Sunny start for energy co-op

ROB O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 18/11/2012

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New Zealand could be about to gain a new co-operative company in the form of Energyshare, which aims to make the installation of solar energy arrays more financially attractive.

Chris Olson unveiled Energyshare at the Greenstage Gathering in Auckland yesterday.

Greenstage is an electric vehicle developer. The gathering showcased an array of electric vehicles, including the Tesla Roadster and the GS750V - Greenstage's own lithium iron phosphate-powered electric supercar, as well as a number of other electric conversions based on open-source control platform software called Tumanako.

Energyshare is designed to kickstart solar power use in New Zealand.

Olson said NZ was lagging behind Australia, where the one millionth solar array is expected to be installed in the first half of 2013, though admittedly it is sunnier there.

One of the biggest barriers to solar adoption is the lack of feed-in tariffs, payments made to small generators for supplying the grid with surplus electricity. In other countries, that's enough to make the difference and encourage solar investment.

Energyshare is trying to tackle that problem by reducing the cost of deploying photovoltaic cells.

Olson, whose background is in electricity trading, engineering and business analysis, both here and in the UK, describes Energyshare as an "ethical co-operative" company created to produce and deliver renewable electricity and other energy-related products and services to its members.

While a prospectus, investor statement and other documents are still being prepared, Olson said, the plan is that members will own shares in the business and have a say in how it operates, and the services and products it delivers.

Energyshare will purchase, install and own and operate renewable electricity generation systems located at the point of use, so that members can use photovoltaic electricity at a lower cost than buying energy off the grid.

Members also get a share of any future profits.

Installation will cost members nothing, but they will pay Energyshare, at below retail rates, for solar electricity consumed.

It is planned that further down the track Energyshare will also provide members with retail energy from the electricity market to supplement their solar electricity.

The cost of the solar equipment is paid for by Energyshare co-operative investors, who receive a fixed return on their money. Energyshare members can also be Energyshare investors as well.

Olson said, all going to plan, the first arrays should be being installed around February next year.

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But there are broader benefits from distributed solar energy generation.

The need for transmission lines is reduced, as is exposure to fossil-fuel costs, and resilience of electricity supply will be boosted, Olson said.

Profits will be distributed to the members in proportion to the value of all purchases they make with the co-operative to ensure those who support the operations of the co-operative will be rewarded.

Owners of buildings on which the solar equipment is installed will be asked to sign an agreement outlining the commitments regarding "hosting" this equipment long-term.

Olson said with electricity prices rising faster than the rate of inflation, the financial benefits of membership are expected to increase over time.

- Sunday Star Times

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