Shed­ding light on the so­lar panel de­bate

Central Leader - - OPINION -

Last week’s col­umn on the Green Party’s power pol­icy, which pro­poses govern­ment loans to home­own­ers to in­stall so­lar, didn’t go down well with some read­ers.

In a nut­shell, I opined the $100-a year pro­jected re­turn over the pe­riod a home­owner was re­pay­ing the govern­ment loan (with re­pay­ments col­lected along­side coun­cil rates), was not enough to cover the risk of it break­ing down and the home­owner hav­ing to fix it.

Many read­ers dis­agreed and felt there were points I should have in­cluded in the col­umn.

First up, reader Dan Carter, who says a $15,000 in­vest­ment in so­lar sav­ing $1000 a year in en­ergy bills was a 6.66 per cent re­turn tax free.

‘‘Bet­ter than money in the bank,’’ he says, and worth the low cost of bor­row­ing from the Govern­ment un­der the Greens’ pro­posal.

Mr Carter felt that so­lar in­stal­la­tions are now very ro­bust and can be ex­pected to last for a good 25 years, and I should have pointed out that, once the govern­ment loan was re­paid: ‘‘You are prof­it­ing $1000/year on re­duced elec­tric­ity bills.’’

My col­umn last week talked about the al­ter­na­tive to own­ing so­lar yourself which is to get Vec­tor to put up one of its SunGe­nie ar­rays, which it re­tains own­er­ship of, with the home­owner leas­ing it.

The strong point of that is that if it breaks down, Vec­tor fixes it.

In past years, some so­lar hot wa­ter sys­tems in­stalled in homes in New Zealand turned out to be less durable than was hoped, wip­ing out the re­turns home­own­ers had hoped for. Mr Carter says: ‘‘As you point out how­ever the risk as­pect dif­fers greatly. A large rise in govern­ment bor­row­ing costs and a large fall in the elec­tric­ity price could see the gains wiped out. How­ever it’s far more likely that elec­tric­ity prices will keep on ris­ing, in which case the $100 gain will in­crease.

‘‘With Vec­tor, they are cov­er­ing the bor­row­ing costs, which you pay­back via lease ar­range­ments. So with the Greens scheme you are ex­posed to any gain or loss, with Vec­tor they bank any gain or loss.’’

With such good re­turns, he con­cludes the only rea­son no­body is in­vest­ing in so­lar that people don’t stay long enough in one house.

But he says that’s the real glory of the Greens pol­icy with the loan pass­ing on to the new own­ers of the home, if it is sold. ‘‘So the new owner will pay the re­main­der of the loan and profit from the re­duced power bills.’’

Next, Dr Mark Titch­ener, who has in­vested $13,800 in a so­lar sys­tem for his home ‘‘with the idea of ex­per­i­ment­ing as to how to achieve the best re­turn’’. Dr Titch­ener, who is not im­pressed by some of the so­lar prod­ucts be­ing sold in New Zealand and im­ported his equip­ment, con­cludes: ‘‘For the in­vest­ment to work ef­fec­tively here one needs to con­sume as much of the power on site. The ob­vi­ous sink for this en­ergy is the hot wa­ter cylin­der and it doesn’t need an in­verter. It’s ef­fec­tively like a bat­tery.’’

So­lar tech­nol­ogy was now suf­fi­ciently cost com­pet­i­tive and ro­bust to be used this way, he says. ‘‘Our pan­els were in by July. As of to­day, to­tal sav­ings $648.50! An aver­age of about $80 a month, peak­ing as you would ex­pect in the sum­mer months at over $120 a month.’’

And, like Mr Carter, he says: ‘‘As elec­tric­ity prices rise . . . our pay back will in­crease ac­cord­ingly.’’

And as a last nugget of food for thought, he says: ‘‘Ger­many would not have in­vested so much in this in­dus­try if the num­bers did not stack up. We ought to be tak­ing note!’’

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