Large scale solar power has perhaps been a victim of New Zealand’s success in tapping into our other abundant sources of renewable power: wind, water and geothermal. The largest electricity generating solar array in New Zealand is the 84kW solar plant recently installed on the roof of Shed 10 on Auckland’s waterfront. Putting that into perspective, the world’s largest photovoltaic array, which is currently under construction in California, is planned to produce 579 Megawatts, or roughly 8000 times that. Solar power makes up only about 0.1 per cent of New Zealand’s electricity generation, there are no subsidies for domestic installation of photovoltaic systems. There is also no ‘feed-in tariff’ like those in other countries, which are used to help incentivise renewable electricity production by providing a minimum price for the power generated. In addition, the government subsidy for solar hot water heating has finished. Despite all this, however, increasing power prices and decreasing costs of solar technology mean micro-generation from solar power is already competitive and worthwhile, particularly if your home is an energy efficient one.
A host of small and medium-sized solar power companies are spread across the country, providing products and services to enthusiasts, homeowners in locations where an ‘off-grid’ solution can be cost-effective, and supportive businesses, including the likes of Hubbards cereals and Genesis Energy Schoolgen programme, which has been working with Auckland’s Powertech to install solar power to more than 50 schools around the country.
Further research on improvements to solar electricity generation is underway, including work by Professor Keith Gordon of the University of Otago, but for the time
Solar power makes up only about 0.1 per cent of New Zealand’s electricity generation
being it is clear that New Zealanders will remain a price taker and customer for the world’s big solar power system manufacturers, particularly in China, rather than a major producer in our own right.
It might be worth us reconsidering. Lux Research predicts that the solar photovoltaic market is expected to grow to a US$155 billion industry by 2018.
New Zealand’s largest solar array resides on the roof of Shed 10 on Queen’s Wharf, Auckland.