STEP 04 STIMULATE INVESTMENT IN MICRO-GENERATION OF ELECTRICITY
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
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