Financial Incentives For Photovoltaics - Mechanisms

Mechanisms

Four incentive mechanisms are used (often in combination):

  • Investment subsidies: the authorities refund part of the cost of installation of the system.
  • Feed-in Tariffs/net metering: the electricity utility buys PV electricity from the producer under a multiyear contract at a guaranteed rate.
  • Solar Renewable Energy Certificates ("SRECs")

Investment subsidies

With investment subsidies, the financial burden falls upon the taxpayer, while with feed-in tariffs the extra cost is distributed across the utilities' customer bases. While the investment subsidy may be simpler to administer, the main argument in favour of feed-in tariffs is the encouragement of quality. Investment subsidies are paid out as a function of the nameplate capacity of the installed system and are independent of its actual power yield over time, so reward overstatement of power, and tolerate poor durability and maintenance.

Feed-in Tariffs (FiT)

With feed-in tariffs, the initial financial burden falls upon the consumer. Feed-in tariffs reward the number of kilowatt-hours produced over a long period of time, but because the rate is set by the authorities may result in overpayment of the owner of the PV installation. The price paid per kWh under a feed-in tariff exceeds the price of grid electricity.

Net metering

"Net metering" refers to the case where the price paid by the utility is the same as the price charged, often achieved by having the electricity meter spin backwards as electricity produced by the PV installation in excess of the amount being used by the owner of the installation is fed back into the grid.

Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs)

Alternatively, SRECs allow for a market mechanism to set the price of the solar generated electricity subsidy. In this mechanism, a renewable energy production or consumption target is set, and the utility (more technically the Load Serving Entity) is obliged to purchase renewable energy or face a fine (Alternative Compliance Payment or ACP). The producer is credited for an SREC for every 1,000 kWh of electricity produced. If the utility buys this SREC and retires it, they avoid paying the ACP. In principle this system delivers the cheapest renewable energy, since the all solar facilities are eligible and can be installed in the most economic locations. Uncertainties about the future value of SRECs has led to long-term SREC contract markets to give clarity to their prices and allow solar developers to pre-sell/hedge their SRECs.

Quick overview

Smart meters allow the retail price to vary as a function of time ("time of use pricing"). When demand is high the retail price is high and vice versa. With time-of-use pricing, when peak demand coincides with hot sunny days, the cost of solar electricity is closer to the price of grid electricity, and grid parity will be reached earlier than if one single price were used for grid electricity.

The Japanese government through its Ministry of International Trade and Industry ran a successful programme of subsidies from 1994 to 2003. By the end of 2004, Japan led the world in installed PV capacity with over 1.1 GW.

In 2004, the German government introduced the first large-scale feed-in tariff system, under a law known as the 'EEG' (see below) which resulted in explosive growth of PV installations in Germany. At the outset the Feed-in Tariff (FIT) was over 3x the retail price or 8x the industrial price. The principle behind the German system is a 20 year flat rate contract. The value of new contracts is programmed to decrease each year, in order to encourage the industry to pass on lower costs to the end users.

In October 2008, Spain, Italy, Greece and France introduced feed-in tariffs. None have replicated the programmed decrease of FIT in new contracts though, making the German incentive less attractive compared to other countries. The French FIT offers a uniquely high premium for building integrated systems.

France - Tarif d’Achat Photovoltaïque (2009)

Installation Type Feed-in-tariff Continental France Overseas Departments Remark Roof & ground-mounted 0.3 Euro / kWh 0.4 Euro / kWh 1. Duration: 20 years BIPV 0.55 Euro / kWh 0.55 Euro / kWh Focus on BIPV

National Target: 160MW by 2010 / 450MW by 2015 Tax credit for income tax payer: 50% reimbursement on equipment cost

In 2006 California approved the 'California Solar Initiative', offering a choice of investment subsidies or FIT for small and medium systems and a FIT for large systems. The small-system FIT of $0.39 per kWh (far less than EU countries) expires in just 5 years, and the residential investment incentive is overwhelmed by a newly required time-of-use tariff, with a net cost increase to new systems. All California incentives are scheduled to decrease in the future depending as a function of the amount of PV capacity installed.

At the end of 2006, the Ontario Power Authority (Canada) began its Standard Offer Program (http://www.powerauthority.on.ca/sop/), the first in North America for small renewable projects (10MW or less). This guarantees a fixed price of $0.42 CDN per kWh for PV and $0.11 CDN per kWh for other sources (i.e., wind, biomass, hydro) over a period of twenty years. Unlike net metering, all the electricity produced is sold to the OPA at the SOP rate. The generator then purchases any needed electricity at the current prevailing rate (e.g., $0.055 per kWh). The difference should cover all the costs of installation and operation over the life of the contract.

The price per Kilowatt hour (kWh) or kWp of the FIT or investment subsidies is only one of three factors that stimulate the installation of PV. The other two factors are insolation (the more sunshine, the less capital is needed for a given power output) and administrative ease of obtaining permits and contracts (Southern European countries are reputedly complex). For example Greece, at the end of 2008, had 3GWp of permit requests unprocessed and halted new applications .

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