MYTH 1: Solar is only for the rich

The most common argument we hear against solar energy is that encouraging it will somehow widen the gap between rich and poor. The logic goes that because “only rich people can afford solar”, the so-called poor people without it will then have to pay a larger share of the costs to maintain the national grid.

More on this sharing grid costs thing when you hit Myth #3, but in a nutshell, we say, bah humbug to that! Statistically, we’re seeing that solar being a rich kid’s game is simply not true. Of the customers using solar provider solarcity’s “solarZero” energy service, around 40% are below median income households. Under this service, households can get rigged up without the cost of buying the solar system.

And if you think about it logically, this makes sense: Aside from looking hot and being an environmental hero, one of the major benefits of solar is that it substantially lowers monthly bills. It should then follow that the people most likely to seek to lower their outgoings are those feeling financial pressure.

In our own experience, the vast majority of solar users we’ve spoken to are nearing retirement age and are wanting to make an investment now that will lower their costs once they start receiving the pension. For some, the future monthly savings they will make from having solar means the difference between being able to stay in their family home once they’ve retired, rather than downsizing. 

MYTH 2: Solar isn’t feasible in New Zealand

Whether it’s cost or geography, the electricity industry would like you to think that solar just isn’t a good fit Down Under.  But we only need to look to the rest of the world to see that this is codswash.

With electricity production being the third largest source of polluting CO2 in New Zealand, it’s time for us to meet our international obligations and urgently tackle this problem. Solar provides an option that addresses more than just dirty fossil fuels: It also gives families lower energy bills, and puts the ownership of our electricity system into the hands of people, not corporations.

And solar is rapidly becoming the cheapest form of new generation globally. Traditionally, wind has trumped solar when it comes to renewable electricity.  But as solar declines in price, it’s now beginning to undercut wind generation in some parts of the world. Wind will definitely be part of moving towards 100% renewable generation in New Zealand, but so will solar and batteries, which have the advantage of producing power very close to where they are used, which means less need for the costly infrastructure needed to transport electricity.

And although here in New Zealand domestic solar is still more costly than commercial scale solar due to higher installation costs, these costs are expected to rapidly fall as the market develops scale and as solar prices decline globally.

To those naysayers about our sunlight hours: Solar panels are actually pretty well correlated with New Zealand demand, and are just as effective here at reducing CO2 emissions as in Germany, the US and Australia. The key is that solar panels displace the need for thermal generation like coal - the more you have, the more redundant dirty fuels become.  

And with the electricity industry stating that it has no plans to build any new renewable generation here anytime soon, solar is the only option on the table for people who want to help make New Zealand more sustainable.

MYTH 3: Solar will put more pressure on the grid during peak times

The electricity industry consistently argues that solar panels don’t do anything to reduce peak electricity use, which the lines companies say is a key driver for network investment and therefore cost. This has been the justification of Hawke’s Bay lines company, Unison, which has started issuing its solar users with an extra charge (read: tax).

But what the lines companies are ignoring are the social aspects of solar panels, not just the engineering ones.

Think about it: If one of the major drivers for investment in solar is lower bills, then it should follow that solar users will seek to maximise the value of their generation by shifting their power usage so they use as little grid electricity as possible at peak times when it’s the most expensive.

This certainly rings true from our experience. Every solar user we met while filming our Solar Series in the Hawke’s Bay was already using load shifting techniques. These varied from simple things like putting timers on fridges and shifting washing and drying cycles to during the day, through to using more complex systems like smart meters and hot water load controllers.

You could even go as far as to say that contrary to what the lines companies will have you believe, solar users are actually reducing pressure on the grid during peak times and therefore the need to keep upgrading the infrastructure. In this way, they are effectively subsiding non-solar users.

And with the looming debut of highly efficient electricity battery storage, things are about to get even more interesting around here. In the near future, solar users will be able to easily choose when they’d like to use solar energy and grid energy, and many will be able to be completely self-sufficient. The need for the national grid is set to dramatically decrease and how we consume electricity in New Zealand will be unrecognisably different.

It’s this that’s the very nub of the problem – the thorn in the electricity industry’s side.

In fact, if you were an industry player you’d almost say that it’d be in the interests of your bottom line to start discouraging solar uptake here asap.

Oh wait