solarcity CEO and Founder Andy Booth

Solar power’s ‘Netflix’

New service offers big power savings for Kiwi households.

A service being likened to ‘Netflix on the roof’ is kick-starting a mass consumer movement towards the domestic use of solar power.

Auckland and Nelson based solarcity has launched the service - called solarZero - in which it installs solar panels and batteries for a fixed fee starting from $85 per month, saving householders thousands of dollars in upfront costs and an estimated $300 a year in power charges.

Gareth Williams, the company’s chief technology officer, says the service “is subscription based, similar to Netflix.”

He says they recognised things needed to change in order for there to be a more widespread acceptance of solar power: “We saw that the major barriers to the adoption of solar-based systems were upfront costs [up to $20,000] and the burden of owning and maintaining panels and batteries. So we started thinking about how we could address this and came up with the idea of solar power as a service.”

Launched late last year, solarZero comes as figures show solar power is contributing 0.2 per cent to the country’s overall electricity generation while as of 2018, 20,767 solar power systems have been installed.

solarZero has a fixed fee starting from $85 per month, including the installation of the panels and battery. Homes remain connected to the grid and are able to purchase power to ‘top up’ as and when needed at no additional margin. The contract is for 20 years and can be transferred to new owners or installed on a new house if the owner moves.

Williams says that the setup is relatively straightforward. Potential customers have an initial consultation where they discuss their energy needs and usage before establishing if their house is suitable for solar energy. A package is then developed for the customer and the panels and a battery are installed.

Solar energy from panels and a battery will usually account for up to 70 per cent of the power use, the rest of the power coming from the grid. solarcity works alongside power providers to ensure that there is an uninterrupted provision of power.

“This is completely unique,” says Williams. “I’m not aware of this type of integrated system [panels, batteries, grid electricity] anywhere else in the world.”

Williams says there are still plenty of misconceptions about solar power. He hopes increased awareness around solarZero’s service-based system will give people the assurance they need to switch to solar.

He says some of these misconceptions include:

Converting to solar power is expensive

In the past you could easily spend more than $20,000 on buying and installing panels and a battery. But solarZero removes the upfront costs of the hardware and installation, plus ongoing maintenance costs. And it means that you save money on power right from the start. “We estimate an average household would save $300 a year, so when you look at the savings of the 20-year contract period, that’s a lot of money,” says Williams.

I can’t use power when the sun’s not out

Solar panels work best when it’s sunny, and if the panels are generating more power than your home needs, that surplus is stored in the battery. Some power is generated even when it’s cloudy. You are able to use this surplus power after the sun has gone down and with solarZero, you can also access the grid for extra energy needs.

The panels look ugly on roofs

As solarZero panels are mounted just a few centimetres above your roof and on the same angle, they blend in really well. In some instances they can’t be noticed at all.

Solar panels require constant maintenance

As solar panels don’t have moving parts they require little maintenance. But any that is needed is covered by the regular fee paid for the solarZero system.

How will going solar help the environment?

As solar power doesn’t create emissions, it’s estimated that by powering your home this way you’ll prevent about 15 tonnes of CO2 entering the atmosphere over the next 20 years. That’s equivalent to the carbon savings of about 40 trees.

For more information about solarZero, visit