Southland Sun Supplies Solar Success

MP Gareth Hughes visited Invercargill on Friday and he spent the time visiting a business and a number of homes that rely on solar energy as their main power source. He has been seeking support for his private members' bill that is only one vote away (Peter Dunne) from going on to a select committee.

Gareth's Bill involves a small amendment to the Electricity Industry Act that will empower the Electricity Authority to independently set a fair price for electricity buyback for small scale electricity generation connected to the grid. The cost of installing a solar system has dropped about by about 33% over the last two years while electricity prices have increased by around 25%. As the the support for photovoltaic homes and businesses increases dramatically (World Solar alone has installed solar systems on 200 Southland homes over the past 17 months) electricity companies have been cutting buyback rates and deliberately holding up paper work and meter installation.

If electricity companies make it so difficult for homes and businesses to be connected then there is the potential for many to leave the grid altogether, especially as battery technology improves. Obviously as more disconnect from the grid the burden of maintaining and servicing it will be placed on a diminishing number of people. This will force up the cost of power yet again and push even more people into solar. Some deep breaths and clear thinking is needed now.

There probably needs to be a total re-evaluation of our business structure for our electricity supply. Our hydro electricity allows New Zealand to have one of the cheapest and sustainable sources of energy in the world. However, Max Bradford's competitive model has never worked as intended and now the cost for the consumer is far beyond the cost of production and transmission. Ever-increasing profits and dividends have turned our electricity system into a form of taxation. In 2013 Contact Energy alone paid a $114 million dividend to the Government.

Other countries (Australia/UK/Germany) that are reliant on coal for a major part of their electricity supply have used subsidies to encourage the uptake of grid connected domestic solar systems. Solar capacity in Germany is steadily increasing, largely through grid connected private systems and on one day last year almost 20% of the production came from solar. Power companies in Germany have had to evolve from purely managing supply to becoming energy service companies and this is what our New Zealand companies may need to do rather than trying to fight the growth of solar.

In the near future it would make sense for New Zealanders to have solar homes and electric cars. The cost of installation will be quickly recovered if both the house and the car can be run on free energy. The Tesla electric car can do 0-60 mph in 2.8 seconds and drives over 400 km on one charge. Savings of around $5,000 in electricity and fuel costs a year could easily be achieved by installing a $7,000 domestic solar system and buying an electric car like the Nissan Leaf (around 16,000 2nd hand).

Gareth's private members bill makes sense and it would be helpful to contact Peter Dunne and tell him so. By fighting against the the global growth of solar energy the Government and our power companies are just trying to stop the inevitable and making life more difficult for forward thinking businesspeople and home owners.

Gareth also took the time to talk to Venture Southland about their wood energy initiatives and the research being undertaken for the best electricity model to replace Stewart Island's expensive diesel generator. He also took the opportunity to get behind the wheel of Venture's electric Mitsubishi car.

The following are some images to from Gareth's Invercargill trip:

 Two views of the same Invercargill home that had panels on the east and west to take advantage of morning and evening sun when the home demand would be greatest.

Home owner John Dasson with Gareth Hughes and Doone Morrell (Managing Director of World Solar) looking at the performance of John's system on his inverters. 

 Sue McNeill and Gareth after looking at Sue's grid connected specially designed eco home

 Gareth sitting beside the little battery shed of my younger sister's home that is off grid. 


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