Thursday, June 5, 2008

Israeli solar power companies hail new 'household' energy plan

Solar power companies hail new 'household' energy plan

by Ehud Zion Waldoks
June 4, 2008

Solar power companies were enthusiastic on Wednesday about the approval this week of a plan to encourage household solar electricity generation.

The Public Utilities Authority approved a plan Monday to buy electricity, at NIS 2.01 per kilowatt, from individuals and companies who install a photovoltaic solar panel system on their roofs.

"This plan makes these systems economically feasible for the first time," Shirasol Ltd. owner Aviva Konforty told The Jerusalem Post at the twelfth annual CleanTech Exhibition at Airport City on Wednesday.

Efi Luzon, general manager of RAND Energy Systems Ltd. concurred.

"This changes the entire market. We have customers who were waiting for this plan to be approved before closing the deal," he told the Post.

According to the authority's plan, individuals can put up a system to generate as much as 15 kW and businesses 50 kW. They can then use the output either to power their houses during the day, selling the rest back to the Israel Electric Company, or they can sell the entire output to the grid.

"It's not about how much electricity you can generate, it's about covering your electricity bill," Konforty explained.

Since the individual pays NIS .50/kW for electricity, she said, but the government will buy solar electricity at NIS 2.01/kW, you can easily cover your electricity bill.

However, she admitted, the initial costs are steep: In order to cover an electricity bill of NIS 550 requires 20 square meters of solar panels at a total cost of around NIS 70,000.

However, she said, the investment should be returned within six to seven years. The government has committed to paying NIS 2.01/kW for those who invest now and a slightly lower rate for those who begin over the next few years, for the next 20 years. Solar panels
are also very durable, with a more than 80 percent effectiveness rate even after 20 years, she added.

She also pointed out that the systems are mostly designed for warehouses, barns and other larger structures; multi-story apartment buildings are problematic because they don't have
enough roof space for all the tenants to install such a system, she noted.

Both Konforty and Luzon also stressed the reduction in pollution using solar energy would bring.
"The money saved over time in less pollution is very much worth it," Luzon said.

"Feed-in tariffs" such as this one are not new, according to Konforty. Europe and the US have been encouraging such plans for the last five years. What's more, photovoltaic technology has been around for 30 years, Luzon said.

It's only now that the world is becoming more environmentally aware, and the energy crisis is rising, that solar energy has really become popular, according to Luzon.

The Arava Power Company called the authority's decision "brave and historic" and praised the Authority's head, Amnon Shapira, and National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer for being the first regulatory body to approve a plan that "encourages alternative energy production by setting a realistic tariff which will enable the quick establishment of effective use of alternative energy."

The Arava Power Company, based in Kibbutz Ketura, fought hard to modify the plan to enable kibbutzim to participate as well.

Ben-Eliezer praised the authority's decision saying, "We will continue the revolution we began to turn Israel into a solar energy center and to increase its energy independence."

He then called on the Authority to draft tariffs for household wind energy as well as per his instructions.

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