environment

Streaming the sun for a monthly fee

New Zealanders will be able to ditch traditional power companies and “stream the sun” with an $85 a month subscription model for solar panels and storage batteries.

Solarcity, a solar power company, believe their offer will accelerate New Zealand’s goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

Home solar systems have had some hurdles, namely due to the need for a battery to store energy for later use. Without batteries the energy collected by a solar panel can only be used during the day, when many people are at work. With batteries alone costing around $10,000 it’s put a dampener on the willingness of people to switch.

“Powering homes locally is just a lot more efficient and makes more sense. It’s 25% more efficient to power your home from your own rooftop than a lake down south."

Solarcity say their new service, solarZero, could make powering a home greener, more affordable and end pricing disparities where a family in Kerikeri can pay 45 percent more for electricity than a family in Auckland.

The solarZero service include the panels and a Panasonic battery as well as an app to control usage and an Amazon Echo Spot connected to Alexa, which checks the systems performance and can be used to manage connected appliances.

Subscribers need to commit to a twenty-year contract and the panels and battery remain the property of Solarcity at the end of the contract. The overall subscription cost is $20,400.

Solarcity CEO Andrew Booth described the new scheme as “a bit like Netflix for the sun”.

“Powering homes locally is just a lot more efficient and makes more sense. It’s 25% more efficient to power your home from your own rooftop than a lake down south."

Solarcity estimates an average home could save $17,000 on electricity costs over the contract and prevent around 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere. The estimation is based on a home with a north-facing unshaded roof and includes a 5 percent reduction in electricity use it expects the app will encourage. An annual 3.5 percent increase in electricity costs has been assumed.

If additional electricity is required to what the solar panels generate it can be purchased from wholesale supplier Ecotricity. The rates are capped, said Booth.

“You buy at wholesale rates, but if the price has gone crazy like it has recently, we’ve got a mechanism in our platform called price protection. It ensures you never pay more than 14 cents per kWh.”

Using the Ecotricity as a top-up provider also sidesteps an issue dubbed a “solar tax” where lines companies, such as Unison, charge solar energy users higher fees arguing they make less from the customers, but still need to maintain the same network for evenings, and low-light days.

Power produced by solar panels that is not needed by the home owner can be sold for 14 cents per kWh.

This power can be shared with the local community through a new service Solarcity is launching in February called SolarZero community.

“The community service has been designed for people who don’t own their own home, or their home isn’t suitable to share power with people that do. It’s like a peer-sharing service,” said Booth.

A monthly subscription of $8 is the base fee for the community service. Electricity can then be purchased from people with solar panels for 14c per kWh, about half the average price.

Solarcity backer, Sir Stephen Tindall, said the economics of the system would drive people to subscribe.

“The bank provides the money for the lease which puts the solar on peoples rooves. They pay a subscription but the subscription but the savings they make out of their power bill basically pays for that subscription and they lock in the price of anti-inflation for twenty years.”

The SolarZero service launches December 1.

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