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The Holmes TV item highlighted the difficulties householders face when trying to integrate their self-generated electricity into the grid.
It’s to the householders’ advantage to feed the electricity to the grid and draw out as much as they need rather than setting up a stand-alone system, because grid connection eliminates the need for expensive, space-consuming, environmentally questionable batteries to store the electricity.
The situation is made more complicated because of the many parties involved in the transaction.
Simon Cope’s network company Vector has no problem with net metering.
In their previous home, the Copes happily fed their power into the grid for three years, using a meter that ran backwards when it was sunny and they were generating more than they were using. This meant they were selling electricity at the same price they were buying it.
Because their house uses alternative fuels for heating, water heating and cooking, and the solar modules have only a small generation capacity, the solar amount of electricity being bought and sold is trifling.
Says Simon: “Some months the bill was just the $15 [monthly] line charge. We consumed an average of two units a day.”
Working with former Greenpeace energy campaigner Alice Leney and Vector, Simon developed a protocol that set out guidelines for a line company for net metering, including how to connect it, signage and instructions for electricians and linespeople.
Vector’s main issue is safety – it wants to make sure if its linespeople are working in the area, or they need to de-energise the line for any other reason, no power is coming into the system from the PV modules.
In Christchurch, network company Orion has a similar protocol. These types of arrangements are well-established in Australia and other countries.
When the Copes moved, still within Vector’s area, they transferred their system and stayed with electricity retailer Energy Online, with whom they had a good relationship and whom they recommended to others as a good electricity retailer. Energy Online is owned by Genesis.
The Copes obtained an electrical certificate of compliance for the installation and received an assurance from Vector that the meter could spin backwards.
Simon had no reason to think anything would change, but trouble started when the ageing electricity meters in the area were being replaced.
Meter provider Metrix, a subsidiary of generator-retailer Mighty River Power, replaced the meter with one that ran only forwards, a fact Simon discovered by chance a few days later when he was watching it.
He called Metrix to investigate and says he was told they had a policy that “they didn’t do net metering”. When he called Energy Online to investigate, they said they were getting pressure from “the powers-that-be above us”.
Cope says Metrix offered to install, a second meter that would measure the electricity the PV modules were generating, but they would require the Copes to be GST registered and to invoice them for the power generated. They would pay the Copes only the wholesale rate of around 4 cents per unit, so the Copes would get around $87 rebate a year for their electricity generation, instead of $260 at the retail rate.
Energy Online would invoice the Copes for the electricity they consumed, at the normal retail rate. Energy Online’s rate for its Uncontrolled Low User tariff is 37.5 cents a day and 15.16 cents per kilowatt-hour. These prices exclude GST, and the invoice offers a 15% prompt payment discount.
Simon says he is happy to pay the daily charge, as this is the same cost of owning batteries (but without the in-efficiencies associated with them), but aims to get their net electricity use for the year down to zero.
Admittedly, he’s not a great prospect for an energy retailer, but he thought the two-meter arrangement was ridiculous considering world trends towards one meter, and soon afterwards the story appeared on Holmes.
Simon believes net metering should be encouraged because it increases the security of energy supply, and on a large scale it would avoid the need for new power stations.
Energy Online general manager Nic Bishop says Energy Online’s position is in line with draft industry rules on metering that require them to accurately measure the energy flows, using import-export metering.
He says Energy Online is awaiting the finalisation of the industry rules, and that the energy being exported from the property needs to be paid for at the lower wholesale rate because it does not include costs such as billing and metering fees and network lines charges.
The price a retailer is willing to pay for wholesale electricity varies, depending on when it is available. For example, during periods of predominantly hydro generation the value to the company is lower.
Smart house for dummies
Although Simon is an electronics whiz, he hasn’t gone overboard with high-tech digital controls. Subscribing to the K.I.S.S. principal, there are no voice-activated switches or digital keypads.
The temperature controller for each of the radiators is a simple knob.
The most “smart”-looking part of the whole system is the Sunny Boy inverter, which has a digital readout showing how much electricity is being generated. It is capable of handling multiple circuits, a facility Simon’s planning to use when he adds the next batch of solar PV modules. Otherwise, everything else is hidden – quietly keeping the house snug and warm in the winter, and cool in the summer months.
Ph 09 578 0704, [email protected]
19 Manapau Street, Meadowbank, Auckland 1005
Tours can be arranged by appointment, at a reasonable cost.
Details on their previous solar powered house are here: http://cope.org.nz/sunpower
[email protected], ph 09 413 9413, 021 721 072, fax 09 413 9481, 78 Upper Harbour Drive, Greenhithe, Auckland 1450.
Chromagen Solar Panels are imported and distributed by Solar Energy Solutions Ltd http://www.SolarHotWater.co.nz
Autex Insulation made here in NZ http://www.Autex.co.nz
State house supports self-sufficiency
Visionaries or pragmatists? Simon and Kristina Cope have invested heavily in smart energy strategies for their Auckland home, but they expect it to pay its way.
Article by Cathy Sheenan - Editor for Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA - NZ Govt Dept)
Published in EnergyWiseNews Magazine Oct 2004 & updated in June 2009
Solar Energy House C/- Simon & Kristina Cope | 19 Manapau Street, Meadowbank, Auckland 1072 | New Zealand | Contact us now to arrange your tour
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