Solar Roof

Slowing down the sun

You know the story about how Maui slowed down the sun? Have you heard the modern tale about the electricity industry trying to slow down solar?

Green energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes visits a home powered by solar panels
Green energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes visits a home powered by solar panels

Kiwis are going solar in record numbers to escape rising power bills and get a degree of energy freedom, but the electricity industry is responding and using a host of tactics to try and discourage them. The industry’s latest tool is a new charge on solar, which the National Government’s Electricity Authority just gave the green light to.

Unison – the Hawke’s Bay, Taupō, and Rotorua’s electricity distribution monopoly – introduced a new charge for its customers with solar panels, which was promptly labelled a ‘solar tax.’ Unison argued it needed a new way to recoup costs as more and more of its customers produced their own power, but there’s some big flaws with it. Yesterday the Electricity Authority (EA) said criticised it as “not as clearly service-based and cost-reflective as it could be”, and not offering “sufficient choices to consumers” But the EA ruled it didn’t breach the Electricity Code. In response, the solar industry said the “electricity system is broken,” and I agree.

Basically, the EA slapped Unison on the wrist with a wet bus ticket and, to paraphrase, said: it’s not the way to go but who are we to stop them?

My fear is this decision will act as a dangerous precedent, encouraging other lines companies to introduce their own solar charges. Let’s be clear, this new solar charge is a blunt tool that is unfair, arbitrary, and discriminatory. It targets one particular technology and ignores the actual demand/supply issues which, with smart meters, can be managed much more appropriately.

Unison themselves say it doesn’t cover their costs. So Unison has basically blindly thrown a dart at the wall and picked an arbitrary price.

There are real issues facing lines companies around pricing for peak consumption, but it’s unfair to target and blame solar for the very things that the power companies have ignored for decades.

A better solution is more real-time pricing using smart technology, so all consumers and producers pay their fair share of costs. But because we have a total mess of a smart meter roll-out it’s unlikely. What we need is greater government leadership to encourage a fair go for everyone in the electricity industry and not just the big established companies. Government leadership should outline a vision of a modern, clean electricity grid, but in Simon Bridges we have an Energy Minister who is missing in action – more interested in photo opportunities that real change.

Green MP Gareth Highes spent the Parliamentary recess touring New Zealand meeting people who generate solar power
Images from Green energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes’ 2015 nationwide Fair Go For Solar tour

This solar charge comes on top of solar buy-back rates dropping more than 70% in some cases, new fees introduced, ridiculous red tape, and anti-solar reports funded in part by you the taxpayer. The attack on solar is happening because the big electricity companies see solar as a threat and they’d rather try to block its growth than compete on price.

Last year I had a Bill in front of Parliament establishing an independent umpire to give solar a fair go, but it was defeated by National and Peter Dunne. We face important questions on the future of our electricity grid. It’s high time we had a Government that stood for fairness, cleaner and cheaper energy, and not just more rising power bills, needless pollution from Huntly, and super-profits for the electricity industry.

 

40 Comments Posted

  1. I see that Gareth has grasped the essence of being a politician at a fairly young age.

    1) Buddy up with a lucrative industry (power generation being a pretty historically good one).

    2) Use your position to push whatever your buddies are selling no matter what the facts might be. Make sure you push for wealth transfers/subsidies from those who can’t afford or don’t want your buddies products to those who can/do so their businesses do well whatever their unassisted viability.

    3) If anyone opposes your pushing with inconvenient things like “science” or “analysis” then brand them as either incompetent or having been bought by your opponents. Never try to rebut them with actual dialogue.

    4) Use your position to try to create work-arounds or eliminate any government regulatory bodies who might oppose or restrict your buddies businesses.

    5) Always defer to your industry buddies as though they are as independent and credible as any real independent and credible opponent who might have produced something opposing them.

    While Gareth’s heart might be in the right place relative to renewable energy he seems to have an overall grasp on the situation that I think my kids could surpass. So, either he isn’t up for the job intellectually or he’s been totally bought by the solar industry (ideologically speaking).

    Interestingly, having looked into solar PV for our house I’ve been impressed with Solar City who have tried to work with me to find a way for it to make sense (with just panels and with batteries) but have concluded it won’t work for us. They seem to be under no illusion that solar is always good, and I’d say we are probably pretty well suited to it so it can’t work out for many. I wonder how many people have installed solar PV to, in Gareth’s words/vision, “escape rising power bills” and have realised that it doesn’t actually make financial sense, let alone being disappointed to learn they aren’t really helping the environment and are acting in a way that can penalise poorer people.

    Gareth, I call on you to either get a grip on your portfolio issues and be able to provide a rounded view on energy or hand it over to someone who can.

  2. Chris, you have no idea what I do know. Your reply also indicated that wind turbines can’t do low voltage ride through, which is not the case with newer machines which have to have this capability to meet newer standards.

    I never said how wind turbines or rather their control systems could provide inertia – you just guessed (wrongly) what I was thinking. The key to systems which can provide system inertia is to have some mechanism for storing or releasing some additional energy as the system frequency changes, whether by increasing or decreasing the rotation rate of a large mass, or by using another form of energy storage, such as supercaps.

    Still waiting for your details about the amount of inertia at Huntly and on the Waikato.

    Trevor

  3. Reflecting on John W and the reply from dbuckley I see sense in what both are reflecting. We have worked into a corner by using up the natural slack we had created with wood and fossil fuel, but solutions get very complex as we try to give fair answers. I posted a while back a smart new burner that charged 12 v and efficiently heated from what we call waste, one of these, animal dung. With our obsession with herd animal production in this country we have plenty of this, as we will have a growing number of retiries who can make meals off peak, even move in with families or sell bigger houses to families and aggragate for efficiency. Solving several issues. The problem is the community will, the same lack of community that is showing in the US police killings, even with ISIS recruiting the disaffected, probably copying the methods of the CIA from past decades. My point being the post war focus on commodity and convenience has not created a better social focus, probably depleted it by poisoning the human systems for compassion and consciousness.
    Thus we get to the solutions of a centrally generated infrastructure versus the dispersed solutions of methane from animals, solar, wind, etc. We seem to have an obsession with one answer fitting all, probably only really important to the process of industrial production of commodities. The solutions of nature in evolution are diversity based for success, not on one universal answer. This is where globalisation is failing us as we can only unite to allow diversity and difference, not to produce the local answer. But the answer of centralisation suits the financial power structures and those who are unwilling to find the energy to stand on the village community strength.
    For this reason I tend to support the so called imperfect process of local answers as cities as we know them are a modern idea and no where near the far older and proved diversity of nature. I see with the breakdown of social order in the more polluted northern hemisphere, no indication of evolutionary adaption to the mess we have, just indications we are like the Romans who poisoned there own nest.
    For this reason, I see a need to adapt to the loss of fossil fuels and their convenience, and probably our peak demand focus, to one of finding other answers. Thank goodness we have heaps of wool, possum fur, flax to use to keep warm. I find a lot of this discussion continues to try and find this collective answer. I pruned some productive trees the other day and have started about 20 olive cuttings to give away soon. This is the challenge of the baby boomers, instead of another fuel burning holiday, or living in a state of expectation.

  4. John W notes:

    …but I prefer to look at a bigger picture rather than argue on detail

    The big picture…. Back in 1978, a band performing around Merseyside (where I lived at the time) in the UK consisted a couple of guys and a four track tape recorder with the unlikely name of Winston. The tape recorder, not the band. They were a bit out there, and had what was, even by the standards of the day, an unusual band name, “Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark”. And they had a few good tracks. They eventually picked up some musicians and mates and toured bigger time, and became famous(ish), and had artistic differences, and it mostly went wrong for the band, if not their leader. But they left us with the music. And one such example is the track entitled Electricity. [YouTube Link]. I’ll paste in the lyrics:

    Our one source of energy
    The ultimate discovery
    Electric blue for me
    Never more to be free
    Electricity
    Nuclear and HEP
    Carbon fuels from the sea
    Wasted electricity

    Our one source of energy
    Electricity
    All we need to live today
    A gift for man to throw away
    The chance to change has nearly gone
    The alternative is only one
    The final source of energy
    Solar electricity

    Electricity
    Electricity…

    This is 1978. These guys were decades ahead of their time in all their thinking.

    Electricity is both the answer and the problem. We need to be smarter about how we generate it, distribute it, store it and use it. The costs of all of which have historically been dropping in real terms for a century.

    The real problem that no-one will talk about it population.

    Beers at the Moby?

  5. Trevor
    You don’t understand inertia at all. The wind turbine manufacturers can build into the system partial grid response by running them partially “throttled” up, but they want a lot of compensation to do that. They actually haven’t got a system working though. Even in that state, they still can’t do low voltage ride through.
    Synchronous condensers are significantly different to generating units, though you won’t find that out on Google. You will need to read textbooks for that.

  6. Gareth is upset because a report funded by the tax-payer did not favour solar power. Rather than blaming the power companies, what are the errors in this report?

    The report says that solar PV generates about twice as much power in summer as winter. Seems right to me, although I expected the ratio to be a bit higher than that. It probably would have been except that panels can’t generate when the sun shines on their back (summer mornings and evenings).

    The report also says that solar PV generates when homes often don’t use much power and doesn’t generate when homes do use a lot of power. Also seems right to me, and they have typical graphs to back this up.

    Perhaps the problem lies with the unsuitability of solar to meet New Zealand’s demands under New Zealand’s conditions rather than with the authors or sponsors of the report.

    Trevor.

  7. Chris, it is possible to use wind turbines and their converter systems to provide synthetic system inertia, so I am not worried about the amount of hydro power being generated at any one time. In any case, a spinning hydro generator can provide inertia even if it isn’t actually generating, such as when it is operating in tail-water depressed mode.

    If you want to ask me for numbers, how about providing some yourself. How much inertia does one Huntly unit provide? How much inertia do the stations on the Waikato provide? And if you want costings, how much would your solution cost?

    I haven’t costed upgrading any specific station to reversible storage. I don’t have an engineering department at my disposal. However SEF members have made the same proposal. Besides, what river? Most of the sites I am thinking of have two lakes with the hydro station virtually linking the two, or linked by a canal.

    Trevor

  8. db
    As well as John Martin’s good book, you can add Power to the People by Neil Rennie and Connecting the Country by Helen Reilly
    Trevor- if you want to sound even partially credible, you have to stop your fixation with pumped storage on a river. Currently, you have the dubious distinction of making Gareth look knowledgeable. Have you done any costing on your proposal? Even engineering feasibility? Then work out what benefits there may be – match it to load profiles. With regards your comments on wind, did you know that even currently, we are down to about 200-250MW of hydro in the North Island at 3am most nights – how much inertia do you think that provides? There is more in one Huntly unit than on the Waikato.

  9. DB
    Thank you for you response.
    I see where you are coming from but I prefer to look at a bigger picture rather than argue on detail. Details often divert attention to what is taking place at another level.

    In the 1930s and 40s domestic resistance heaters were not commonly used. Firewood and coal was seen as a cheaper option. I spent many hours on the end of a saw, mall with wedges and axe. Cooking was still done on a wood range in many households. Coal gas was reticulated in many town and the coke produced used to run chip heaters which gave a plentiful supply of hot water; with tar and other products extracted from coal providing disinfectant, sheep dip, industrial degreasers and other fluids. Coppers were used to boil up washing, cook hams, crayfish, make soap and all usually fired with wood.

    The change in the pattern of electrical energy consumption is very relevant and possibly the most concerning trend.
    Population has increased along with increased demand accompanying many new usages and a large amount of wastage.
    Apart from rising price which hits rich and poor, there is little done to dampen electricity demand. More usage is not a success story.

    The household with excessive consumption of Electricity is being subsidised by the frugal user applying your reference to the peak end costing more than otherwise. A graduated pricing may give a better incentive to consume less.

    Decreasing use of coal, oil and wood as fuel is very necessary but increase of electricity consumption is not. There are much smarter solutions.

    It may be viewed very simply that electricity has replaced the wasteful use of wood and polluting coal and oil but generating and distributing electricity also is wasteful use of our shrinking environment based resources.

    Humans have to move away from unnecessary consumption including electricity.

  10. BJ notes:

    So basically you are telling us that councils, with their limited local council resources, trying to do the job that I have pointed to as being a national responsibility incapable of being managed properly for the future through local lines companies with their limited local resources…

    Although you’re not wrong, the consistent underfunding of power by governments of all curs over a long period of time illustrates that governments are not willing to adequately fund electricity. So if you make it a national responsibility, it’ll still be undefrunded. Governments have many competing priorities for the cash they have, and the people are generally unwilling to allow the government to take more of their cash. So by offloading these costs to a completely independent revenue stream, ie electricity bills, there is at least no competition for the use of those funds.

    Why would you want o hand the lines company back to government so they can run them into the ground?

  11. You have made a somewhat surprising attack / comment on the state electricity generation and distribution. Any references to back this up or is it just impressions / a viewpoint.

    In what way is it surprising? As I said, its settled history. But because most of it happened prior to the web, and it’s a fairly niche topic, you’ll actually have to get paper references; I’d suggest you start with “People, politics, and power stations”, sadly long out of print. There is some great material on the IPENZ site about the achievement of the engineers of the time, who as I noted, did great things despite the governments trying to screw it up. Also IEEExplore has papers published in the day, great what, but no politics as to why, and to get beyond the abstract you’ll need to be somewhere with a subscription.

    To be fair – the vast majority of the electrical assets in New Zealand were financed by the taxpayer, and managed by the governments of the day. But despite the engineers telling the government what was required, governments chose to “defer” the building and improving of assets, which directly led the the power crises of the 1950s and 1960s. Again, to be fair, this was a period of stress for the electrical industry, as the power usage in New Zealand was increasing dramatically, as much as 15% per annum in some areas, a rate unmatched anywhere in the world at the time. The government were skeptical that this rate of increase would last. It did, for a considerable time. Find someone in their 70s, and ask them about dry years, power restrictions, rolling blackouts.

    And then there was the Nash government, the second Labour government of New Zealand. Who basically turned the electrical planning on it’s head, meaning that pretty much everything stopped or was “deferred”, until they got rolled at the next election, and the clock was turned back, not without losing at least three years of progress though. This isn’t to say that overall Labour did a worse job than National over the period under discussion, just that this particular government was an outlier.

    Just as one example of how things are better; since transpower have been able to make their own decisions, they’ve done things that needed to be done for a very long time, and that have always been “deferred”. They’ve put an alternative route in up the North island, upgraded the HVDC link, and removed the transmission constraints that prevented the link being used for north-bound transfers at high power without the risk of significant instability. They’re thinking about a HVDC tap at the top-of-the-south, and if and when they choose to do it, they’ll actually be able to do it, not just talk about it, and go to the government cap-in-hand.

    As another example, New Zealand has one of the oldest and most widespread load shedding and management systems in the world, a/k/a ripple control. Why is this? This was the engineers answer to an inadequate power system. its an engineering fact that a power system has to be built to handle the peak load, and that the last 1% of that capability comes at 10% of the cost. (I’ve lost the reference to that factoid, I wish I could find it again)

    In a money-constrained system, the the capability to generate and distribute power is constrained, but usage isn’t. New Zealand had, at the time, some of the cheapest power on the planet, which was partly responsible for the rate of increase of use. So the trick the engineers came up with was to “defer” (that word again!) power usage for non-critical loads, mostly hot water heating, to reduce the peak load on the system, and raise the average load, so a smaller but harder worked system would do the job that in an unconstrained environment would require more plant and more expenditure.

    After the breakup of the electricity system and some more investment, by-and-large, the need for load management was gone, and for a generator measured on the ability to produce profit, being able to supply more power is in line with their modus operandi. For industry, commerce, and people, having power available when you flicked the switch was a boon too. Ask old-timers about the big yellow light that many workplaces had that had a notice next to it which read “when lamp is lit reduce power usage”.

    Drifting off topic, I have a theory that the availability of cheap power is responsible for the state of our housing stock, and indeed building regulations. If a house was cold, plug in a heater. In the 1950s New Zealand had the third highest standard of living in the world (OECD data) so households could have resistance heaters in several rooms. Thus there was not the incentive that many other countries faced to reduce heating energy needs by better house design and insulation. As supporting evidence for this, the old switchboards in old houses (the black things with fuses on them) had the fuses for sockets labelled as “heating”.

  12. No need to panic Chris. New Zealand has a much better wind resource than Germany so our wind farms generate electricity more cheaply and more consistently, and we don’t need to look at the more expensive off-shore wind farms for our energy needs. Also both islands have decent amounts of hydro generation so we don’t run into South Australia’s problems with a lack of alternative generation.

    We will probably need to invest in upgrading some of our hydro stations to make them reversible, so we can store rather than curtail excess wind generation, which would also help store excess solar generation. However this is much cheaper than building new hydro stations.

    Trevor

  13. dbuckley “Folks with solar PV are, for the moment, being given money by poor folks without PV. Surely that isn’t right. Left leaning parties don’t normally support wealth transfers from the poor to the rich.” I could get quite offended about unfounded comments like this! While wanting to do the right thing for the future of the biosphere by reducing my Carbon footprint and installing solar, I could have instead bought an 80 inch TV, taken a CO2 spewing holiday, or upgraded my vehicle to a V8. Now I find I am now complicit in a wealth transfer from the poor to benefit my own personal enrichment. I’ll never look lightly at my attempts to reduce my load on the planet again! P.S. dbuckley, I’m still awaitingthe riches from my solar to arrive

  14. db
    You have made a somewhat surprising attack / comment on the state electricity generation and distribution. Any references to back this up or is it just impressions / a viewpoint.

    Upon energy corporatisation the nations grid was allowed to age and maintenance was severely cut back. Indications of rusting pylons were testimony to neglect whereas the Govt Electricity Dept renewed and refurbished pylons on a regular scheduled basis. The parts were salvaged and refurbished by the departments not contractors.
    Govt standards of infrastructure design and implementation were strictly regulated and managed by engineers, not CEOs.

    I watched the grid stock deteriorate 1st hand.

    My view differs from yours regarding the State’s intention to further develop the network. Political spin is not a reliable information source.

    Rogernomics for some became a religion floated on finely tuned PR for the gullible many of who having subscribed to it now defend their beliefs in spite of strong evidence of the damage done on many fronts.

  15. The brief version was that in the post war 40s and 50s, the electricity system was rubbish, and there were endless complaints about the service, In the late 50s the government convened a committee, which led to the wholesale building of generating plant, but transmission remained an unloved child. In many parts of the country, local distribution, the bailiwick of what we now call lines companies, was in the hands of local councils.

    So basically you are telling us that councils, with their limited local council resources, trying to do the job that I have pointed to as being a national responsibility incapable of being managed properly for the future through local lines companies with their limited local resources, were incapable of doing the job properly with their limited local council resources. The difference between the local council rates and the local lines company bills for different regional population densities and conditions, doesn’t seem significant.

    Not sure you haven’t helped make my point 🙂

    I’m actually in favour of lines charges being proportioned by some sort of averaged peak loading, mainly for the reason that it pouts the customer in control of their bills, and provides a way that customers can reduce their bills as an incentive.

    Three things…. The electricity consumed can be charged on that basis, no argument. Went through something like that before. The lines are a public good, a service provided for everyone and this should not be billed at all.

    So in the 1980s the government got rid of the whole thing, and it is incredible how much better the entire electricity system is now compared to how it was at any time before.

    I don’t think the causality you are using is the causality that applies to that change. That’s purely ideology talking. I don’t give a rat’s hinder whether Roger rogered the electrics or not. My point purely draws on what is… and it isn’t doing what it needs to do to support us using distributed source and intermittent source electricity. Nor will it unless the government forces it to happen.

  16. BJ Notes

    … but I’d really rather have the services that everyone in the country needs and which need to be integrated nationally, managed in a unified manner

    Great theory. And that is how electricity was from about 1915, when the Government jumped in to this new fangled electricity stuff, taking over from the privateers who had been doing local stuff since the late 1800s, until the whole thing was dumped out of government management in the 1980s. It is settled history that these were terrible years for electricity, saved only by the brilliance of some very clever engineers who managed to build an operating (but not robust) electrical system, despite the governments of all colours consistent mishandling and consistent underfunding.

    It is trendy these days to conflate Rogernomics and government dumping of electricity, but they were two separate threads, and the government would have divested itself of electricity even had Rogernomics never occurred; the writing was on the wall well before the Rogernomics era. The brief version was that in the post war 40s and 50s, the electricity system was rubbish, and there were endless complaints about the service, In the late 50s the government convened a committee, which led to the wholesale building of generating plant, but transmission remained an unloved child. In many parts of the country, local distribution, the bailiwick of what we now call lines companies, was in the hands of local councils.

    So in the 1980s the government got rid of the whole thing, and it is incredible how much better the entire electricity system is now compared to how it was at any time before. Its still not perfect, but then,. perhaps nothing ever is. It is undeniably better.

    So if you are calling for a return to public ownership, with all the mismanagement and damage that made to New Zealand’s electricity system, I’m going to fight you all the way. I understand the theory, public ownership, common good, all these good things but in practice that wasn’t the way it worked. I have zero faith that a modern government would do any better job than any of those governments of the 20th century.

  17. Your suggestion on peak loading is a lot more sense – it has been done before for industries but then has usually been the average of the 10 highest load half hour periods. However, it does require a lot more data acquisition from all the meters in real time by retailers. Invariably, people will complain about that because of its intrusive nature.

    Industrial peak load meters were big and expensive, which is why they could only be justified where the revenue numbers were large.

    We’re all getting smart meters. They record peak load every half hour. That’s perfect for a peak load scheme of lines company charging. The half hour actual consumption data is already being used by the likes of Flick for charging purposes. Other companies are doing the “free hour” scheme.

  18. Gareth wrote:
    “Government leadership should outline a vision of a modern, clean electricity grid, but in Simon Bridges we have an Energy Minister who is missing in action – more interested in photo opportunities that real change.”
    Next to this are some photo opportunities featuring Gareth. I am still waiting to see Gareth’s plans for meeting the North Island peak electricity demands on winter evenings with at least N-1 security of supply without using fossil fuels. One could get the impression that there isn’t much difference between Simon and Gareth.

    Wind and solar – especially solar – cannot be relied on to meet those winter peaks. It takes hydro, geothermal and storage. Much of our hydro is in the South Island, so adding a fourth HVDC link undersea cable is likely to be part of the solution, possibly coupled with increasing the power rating of the generators and turbines at the South Island hydro stations. Increasing the power rating of the North Island hydro stations will also help meet the peak demands but the storage behind these stations is limited. Changing some of these stations to reversible generators able to pump the water back up from one lake to another will allow more off peak power to be stored and used at peak times. Building more geothermal plant will help. However none of this is cheap. Those homeowners installing solar power still need external power at night and should help pay for its provision, rather than expecting to be paid peak power rates for the power they want to sell at off-peak times.

    For New Zealand – the land of the long white cloud – solar was never going to be a big part of the answer. It generates most power in summer but our demand peaks are in winter, and its generation is during the day peaking around midday but our demand peaks are morning and night with a trough around midday. Wind is a far better match for our needs, coupled with hydro storage. With capacity factors around 40% or higher, wind generation is much more likely to be able to meet our demands than solar with a capacity factor around 15% (for most New Zealand areas).

    Trevor

  19. At the end of the day, what this is is just a question of how a money pie is divided amongst all customers, if one (or many) customers have their fuses reduced to reduce their lines charges, the cost simply falls on other consumers.

    Customers only? Why? The lines have to be there for everyone, whether they connect or not. You’ve made an assumption that I refuse to allow to just slide in quietly DB. The power can be (I think) private and competed if you really insist. I don’t think that’s the best idea available but there’s no way to regard it as utterly impossible. For the lines companies the reality is that there can be no competition. so making believe there is a market doesn’t really help.

  20. I’m (mostly!) very happy the way the electricity industry is structured in New Zealand, and I really like that my lines company are accountable at the very local level. I far prefer that to some faceless bureaucrats in government.

    I accept that there will be folks who have that as an ideological position, but I’d really rather have the services that everyone in the country needs and which need to be integrated nationally, managed in a unified manner, not in some pathologically divided and unequal mess.

    Moreover, the adjustments you think are needed aren’t the same as the adjustments I expect to be required within the next 20 years. If we started RIGHT now and did it on a crash basis going at it as hard as we could, we might reach much of what I think is necessary in that score of years. If we play this according to the market, our kids are f****d. Unless we put a CO2 price of $200/tonne on emissions today, in which case we’re f****d. Neither extreme gets us anywhere.

  21. db I wasn’t being that serious with my suggestion. It will penalize a lot of people like you point out. However, If the pro-solar lobby keep on making the noise they do, the lines companies are likely to bring in the charges solely on capacity. That way they meet the transparency requirements that Gareth complained about.
    Your suggestion on peak loading is a lot more sense – it has been done before for industries but then has usually been the average of the 10 highest load half hour periods. However, it does require a lot more data acquisition from all the meters in real time by retailers. Invariably, people will complain about that because of its intrusive nature.

  22. Chris Morris notes:

    However to be truly transparent, lines companies should have their lines charges as a connection fee based solely on the size of your power cable going into your house

    That is indeed one way of determining lines company charges, and is in many ways fairer than the existing scheme. Indeed it may be the fairest solution, is it most accurately represents the cost of connection of a dwelling. It also has the possibility of raising some people’s line charges significantly, as they have (say) a 63A connection, and an average load of perhaps 5A.

    Where this falls down is that when the customer screams and then the lines company change the pole fuse to 40A, they will pay less in line charges, but the infrastructure for the 63A connection is already purchased and on the books. Because, at the end of the day, what this is is just a question of how a money pie is divided amongst all customers, if one (or many) customers have their fuses reduced to reduce their lines charges, the cost simply falls on other consumers.

    I’m actually in favour of lines charges being proportioned by some sort of averaged peak loading, mainly for the reason that it pouts the customer in control of their bills, and provides a way that customers can reduce their bills as an incentive.

  23. If one house generates power and puts it back into the grid while being paid a reasonable amount per KWh. then the load drawn by the house next door will be inexpensive for the power company having few transmission losses and little infrastructure needed to supply that power.

    First, in New Zealand, there are no such things as power companies. We have generators, transmission (Transpower), lines companies, and retailers, and a strange halfbreed known as a genetailer. No power companies.

    If one house generates power and puts it back into the grid … then the load drawn by the house next door will be inexpensive for the [WHO?] having few transmission losses

    In broad terms, yes, if there are people contributing to the grid then the generators will need to supply less power.

    … and little infrastructure needed to supply that power.

    The size of the infrastructure required to supply power does not vary by the load at a point in time; it is set by the peak demand required, which is determined during distribution construction. For domestic situations, the peak demand is not when the sun is shining, it is in the evening. Thus for any normal house, the daytime reduced load or net contribution is smaller than the nighttime peak load.

    Since it is the peak load that the lines company have to build to handle, then the fact that some of the time the house uses less than its peak load is irrelevant.

  24. John W is trying to apply the experiences of other countries to New Zealand and it doesn’t work. Unlike many countries that are using solar PV, New Zealand’s peak electricity demand is NOT on hot sunny days but instead is on cold winter nights. Under those conditions, the Solar PV panel on the roof will not be doing anything to help power that house, never mind the house next door.

    Another argument presented for “giving solar a fair go” is that a home owner using solar PV to reduce their electricity bill is no different to a home owner installing more efficient light bulbs or better insulation. But more efficient light bulbs reduce the home owner’s power demand every night, including on those winter peaks. Similarly better insulation or more efficient heating appliances (i.e. heat pumps) also reduce the winter heating peak power demand. Unlike solar PV, these measures do reduce the peak power demand and therefore the amount of infrastructure required to meet that demand.

    Trevor

  25. Johh W: Greenpeace and the “solar tax”.

    There are only two possible situations. Either Greenpeace don’t know they are wrong, and are spouting bollocks from a point of ignorance. Or Greenpeace know they are wrong, and are flat out lying to the public and their supporters. Either way, its shameful. Sadly, a lot of people believe Greenpeace, and then go on to broadcast their erroneous bollocks as fact.

  26. We should not even have a lines charge on the bill. It should come out of the general taxation of the nation as the lines service is provided to everyone

    I accept that there will be folks who have that as an ideological position, but I’m (mostly!) very happy the way the electricity industry is structured in New Zealand, and I really like that my lines company are accountable at the very local level. I far prefer that to some faceless bureaucrats in government.

    The other issue with it being funded as a common good by general taxation is that we have nearly a century of history proving that governments didn’t fund the system adequately. Therefore there is no basis to assume that under government control and funded by general taxation that the outcome for local distribution would be any better than it is today, and history shows it would be worse.

    You only have to look at the Unison area, where the lines company are still battling with massive under-investment by the government when they had ownership.

    The actual investments required to upgrade the system to allow Solar to feed-in sensibly, and to avoid overfeeding the duck

    At the lines company level, that simply isn’t an issue, as I’ve already noted. There are parts of the system that will have to change to manage the (mostly negative) impacts of adding a lot of rooftop solar to the mix, but with one exception (voltage management) they aren’t at the lines company level, so again the argument falls short. For any reasonable rate of rollout, for example, every house has solar within five years, the rate of change and investment required at the lines compnay level is not outside the scope of what a well managed lines company can acheive within the existing operational and financial envelope.

    I’ll cite Hawaii as an example, which has incredible solar penetration; the addition of all that solar has had massive impacts on the electricity systems, but the power company has not had to wholesale rewire Hawaii. The distribution doesn’t care which way the power flows, as long as there is enough overall capacity, which for any sane configuration, there always is. (Yes, Unison has some insane configurations)

  27. A rationale that dissects a limited part of the whole picture and bases argument on that, has to be flawed.

    If one house generates power and puts it back into the grid while being paid a reasonable amount per KWh. then the load drawn by the house next door will be inexpensive for the power company having few transmission losses and little infrastructure needed to supply that power.

    Also the reduced load on the network as local generation expands, alters the demand and management of the network. The projected daytime profit made from local solar generation and variable hours of wind generation, is not being included in discussion.

    Also those who are locally generating their own power, potentially reduce demand on the national system. This means capital applied for maintenance and expansion is also reduced in the longer term.

    Centralised power generation and distribution is of course easier to control and manipulate for profit.

    Various arguments can be pick over details and selectively construct a case.

    Many decades of State generated and distributed power in NZ fed customers nationally, and even up long driveways without harsh installation and maintenance. costs.

    That situation played a significant part in the development of our communities, industries and businesses, health and welfare, and cohesiveness as a nation.

    Nothing stands alone.

    http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2016/07/14/new-zealands-electricity-watchdog-gives-green-light-to-kill-solar-power-greenpeace/

  28. Robin
    Thank you for correcting the post, though normal protocol is to put a footnote in the post about the change.
    db – you are correct that there is a lot of the SWER in the region (about 20km in all along the Napier Taupo Road is just one part) and there must be very high maintenance costs associated with it as there would be very few customers on those stretches of lines, none of whom would be high energy users.
    We are unable to see the EA’s decision because a few of the original complainants to EA wanted confidentiality. This makes it very hard to judge exactly what the EA took into account. We are unable to determine what the EA means by “We have previously stated that Unison’s new tariff is not as clearly service-based and cost-reflective as it could be, and doesn’t offer sufficient choices to consumers” However to be truly transparent, lines companies should have their lines charges as a connection fee based solely on the size of your power cable going into your house. This would be similar to other monopolies.
    I note on the EA website, there is a consultation document with a report by NZIER where they reach the same opinion about domestic solar being a waste of resources as the Commissioner for the Environment.

  29. I think you’re still missing most of my point DB… the issue is that it should not be up to the individual customers in an area to fund the lines maintenance and development. It is the responsibility of the nation to ensure that the electrical grid is capable of supporting the nation. Not the responsibility of the farmers in the back blocks. We should not even have a lines charge on the bill. It should come out of the general taxation of the nation as the lines service is provided to everyone. I buy my electricity from Meridian or whoever, but the only variable in which there is any justification to charge differently for lines by way of electricity supply one place or another, is in the distance related line losses and that is complicated enough and small enough to simply cover it.

    The actual investments required to upgrade the system to allow Solar to feed-in sensibly, and to avoid overfeeding the duck, are not small. We’re not doing it right now and we aren’t going to as long as we rely on the market to drive it.

    https://energyathaas.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/the-duck-has-landed/

  30. Those investments have returns on investment that run from decades to centuries and are not able to be made by the lines companies themselves. The resources aren’t there.

    Based on a sample size of one, which is my local lines company, I’d disagree. My sample is limited because I study my local company in detail, and know what they are up to, whereas my knowledge of other lines companies is more limited.

    The Unison situation is a difficult one; they are a profit making company that has the worst lines company deal in the country. They cover a massive area, with a sparse population, no population centres, with a lot of aging kit from decades of public ownership. They use aggressive load management in places to reduce peoples desire to consume electricity. They have chunks of their network still using Mandeno’s Clothesline, which I think is unique to NZ. Its fair to say that Unison are struggling to maintain their network.

    But even so, this debate isn’t about how good or bad or suitable the lines company networks are for the changing electricity mix; its simply about the fair apportionment of costs. Folks with solar PV are, for the moment, being given money by poor folks without PV. Surely that isn’t right. Left leaning parties don’t normally support wealth transfers from the poor to the rich.

    From the lines company perspective, everyday folks can add solar PV on their house to the existing network all they want, up to about 3KW per house, which is a “normal” size system anyway, providing that (a) the total of PV on the zone doesn’t exceed the minimum load on the zone, as then annoying and bad things happen, and (b) the income to the lines company fairly reflects the usage made by homes with solar PV.

    There is no crisis here. Or even a drama.

  31. The thing about the corporate structure is simply this. The lines management and infrastructure is a public good.

    To develop and adapt to new power systems is difficult enough. Those investments have returns on investment that run from decades to centuries and are not able to be made by the lines companies themselves. The resources aren’t there.

    A service that is as ubiquitous and essential to the nation’s health as roads, internet and rail and by our structuring it as private it is impossible for us to invest in properly. The lines companies should be managed by and the development of new capabilities within it funded by… ourselves in the form of our government.

    Really.

  32. In the world of the lines company, all costs are fixed costs; there are no costs that vary by the amount of power that is consumed. Their costs are basically employees, and plant. Plant like the lines in the street, transformers, substations and the like. This kit has to have sufficient capacity to deliver the maximum possible peak load, and thus most of the time it is not used at anywhere like capacity, but the capacity has to be there (and paid for!) for when its needed.

    The question then becomes one of how allocate the total costs of the line company network over the the customer base it serves. The model used at present is to basically add up all the costs, divide that big number of dollars by the number of KWh transported, to give a dollar cost per KWh, which is then either billed directly to the customer, or added to the retailer’s KWh charge to form a composite amount.

    Although this system isn’t really fair, it is not terribly unfair, and has the social advantage of spreading the costs out in proportion to use, and the big advantage of being trivial to administer.

    But… once distributed generation came about, this model breaks, as some people use less KWh, and thus pay less of a contribution to the network, even though their need and usage of the network is unchanged. If they pay less, then clearly other folks have to pay more, as the network costs remain unchanged. As an extreme example, imagine a situation where 50% of folks have solar and 50% don’t. Under this situation each neighbour without solar effectively gives their neighbour with solar a few bucks a month.

    So what is a more fair system to allocate those costs? There are options, and it is exactly this that the EC are consulting on.

    A better solution is more real-time pricing using smart technology, so all consumers and producers pay their fair share of costs. But because we have a total mess of a smart meter roll-out it’s unlikely.

    Well that second sentence is utter bollocks, isn’t it. The smart meter rollout is happening, and all smart meters installed to date are capable of delivering the data necessary for any of the suggested alternative pricing methods.

  33. The lines companies are structured as businesses and are required to show a profit as though they are businesses

    Most line companies are non-profit companies or trusts owned by the customers of the lines company. For example, the lines company that serves my area is MainPower, and every month on the electricity bill I get a rebate from them which is my share of the profit they made from me and all the other customers.

    Of course, it is exceptions that prove rules, and Unison, the lines company at the centre of this discussion, are one of the lines companies that are for profit.

  34. Chris – I can read the original and read this and the difference that word makes is not significant to me. The EA said no breach and that’s the important message.

    Overall –
    There is a single simple problem here. The lines companies are structured as businesses and are required to show a profit as though they are businesses. This is a real problem in that they are clearly unique and natural monopolies as well as being infrastructure critical to the health of the nation.

    This makes the lines the responsibility of the government. Period. Not a State-Owned-Enterprise. Not a regulated monopoly.

    The difficulties with the lines adapting to the distributed generators definitely includes the rates issue and the smart metering that Gareth discusses. The power issue is compounded by the lack of effective and efficient storage methods and that has been and is an ongoing area of research. What has to be done is not able to be managed on a market basis. The monopoly makes competition impossible.

    This process is wrong and the mistake with respect to the lines company ownership structure is just another ideologically driven excess of the neo-liberal dominance of the past 30 years here in New Zealand.

  35. Thanks for pointing that out Chris. We’ve updated the quotes in the blog – Robin, Green Party staff, on behalf of Gareth Hughes.

  36. Gareth, the outline you have presented generally describes actions which discourage home based solar generation.

    The corporate moves to quell solar generation are generally despicable, as those corporates have seen little support from Govt for solar and so have had their own way.

    Several countries over seas have provided subsidies or other encouragement to small scale solar generation as well as providing good pricing structures for the selling of any extra capacity back into the grid. There are many sound long term argument for supporting solar generation while we get our head around reducing dependency on electricity, which in the long run is what will take place.

    In the meantime we hear widely varying justifications for continued farming of our environmental assets by private corporates and partially privatised state assets.

    The reduction of price for generators is transparently anti competitive and devoid of a cooperative understanding of where we are heading.

    For the corporates, horizons are short term profit and crushing competition any way they are permitted to. Regulation is needed to protect solar generation across the spectrum of small scale generation using other than carbon based sources.

    It is not a matter of comparing “economics” and “profit” based arguments to prop up profit margins of inflated investments by Corporate bodies.

    The majority of NZders did not want privatisation of energy assets.

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