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Cope Spins Meter Backwards!

Issue 61, March-May 1999 Energy Wise News - By Cathy Sheehan


Simon Cope's electricity meter spins backwards when the sun shines!


Renewable energy expert Simon Cope, who lives in what was previously Auckland’s only independently-powered suburban house, has now arranged for his house to be connected to the power lines and to pay only for the net amount of energy he obtains from the power company.


If he is in credit, the power company will pay him.


Cope, his wife Kristina and daughter Isabella live in Mt Roskill, Auckland, in a house powered by 1200 Watts from Canon and Siemens solar photovoltaic panels on the roof.

60ErniePincesStreet netmeterhouse_graphic

The standard contract to supply power already catered for embedded generation such as diesel generators and cogeneration. Cope says all they needed to do was substitute the word “solar” in the right places. “If only I’d known this ages ago,” he said. “The inverter synchs into Vector’s network. If the batteries are full and we generate more than we need, the inverter spins backwards.”


Cope had help from Graham Slack, formerly of Mercury Energy, Vector’s technology services consultant Peter Richards, Carl Emerson of Freepower Ltd and Alice Leney of Greenpeace.


This development, along with Greenpeace’s Auckland office’s connection to the grid, makes New Zealand-wide “net metering” a possibility. Says Cope: “This opens the industry up to many more avenues, of commercial systems, green power, cheaper systems, and a much more modular approach - add as you can afford, and watch your power bill go down.”


Although solar photovoltaic generation is still an expensive option for urban householders who, unlike some rural dwellers, do not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to connect to the grid, it is a choice for people who wish to reduce their impact on the environment.


A system similar to the Copes’, including the energy-efficient appliances, would cost around $22,000 - around the cost of a new Mazda 323.


Cope says people are buying renewable energy systems for ideological reasons (green-ness) and as a precaution against the power outages we commonly get in Auckland city.


The price of solar PV has dropped dramatically in recent years and developers at the forefront of the technology aim to make it competitive by early next century. (Simon's Note: As of 2009 the main solar PV manufacturers in the USA have started to manufacture PV's at less than USD$1.00 per watt. This is THE holy grail figure they have all being working towards for 20+ years that I have been associated with the industry :-)


Every unit of electricity which comes directly from the sun displaces a unit produced by burning fossil fuels, which emits greenhouse gases.


The price and awkwardness of batteries has been a disincentive for people who wished to generate their own renewable energy.


Cope says a grid-connected household with the opportunity to generate power from wind or a micro-hydro turbine is in a good position to make a profit from net metering, as these two forms of generation are cheaper than solar PV.


Many power companies overseas encourage net metering, as it is a source of “green energy” which can be sold at a premium price to another customer (see Integral Energy in Australia).


Cope says the first place to start is by making the home energy efficient; turning everything such as PC monitors off when not in use; and reducing load by replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and upgrading to energy-efficient appliances. Only then should the householder seek to offset energy costs through renewable energy generation.


Are you interested in learning first-hand about how to significantly reduce your power bill in your home? Come and tour the Solar Energy House in Meadowbank, Auckland and see all the improvements Simon Cope made on his first home... Otherwise, click here to read about the different suppliers of energy efficient and/or environmentally friendly technology and services that enables Simon to have a 550m2 house that only uses ~$80 of power a month to run (with 5 adults, 2 businesses, 7 computers who work and play in the house 24x7x365 !

Their hot water is heated by a Solahart solar unit, and they have a high-efficiency Gram fridge and Elcold freezer from Denmark. The house has compact fluorescent light bulbs, and appliances are switched off completely when they are not being used - even the clock on a microwave switched on all the time consumes electricity.


When they were independent of the electricity grid, the Copes needed 48 two-volt battery cells, each with a storage capacity of 600 amp-hours. This was enough to cater for two weeks of little or no solar energy. The batteries filled the garage and were expensive to buy, maintain and replace.


Now Cope says he can sell off most of his batteries and keep only enough for half a day’s storage - his inverter is an older model which requires some battery storage, and he also wants to guard against power cuts or unreliability. A new grid-interactive inverter would not require any battery storage.


The Copes expect to pay a supply charge of around $35 a month to be joined to the grid, with its continuous availability of power. However, this will be offset by savings in maintenance and replacement of batteries, and by energy sales.


No complicated new arrangements needed to be hammered out with the energy supplier, Mercury Energy, whose lines business is now owned by a separate company called Vector.

How a grid-interactive solar PV system works (from The Sustainable House by Michael Mobbs).

Simon & Kristina Cope's solar house in Mt Roskill, Auckland. We have now (as of 2004) moved to Meadowbank, Auckland.

Solar Energy House C/- Simon & Kristina Cope | 19 Manapau Street, Meadowbank, Auckland 1072  |  New Zealand  |  Contact us now to arrange your tour