Solar power needs stronger Govt support

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Solar power systems are cheaper than ever to install and the Government needs to champion their take-up, says SEANZ. Photo / Thinkstock
Solar power systems are cheaper than ever to install and the Government needs to champion their take-up, says SEANZ. Photo / Thinkstock

With the cost of solar panels dropping and the cost of electricity rising, the Government needs to start seriously supporting the installation of home solar power systems, says the head of a sustainable energy body.

Households are currently facing increased winter heating costs and it is time something was done to reduce the burden, said Brendan Winitana, chairman of the Sustainable Electricity Association of New Zealand (SEANZ).
Winitana said the price of solar power systems has dropped by 50 per cent in the past 18 months, making it an affordable way of generating electricity.

SEANZ wants the Government to take a leadership role on championing solar and is calling for cross sector discussions to make its distributed generation vision a reality.

"The discussion needs to be picked up to a level where solar photo voltaic can be somehow be included in the mix," Winitana said.

"Local bodies are already leading the way with support for the installation of solar hot water and solar electricity systems. That's an example that central Government could follow."

Harnessing the sun's free energy will reduce the overall cost of power to the home and also generate additional electricity that can be fed back into the grid, Winitana said.

According to an annual survey of SEANZ members, 400 solar power systems were installed in homes last year, compared to 180 the year before.

Winitana said just under 200 of these homes were on-grid, meaning owners can sell back surplus power to either of two power companies, Meridian or Contact.

New Zealand's energy strategy 2011-21, which sets out the Government's direction for the energy sector, has a commitment to New Zealand being 90% reliant on renewable energy sources for electricity by 2025.

Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) chief executive Mike Underhill said the cheapest source of electricity generation for New Zealand is large scale renewables like wind and geothermal.

"There's plenty available - already around 3000 megawatts of renewable energy projects have been consented, enough for around 15 years of growth, and much more under investigation," he said.

"New Zealand is lucky that government subsidies are not required to ensure that renewable energy is the main source of future electricity generation."

But Winitana said the energy strategy was too heavily dependent on centralised forms of energy generation, such as hydro, which can mean electricity is generated at one end of the country but used at the other.

The costs of developing and maintaining infrastructure to carry that power around the country are passed onto the consumer in their electricity bills, he said.

"What we are calling for is a better mix between centralised generation and distributed generation, Winitana said.

Distributed generation involves generating electricity close to its point of use.

Underhill said as the price of domestic-scale solar PV comes down in price, some households will consider investing in it.

"That's something that will be determined by market economics, and people's individual preferences."

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