On one sparkling sum­mer’s day in Ger­many last year, so­lar sys­tems on the roofs of pri­vate homes gen­er­ated over 50% of the na­tion’s elec­tric­ity. Blessed with far more sun than our north­ern hemi­sphere cousins, New Zealand’s po­ten­tial for mi­cro-gen­er­a­tion is

Element - - Planet - By Bren­dan Wini­tana BREN­DAN WINI­TANA

Mi­cro-gen­er­a­tion is the gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric­ity from a small-scale sys­tem. Gen­er­at­ing elec­tric­ity on­site or at the point of use, mi­cro-gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies are con­nected to the elec­tric­ity net­work, where it is termed dis­trib­uted gen­er­a­tion or DG. Think of elec­tric­ity be­ing gen­er­ated and used where it is re­quired, in­stead of be­ing shipped around the coun­try.

The most com­mon form is so­lar pho­to­voltaics (PV). Used when re­quired, and sup­ple­mented by grid-sup­plied power, it helps al­le­vi­ate those ever-in­creas­ing power bills, fa­cil­i­tates en­ergy ef­fi­ciency mea­sures and you can even get paid by a power re­tailer for the ex­cess power you gen­er­ate by feed­ing it back into the grid.

There are other mi­cro-gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies which in­clude small wind tur­bines, and mini hy­dro tur­bines, which are de­pen­dent on the ap­pli­ca­tion and en­vi­ron­ment.

So how did Ger­many get so­lar sys­tems to con­trib­ute half its power in one day? As with most new in­dus­tries that can ben­e­fit the peo­ple, the lo­cal econ­omy and the govern­ment, a govern­ment-led in­cen­tive pro­gram us­ing feed-in tar­iffs (FIT) was im­ple­mented. A FIT is a pay­ment at a fixed rate for ev­ery kWh ex­ported from a so­lar sys­tem into the grid for a pe­riod of 15 to 20 years. Gov­ern­ments leg­is­late for all power retailers to pay the amount for the man­dated agree­ment term. Ger­many en­acted this to mit­i­gate their re­liance on other forms of cen­tralised power gen­er­a­tion and de­pen­dence on oil and gas from other coun­tries.

For 20 odd years the so­lar rev­o­lu­tion ex­ploded in Ger­many be­cause the re­tired cou­ple, the fam­ily down the road and the busi­ness owner who in­vested in a so­lar sys­tem on their roof was as­sured of a re­turn on their in­vest­ment. Ger­many gen­er­ated around 6.6 GW in 2012, de­vel­oped en­ergy ef­fi­ciency mea­sures along the way and cre­ated em­ploy­ment for 370,000 peo­ple. It also brought about an ex­port mar­ket that is one of the en­vies of the re­new­able en­ergy game glob­ally. As the price of so­lar tech­nol­ogy dropped, so did the FIT rate as it had served its pur­pose.

Used as the global bench­mark, over 50 OECD coun­tries in Europe, the Amer­i­cas and Asia fol­lowed Ger­many’s lead and ben­e­fit­ted.

The Ger­man ex­am­ple proved it could be done; the coun­try’s elec­tric­ity in­fra­struc­ture man­aged the loads both lo­cally and na­tion­ally of tens of thou­sands of mi­cro­gen­er­a­tors rather than a num­ber of large gen­er­a­tors, and the coun­try did not fall over be­cause of in­ter­mit­tent sup­ply.

Ja­pan, which took the de­ci­sion to close not just Fukushima, but 54 other nu­clear power sta­tions af­ter the 2011 tsunami, ef­fec­tively switched off 30% of its power gen­er­a­tion. The fourth largest en­ergy con­sumer on the planet was se­ri­ously run­ning out of power.

Ja­pan tried to fill the short­fall by im­port­ing huge amounts of liq­uid pe­tro­leum gas (LPG). By late 2011 it was burn­ing an ex­tra 400,000 bar­rels of fuel ev­ery day. This cost US$100m plus a day and con­trib­uted to Ja­pan’s worstever trade deficit in 2011.

Ja­pan was de­pen­dent on oil, coal and gas for 90 per cent of its power in 2011 so, not sur­pris­ingly, they moved to im­ple­ment re­new­able en­ergy tech­nolo­gies – so­lar, wind and wave – to re­place the non-re­new­able sources.

The Ja­panese Govern­ment is of­fer­ing a feed-in tar­iff of 38 yen (about 60 cents) per kWh – twice as much as con­sumers in Ja­pan pay for grid-sup­plied elec­tric­ity. The growth of so­lar power in Ja­pan has al­ready been ex­po­nen­tial. Take the bul­let train from Osaka to Tokyo to Hiroshima as I have and wit­ness the ex­panse of building­in­te­grated so­lar tiles on old and new homes and in­dus­trial

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