By all accounts – you can take the IEA’s recent statements on the matter if you like – feed-in tariffs are the main policy driver behind renewables and photovoltaics in particular. Craig Morris wonders why the policy has such fierce opponents – and why they misrepresent the policy so much.
As someone with a moderately open mind, I promote the sharing of best practices. If you support renewables, feed-in tariffs (FITs) seem an obvious choice; they have been used successfully – even predominantly – for practically all types of renewable energy. The IEA says more than 70 percent of PV installed worldwide by the end of 2012 was the result of FITs.
Last summer, however, this report from the US claimed that FITs “[eliminate] energy efficiency” by encouraging “the consumer […] to build as large a system as possible instead of matching system size to their consumption behavior.” The website proposes net-metering for solar instead.
Not only does the website once again conflate FITs with solar power, but it also confuses the effect of FITs and net-metering on efficiency. True, in net-metering, your power meter runs backwards, so if you produce as much power as you consume at the end of the month, you have no power bill. If you produce more, however, you generally do not get the full retail rate back, however, so there is a built-in incentive in net-metering to keep arrays small.
There is therefore also less incentive to be efficient. The net-metering policy in North Carolina, which made the most progress with PV last year, stipulates that any power you produce in excess of what you consume is “granted to [the] utility” at the end of the year.
Now, let’s assume you have excess solar power. Rather than look for further ways to reduce your power consumption – which would only result in you getting your utility more solar power for free – you are likely to look for ways to consume that electricity you would otherwise give away. And if you do not yet produce more solar than you consume, keep in mind that all reductions in your power consumption bring you closer to giving your utility solar power for free.
Net-metering thus discourages efficiency.
In contrast, FITs paid for the power produced completely irrespective of consumption. Go ahead, buy those more efficient appliances – or switch them off and go to bed in the dark early. Whether you live like a caveman or have the air conditioner on to compensate for the waste heat from the lights that your saltwater aquarium needs, compensation for your solar power remains unaffected.