Free Panels Place Solar Power Within Reach for Kiwis

By: Tess McClure

Workers install some of the first free solar panels under the “SolarZero” scheme at a St Albans home.

Solar panels will be a more common sight on kiwi rooftops as free panels are offered for those committing to buying the energy.

Energy firm Solarcity has announced a nationwide scheme where home owners can get solar panels installed on their roof for free, if they then buy the energy it produces.

The move means customers can now buy solar power just as they would conventional – except it will be coming off their own roof. Until now, one of the main barriers to solar power was the significant layout cost of having it installed. By erasing that cost, local firm Solarcity is hoping to see a groundswell of popularity for the renewable technology.

Solarcity founder and chief executive Andrew Booth said the SolarZero scheme would “remove the whole upfront cost of solar, which in New Zealand is a huge barrier”.

“We know that 85 per cent of Kiwis want to go solar but the vast majority of them can’t afford the $10,000 to put a solar system on their roof. With SolarZero it’s no longer an issue, because you don’t have to pay anything up front,” he said.

The design, installation, insurance and maintenance of the panels was also covered by the company, which is already New Zealand’s largest solar provider for residential homes.

Booth said the cost of power for those using the panels would be less than those buying conventional – but would only provide for daytime hours. For night-time use, customers would still have to buy off the grid.

He said Solarcity would examine the power needs of the household, cater the installation to meet that, and then set a fixed rate. “We can set a price for solar power generated from your roof at a rate below what’s charged by your current power company and then fix this rate for 20 years,” he said.

The first Canterbury households had free panels installed this week under the scheme.

The company is aiming to fit out 5000 New Zealand houses over the next two years. Anyone around the country can sign up.

Trevor Foster, sales manager of Enasolar, another solar technology company, said there were some question marks around the scheme, and consumers should be sure to understand all the future implications of signing up.

“There are serious questions around such a program – like if you then sell that house, you have to find someone to take up that lease arrangement you might have which could be up to 20 years – and if the new buyer doesn’t want that liability, what do you do? You have to buy yourself out of the contract,” he said.

“If the new buyer doesn’t want it, it doesn’t become an asset – it becomes a liability.”

Booth said that if customers did choose to sell their homes, they had the option of transferring ownership of the contract, or taking the panels with them to their next home. He said the panels could easily be removed from the roof without damage or displacement.

He said if the company failed or went into liquidation, a standby service provider would step in and run the business. Westpac bank has taken some responsibility in backing Solarcity.

“[If the company goes under] Westpac take all responsibility for operating the systems, so basically Westpac stand behind the proposition,” he said.

SolarZero is backed by Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 investment and New Zealand Superannuation fund through Pencarrow.


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