More southerners turning on to solar

HANNAH MCLEOD
Last updated 05:00 17/03/2014

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More Southlanders are turning to solar power for their homes, with the average number of people signing up each month nearly tripling since last year.

PowerNet chief executive Jason Franklin said about eight people a month were applying to convert their houses to solar power and connect to the grid, compared to two or three people a month last year.

"What we're seeing is increased marketing and more providers coming to Southland," he said.

The costs of producing the equipment were going down, while the quality was going up, but it was still not cost-efficient, he said.

Most people switching to solar were doing it as a "lifestyle choice", wanting to do their bit for the planet.

Solar power cannot be stored for use at night. "That's the barrier," Mr Franklin said.

Battery banks to store energy collected by solar panels had not yet been developed to be cost-effective. "When it can be stored for when you need it . . . that's the breakthrough [needed]," he said.

Tansley Electrical representative Shane Brown said batteries were so expensive that attempts to store solar power would make the system uneconomic.

However, he disagreed with claims that solar power for Southland homes was uneconomic.

"I'd argue they're wrong. I can't see how they can say it's not cost-effective."

A Winton man who had his system installed a year ago was "cost-neutral", Mr Brown said.

"He generates enough power to be in credit in the summer, which pays for his power in the winter."

World Solar managing director Doone Morrell said a solar power system for a household of two adults and two children would cost less than $14,000, and would pay for itself within six years.

Solar power systems were most beneficial when power was most used during the day, he said.

Invercargill man Arthur Kent, who installed his $10,000 system about 18 months ago, said his latest power bill showed he was $150 in credit.

When it was installed, Mr Kent calculated he would have it paid off in about seven years, but that had changed because power companies refused to pay a "fair price" for the power he fed back to the grid, he said.

It did not bother him too much.

"I'm not a greenie, I never have been. I just decided to do something for the environment." 

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