and was surprised how easy it was, my unit has a brake system that kicks in over about 40+ knots I think, you can fit a switch brake to them as well I think, mine also has a regulator too burn off coils when the batteries are fully charged, the best thing is its almost silent. here is one link I found but don’t take my word for is google away http://www.seateach.com/details.asp?ProdID=575

    1. Thanks. I looked at the Aerogen, nice device – a bit of a bird chopper in my scene but I’m interested in your coment on the bearings and silence.


  16. Lady down this way was powering an art gallery off quite a big windmill plus solar panels. The original windmill was destroyed by turbulence rolling down off the hill behind her. She replaced it with a smaller yacht windmill but says the solar cells have been more consistent. Was helping a mate with a 2kw American Skystream, but he has a bit more room around him and an 11 metre tower to get it up into cleaner air. Link
    is to a test of whole row of small turbines, set up in ideal conditions away from trees etc. Only the 2 biggest were judged any good, and still not nearly as cost effective as multi-megawatt commercial units. Vertical axis windmills were plagued with vibration problems, always the bane of windmills, which are required to run in pretty hostile conditions for far more hours than a car would be used, but still have to be light.Newer models use helix shaped blades so the pulse as the back blade goes through the wind shadow of the front one is less abrupt, but I’d still be very wary about mounting one on a house.

  17. Wow, that is certainly damning, the more so when compared with the claims made by suppliers, (most appear to be off the net now) – and the expense! I wonder if the Duke of E read the first half of that article then blew up?

    I checked with the nearest supplier (Jaycar) of small scale solar units complete with all the electronic bits and pieces. They acknowledged a recent 20% price drop, their panels a small fraction of the cost of any of those tested wind turbines quite apart from installation problems where all the advantage lies with solar. My vertical axis device may have to be designed as a flamboyant pigeon deterrer – I fancy a couple of hawk shapes rotating in fits and starts. The pigeons go spare when a hawk appears! Thanks for your info.


    1. Solar PV in NZ has come down close to NZ$2/Watt panel prices.
      Solarpro: $2.10/Watt for 10-20 panels, better prices with larger purchases.

      The wholesale price ex China is now around US$0.80 / watt.
      At these wholesale prices making PV electricity at wholesale electricity prices is already competitive with traditional power generation.
      That’s why people like Warren Buffet are happy to purchase $2Billion US of PV electricity generation plants as they are able to lock in a guaranteed return on investment attractive today and outstanding in the future when power prices rise in the age of fossil fuel resource restrictions and growing action to lower CO2 emissions.
      If its profitable for Warren Buffet (and he is not a man of emotional decisions but simply a sharp calculator) then it is profitable also for the rest of us while actually doing something towards saving the planet too!
      And for suburban settings PV beats wind all the time, its silent, its unobtrusive.

      Wind is great for a farm with a windy hill or otherwise unobstructed wind resource.

    1. Thank you for the heads up diessoli!

      I was afraid that would happen at some stage under the current owner led by our National government.

      Perhaps it has less to do with the 300 to 400 or so customers Meridian has supplying PV power to them but with the fact that our power companies are currently being “groomed” for sale to private investors who rate the $ sign under the bottom line higher than the ethical profile of the company (the prime illness and cause of our current and coming debacles). Under the current National political “leadership” many corners where the public good serves us well are being picked to bits for the benefit of future private profits – which predictably has always been the mantra of the blue brigade, especially in their second and hopefully last term in office….

      Also with 1:1 feed in tariffs PV power is indeed competitive to conventional power, especially to costly fossil fuel power. It therefore becomes more and more a threat to established fossil fuel interests and their lobbies as well tho those who lend them their ears….

        1. Ethical action is defined as doing the right thing even if it is in the short run requiring a sacrifice such as profit maximization.

          Promoting the private investment into alternative energy solutions such as solar energy by stable feed in tariffs is definitely one of the things society should reward at the expense of profits from selling the liquid sunshine from hundreds of millions of years ago in a flash of exuberant stupidity.

          1. I have a friend who is a retired geologist from BP, on 2/3 of his salary for the rest of his life. He has a large bank of solar panels that provide him supplementary income via FITs. This money gets loaded onto peoples energy bills (such as the poor and elderly) who cannot afford to buy large solar arrays.

            Do you think this is ethical?

            1. Certainly. Anybody who promotes the advancement of and investment into the very technologies that have a chance to see us out our energy mining quagmire is doing the right thing.

              Sucking ancient sunshine out of the ground and tipping the planets climate as a result is definitely unethical. Plus the current price of power derived from fossil fuels is just a mirage. Take away the billions of dollars of tax payer subsidies from the oil industry and enter the true cost of using these fuels into the price tag and the price the power company pays your mate for his solar power will look like a good deal for both sides!

            2. That’s great then Thomas. I can get back to my friend who has spent his entire life working for “Big Oil” and who now is using his wealth to impoverish old and poor people to line his pocket, that he is behaving ethically

              I am sure he will be delighted.

            3. Your retired BP Geologist friend may understand very well the volatility of gas prices and their impact on power bills(gas and electric) for domestic customers, including the old and poor (top tip, what has happened to your local petrol pump price in the last 6 years, did renewable energy do that?). Living in the UK your friend will be able to see on their electricity bill the fraction added on for environmental measures, and will probably know full well that much of this funds loft insulation, cavity wall etc in domestic property, funnily enough prioritising the old and poor whose plight keeps you awake at night.
              Your retired BP Geologist friend will also know that the very profitable providers of gas, taking cash of those old and poor people, pay dividends to shareholders who on the whole are not destitute, owning shares in blue chip companies as they do.
              If you had raised the issue of the societal impact of domestic PV with your friend, they may have been able to disabuse you of all these Daily Mail style talking points you parade. Perhaps you did but your friend just values your friendship to highly to point out that you are a twit.

            4. Some friend you are! Using ‘a friend’ as some pathetic stick to attempt to beat others with – happily besmirching him as a monster in the process – is grotesque even by your egregious standards. We can take some consolation from the fact that this ‘friendship’ is probably about as real as your crocodile tears for the poor, which convince no-one, yourself included.

              That people who believe that selfishness is the fundamental essence of human existence should then demand that we must all take at face value the disgraceful pious pantomime of their pretending to ‘care’ – given that it is obvious that they are using the fate of people they rigorously do not give a shit about in a purely manipulative manner; piling hypocrisy on the insult already added to injury, in fact – is, again, one of the most disgusting features of contemporary ‘conservatism’.

            5. Andy, you are simply either truly daft or just play daft.
              We need to re-tool pretty much the entire energy industry this century. We are in the “investment” and “R&D” phase of this. We invest as a people through our institutions into the role out and mass production of the technologies we will require. Thanks to your friend and many others who have poured money into installing and trialing these technologies the price of solar power has now come down to the point where more and more people can participate. In my neighborhood folks can install these who live on precious little now. The cost has come down to the point where a suitable lifestyle is now possible with virtually zero monthly power bills thanks to panels on the roof.
              Your talking points about poor old folks are utter tosh. See what happens to your poor old folks in a world that fails to move away from fossil fuels and runs into the downhill spiral of peak oil while at the same time dealing with the coming climate disaster.
              As others pointed out aptly here, you portrait yourself here as a complete twit and a complete hypocrite as you seem to remain conveniently silent on the 24 Billing dollars in US tax subsidies to big Oil (paid for by poor old folks without health insurance in the US, to use your own sick rhetoric) while ranting about feed in tariff agreements for some 400 PV homes in NZ….

            6. Thomas, can you tell me how much energy the solar panels generated for the Uk last Thursday? I know that wind generated 0.0% , but I don’t have a figure for solar.

            7. Strange that George Monbiot thought the UK domestic solar FITs were obscene too. Is he a twit too?

            8. My comments about old people not being able to afford power are “tosh”, according to Thomas

              This from the Telegraph:

              “Middle-earning Scots in ‘fuel poverty’ thanks to bill rises
              Middle-earning Scottish household will start struggling to heat and power their homes from this year thanks to large hikes in energy costs, according to an official study”
              But Alex Johnstone, Scottish Tory housing spokesman, blamed the SNP’s “obsession with renewables”. He said: “The Scottish Government’s policy of pursuing wind generated electricity is causing household energy bills to rise, intensifying the fuel poverty situation across Scotland as a result.”

              If heating and electricity prices continue to spiral at the same rate, the report found that the “median household” in Scotland will find it difficult to afford their bills from this year.

              It is projected that middle-class Scots will be spending 12 per cent of their income paying for electricity and heating by 2015, but the Tories warned the SNP’s focus on expensive wind power would make the situation worse.

              Although ministers have focused the efforts on helping people on benefits, the study found that more than a third (38 per cent) of those in fuel poverty are middle class or wealthy.


            9. bill August 14, 2012 at 11:05 pm

              I was having a similar conversation about this with another friend whilst staying at the BP guys house. He is of the same opinion as me, so it’s perfectly possibly to have disagreements about things and still remain friends

              When I bring up issues like old people dying of hunger or cold, it’s not because I care. What grates is the sanctimonious braying from the environmentalists who justify or ignore this to support their ideologies.

            10. The great Monbiot writes thus:

              Those who hate environmentalism have spent years looking for the definitive example of a great green rip-off. Finally it arrives and no one notices. The government is about to shift £8.6bn from the poor to the middle classes. It expects a loss on this scheme of £8.2bn, or 95%(1). Yet the media is silent. The opposition urges only that the scam should be expanded.

              On April 1st the government introduces its feed-in tariffs. These oblige electricity companies to pay people for the power they produce at home. The money will come from their customers, in the form of higher bills. It would make sense, if we didn’t know that the technologies the scheme will reward are comically inefficient.


            11. Andy, from the very same Telegraph article you cite I read:

              However, the study suggested this is a forlorn hope, noting that energy bills have risen at the six times the rate of household income in recent years. British Gas, which includes Scottish Gas, recently reported profits of £2 million a day.

              Let me see: the Oil price (Brent Crude) is at over US$113, the British gas is adding a healthy margin to the tune of 2 Million pound a day or at that rate well over a billion $NZ annually to the price of energy. Production in the UK is sharply falling which adds to the price rises.

              So you tell me then Andy that it would help the current and future predicament of the poor folks in the UK if alternative energy projects were canned and the reliance on fossil fuels cemented?

              The facts seem to be clear: We are moving into a new regime where energy is no longer abundant and cheap. Living arrangements that were once possible may no longer be tenable. We need to get use to it.
              So stop yapping. Its not the solar panels or wind mills that are causing your folks grief – this is an interpretation of certain Tory circles – it is the matter of fact we are finally beginning to pay the true cost of fossil fuels with much more to come.

          2. Well, I disagree with Monbiot. Also the article is from 2010.
            In the meantime Gemany produces about 5% of its energy needs with Solar alone or about 15TWh annually, a huge contribution.

            Also Monbiot’s numbers are rather exaggerated. Assuming 8.5 Billion pounds in feed in energy paid for at 41 Pence assumes that over 10 million households – a very significant proportion of the UK households – would participate at 2000Kwh annually or 2KW installed on the roof, a normal grid tide installation. We shall see if that eventuates. By then the feed in tariffs will be less one would think. Overall in the first years of FITs in the UK surely the take up rate will be small and the overall percentage effect on power prices will be minimal when compared to the price increases of fossil fuels such as GAS and OIL which make up the vast majority of price increases.

            Now here in NZ we are talking about 20 Cent NZ feed in tariffs or 1/3 of the UK tariff. Here in NZ we simply talk about 1:1 payments for the time being while we see that solar panels cost come down further due to the market that is created.

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