Solar Buddies innovation heating up NZ solar market
18 June 2018
Trustpower's Solar Buddies innovation heating up NZ solar market
After just 6 months, Trustpower’s innovative ‘Solar Buddies’ plan has become New Zealand’s largest peer-to-peer solar power trading platform.
Solar Buddies introduces a win/win solar buyback plan. Trustpower customers with solar panels installed can now choose to sell or gift their excess solar power to their friends, family, neighbours, organisations or charities.
‘Peer-to-peer trading’ is a concept that is gaining attention globally as small-scale renewable power generation expands. Few companies in NZ have succeeded in making it work though, and none on the same scale as Solar Buddies.
“Feedback from our initial 6 month trial has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Trustpower General Manager Markets, Craig Neustroski. “Solar Buddies customers, community groups and solar installers alike are excited about the plan.”
A customer with solar panels installed usually sends their excess solar power back into the electricity grid via their power company. The power company will typically pay an average of 7-8c per unit for that power. This is called a ‘buyback’ rate.
With Solar Buddies, the solar seller can choose to sell their excess power to their “buddy” (for example, a friend or neighbour), and together they will agree on a buyback rate they are both happy with, say 15c per unit. The rate agreed is typically below the average rate the buddy currently pays for power (around 25-30c per unit), but above the average 7-8 c grid buyback rate. Some sellers are choosing to sell at 0c, as a gift to a relative or charity.
“Solar buddies is easy to set up, and being able to negotiate a price that really suits both of us means we both win and I save a lot on my power bill too,” says Kristy Hoare, Trustpower customer and owner of independent solar service website www.mysolarquotes.co.nz. “I’m in Tauranga but I purchase excess solar energy from a solar generator in Nelson. I didn’t know anyone locally that I could buy from, but Solar Buddies is available nationwide, which is a unique concept and made the setup a lot easier.”
“I sell my excess solar power to my neighbour,” says Mark, a Tauranga Trustpower customer. “He pays me 22c per unit, and has two properties set up on Solar Buddies, his house, and his bach. I pay a monthly fee to a solar panel company to have solar panels on my roof, so it’s a great way to save a bit on that cost and also benefit from having solar installed”
“New Zealand households and businesses, like those overseas and particularly in Australia, are showing increasing interest in generating their own power,” says Neustroski. “Solar panels and associated hardware have dropped in price over recent years, to the point where more than 4000 solar systems are being installed across the country per year.”
“There are nearly 18,000 solar panel owners in NZ and the number is rising steadily. It is becoming a common thing for people to look at, whether building new or retrofitting. Solar panels suit a wide range of buildings such as residences, offices and motels, depending on location and which way the roof faces. The economics are not quite as good as in Australia, where the sunshine hours are higher and customers use a lot more of the energy themselves due to their relatively high summer air condition load, but it is becoming a viable option for more and more people in New Zealand” says Neustroski.
“Solar Buddies is revolutionising the solar installation market,” says Tauranga-based consultant for panel installer SkySolar, Richard Billington. “People installing solar panels can now make a decent return on their investment. With Trustpower’s Solar Buddies plan you’re looking at a financial return from solar panels that is considerably better than the average term investment. It’s completely changing the way we talk about solar energy generation.”
Solar Buddies is also providing a win for community groups and charities. Billington explained that one of their clients is a community of kindergartens. “There are fifteen kindergartens altogether, four of those have solar panel installations, and they sell their excess solar power to the remaining eleven” says Billington.
Nelson based property manager Janette Haunch is a Solar Buddies buyer herself, and also looks after two medical centres with solar panel installations. “The centre’s solar panels generate enough that they can sell to many local Solar Buddies, with more to spare. We now sell excess solar power to local friends, and to a Tauranga community group at a win-win rate of 15c per unit. It’s a no-brainer for us, and the business is very happy, there’s a dual benefit in making money and helping a community group reduce their running costs at the same time.”
With Solar Buddies, solar sellers are making better returns on their solar investments, and have the freedom to sell or gift their excess solar energy to buyers anywhere in New Zealand, provided they are Trustpower customers. Each Solar Buddy can purchase up to 50 units (kWh) of solar energy per month. There are no extra fees to become a Solar Buddy, and Trustpower doesn’t charge a fee for units sold through Solar Buddies.