Solar energy consumers gridlocked

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Her personal opinion was that net metering, where consumers could generate electricity and sell it back to the grid, was a good idea. PICTURE: HENK KRUGER

Cape Town - South Africa has so much sunlight that millions of householders could install solar panels on their rooftops and generate electricity to feed into the national grid but, because selling electricity is one of the major sources of income for municipalities, this is unlikely to happen.

This is a major stumbling block to the large-scale installation of small-scale solar power generation, delegates to the Solar Energy Conference were told alst week.

Municipalities buy electricity from Eskom and sell it to residents at a marked-up price. They rely on this income to cross-subsidise many of the other services they provide.

Karen Breytenbach, senior project adviser in the public private partnership unit in the Treasury, said municipalities banked on selling electricity as part of their funding model.

“Unless we can bail them out, they will not allow this (rooftop PV electricity generation). Electricity is basically printing the money which allows them to do their other work,” Breytenbach said.

Her personal opinion was that net metering, where consumers could generate electricity and sell it back to the grid, was a good idea.

“In my opinion the biggest problem we will have to look at is the municipality problem and see how big it is before we can even start (net metering). They are not ready yet.”

Callie Fabricius, general manager of electricity planning and market development at Eskom, said he believed the question of net metering from solar panels must be included in the government’s next Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), the plan for electricity expansion over the next 20 years. The last IRP was completed in 2010.

Fabricius said consumers who used the most electricity paid the highest tariffs, on a sliding scale. With rising electricity costs, they would be the most likely to install PV panels. This meant municipalities would lose income and would try to recover it through charging a reconnection fee.

 

In some countries, such as Germany, it was a common practice for householders to generate electricity, and rooftop PV panels were almost as common as TV aerials.

Lance Greyling, DA spokesman on energy, said municipalities were faced with a dilemma created by the steeply rising Eskom prices and rapidly falling prices of solar panels, which were fast making self-generation an attractive option for many.

It was important to recognise that whoever generated and sold electricity into the grid would have to contribute to the cost of maintaining the electricity distribution grid.

“In Cape Town for instance, over R1-billion a year is spent on maintaining the electricity distribution grid. A household that has a PV system that sends as much power into the system as it uses, cannot expect to pay zero for its energy charge because it has supplied as much energy as it has used,” Greyling said. - Cape Times

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