Cut costs, raise sub­si­dies, and so­lar’s ap­peal will shine


CHEN fam­ily’s en­ergy needs but have yet shied away from the of­ten-te­dious process of ap­ply­ing, in the hope of gain­ing long-term re­turns on their in­vest­ment.

China has been work­ing hard to pro­mote the use of rooftop so­lar pan­els, amid mount­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal pres­sures caused by air pol­lu­tion.

The coun­try has been rolling out var­i­ous in­cen­tives to en­cour­age more busi­ness and com­mer­cial own­ers to in­stall so­lar, to com­pa­nies to man­u­fac­ture them, and to house­hold­ers to buy them.

But still, the num­ber of peo­ple who have ac­tu­ally in­stalled so­lar sys­tems has been limited.

In­dus­try fig­ures show that there are more than 60,000 sin­gle-fam­ily vil­las and townhouses in Shang­hai, for in­stance, but just 100 have been in­stalled with so­lar power sys­tems. In Bei­jing, the rate is even lower.

Ex­perts say sev­eral ob­sta­cles have ham­pered the gov­ern­ment’s ef­fort.

Ac­cord­ing to reg­u­la­tions, for in­stance, if in­di­vid­u­als want so­lar pan­els on their roofs they must first get the per­mis­sion of their neigh­bors be­fore mak­ing a fil­ing with the lo­cal en­ergy ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“It would be very dif­fi­cult to get all the per­mis­sions,” Chen said. “Also many prop­erty man­age­ment com­pa­nies con­sider them ‘il­le­gal’, so they can be re­luc­tant to hand out per­mits too.”

The good news is that the pro­ce­dure for con­nect­ing to the grid is a lot more straight­for­ward than ever. The grid com­pany is re­quired to let a cus­tomer or so­lar com­pany know the progress be­ing made for a con­nec­tion within 30 work­ing days af­ter ac­cept­ing an ap­pli­ca­tion.

But the great­est con­cern for many re­mains the high cost of in­stal­la­tion, and how long it will take to re­cover the out­lay.

China has adopted what is called a self-con­sump­tion model, which means elec­tric­ity con­verted from so­lar power can feed home use, with any ex­cess elec­tric­ity then sold to the grid.

Home users are of­fered sev­eral in­cen­tives to go so­lar, in­clud­ing grants of 0.42 yuan (6.8 cents) per kilo­watt hour of out­put from the cen­tral gov­ern­ment, which can ap­ply for 20 years, and sub­si­dies of around 0.4 yuan from the lo­cal gov­ern­ment, such as in Shang­hai, for five years.

For any sur­plus power sold by an in­di­vid­ual user, the grid com­pany pays at the lo­cal bench­mark price of coal-fired power, which is around 0.5 yuan.

A stan­dard 3-kilo­watt sys­tem that can gen­er­ate 3,600 kWh of power a year costs around 40,000 yuan. If a house­hold con­sumes 3,000 kWh a year and sells the rest to the grid, in­di­vid­ual users will get re­bates from the gov­ern­ment worth 2,460 yuan and 300 yuan from sell­ing the elec­tric­ity to the na­tional grid.

A quick cal­cu­la­tion shows tak­ing a life­span of 25-30 years into ac­count, so­lar prod­ucts take more than a decade to pay for them­selves in China.

Ev­ery time I feel choked up by the smog, I won­der why it can­not be made eas­ier and cheaper for res­i­dents to use so­lar.

Vis­it­ing coun­tries in Europe, for in­stance, I have no­ticed many rooftops with so­lar, sug­gest­ing many in those mar­kets al­ready con­sider this new, clean en­ergy the norm.

In the US, there are not only lower in­stal­la­tion costs and tax cred­its, but also heav­ily sub­si­dized of­fers from the gov­ern­ment at both state and fed­eral lev­els.

On av­er­age, a so­lar sys­tem there will pay for it­self in just four years, and gen­er­ate free elec­tric­ity for the next quar­ter of a cen­tury.

From a cost per­spec­tive, it is still not af­ford­able for many Chi­nese home­own­ers to go so­lar to keep their lights on.

Only with more sub­si­dies and a stronger em­pha­sis on res­i­den­tial users will so­lar be em­braced as a money saver com­pared to con­ven­tional forms of en­ergy. Con­tact the writer at lvchang@chi­

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