LAWMAKERS yesterday pledged to press ahead with legislation governing the use of net metering for households, while the energy regulatory authority and the power utility announced the launch of a 12-month pilot net-metering scheme to determine whether the grid can take the extra capacity.

Net metering is an electricity policy for consumers who own (generally small) renewable energy facilities, such as wind, solar power or home fuel cells. "Net," in this context, is used in the sense of meaning "what remains after deductions" — in this case, the deduction of any energy outflows from metered energy inflows. Under net metering, a system owner receives retail credit for at least a portion of the electricity they generate.

Currently, there is no law and no policies governing photovoltaic (PV) systems connected to the grid of the Electricity Authority, except under government-funded schemes. It is however possible to generate PV energy provided however that one is not connected to the grid. That's the reason why MPs want to expedite legislation.

MPs of the House Commerce Committee heard yesterday that the installation cost for a 7kw PV system ranges between €11,500 and €15,000 (not including VAT), with a household expected to cover the investment in five to seven years through paying less for electricity.

Environment Commissioner Charalambos Theopemptou has estimated that, out of the 25-year lifetime of a PV system,  households that install the appropriate PV system can end up not paying for electricity for up to 19 years.

With no end in sight to the credit crunch, and households bracing for their electricity bills this coming winter, the legislation is a win-win for both politicians and RES advocates.

It's safe to say the Electricity Authority (EAC) and the Energy Regulatory Authority (CERA) had so far not been on board with the idea of a consumer-led net metering system.

At the House Commerce committee session yesterday, CERA raised two main objections to net metering. The first, by way of example, is that although PV systems do not create electricity at night, they store energy generated during daylight. CERA officials argued that, in this way, persons with PV systems "take advantage" of the power grid, which the PV system needs to run.

But Theopemptou says it's a flimsy argument: the EAC charges a €6 connection fee, which means that even if you turn off the main power switch for the entire month, you will still get a bill of €6.

The second objection concerns fears that the grid may not be able to handle the extra capacity generated by hundreds or thousands of small PV systems. Thousands of persons have applied for PV systems, and installing them all at once might "stun" the grid.

Theopemptou tells the Mail there are ways around this: for instance, one could impose restrictions on the number of PV systems per neighbourhood or area, to see how the grid copes. Moreover, given the initial high cost of a typical PV system, not everyone will be rushing to fork out 15 grand.

"They weren't worried about the photovoltaic systems installed so far under the various schemes, which didn't crash the grid, so why worry about net metering now?" Theopemptou says.

For the environment commissioner, these protestations by CERA and the EAC smack of delaying tactics:

"Why install a pilot scheme for net metering,  and for a whole year mind you, when you can go all the way right now?" he muses.

Moreover, the EAC and CERA insist the net-metering pilot should run on smart-metering.

A smart meter is usually an electrical meter that records consumption of electric energy in intervals of an hour or less and communicates that information at least daily back to the utility for monitoring and billing purposes. Smart meters enable two-way communication between the meter and the central system.

By contrast, the currently available "dumb" meters involve the presence of two separate meters, which record the difference between the two devices and must be logged by an on-site visit by an EAC employee.

Theopemptou points out that it will take time to decide first which technology to use for smart metering - wi-fi or high-frequency signals - and then implement it, and again claims that stonewalling tactics are at play.

"Sure, smart metering is better technology, but it's not necessary," he says.

The government has missed a September 3 deadline for submitting to the EU a national plan on implementing smart metering.

Theopemptou adds: "Who makes energy policy in Cyprus: the EAC or the government?"

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