ICE solar program pays initial cost in 9-10 years

My company Poderco Renewable Energy has designed a photovoltaic system which has both a low cost of entry and will return the investment by the homeowner in 9 to 11 years. Our system is unique in that it will be affordable to most homeowners in Costa Rica and is very easy to install. Our company will do all the paperwork, so that there is no hassle dealing with bureaucracy of the Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. We have waited 11 years for ICE to join the rest of the world in allowing renewable energy systems to be connected to the grid.

The ICE pilot program will initially allow for 5 megawatts of generation from small renewable energy sources, such as solar photovoltaic, wind, mini-hydro, biomass and bio-digestors. In the case of solar photovoltaic systems, a customer of ICE needs to fill out a form available on the Web site and detail the size of the system they wish to install, including details of the proposed equipment and installation. If the design and equipment are up to code, ICE will approve the installation of the photovoltaic system up to a maximum of 10 kilowatt installed capacity. Once the system is installed, ICE will inspect it and they will remove the existing electrical meter and install a bi-directional meter which is similar to the ones that they currently install in industrial locations. These meters are able to measure the flow of energy both from the grid and to the grid. It is this capability which allows for the energy produced by a home photovoltaic system to be credited to the monthly bill. So the big question is how will this benefit ICE customers?

The rate structures for residential electricity are such that the first 200 kilowatts of energy costs 12.8 cents U.S. per kilowatt (at the 505 colon exchange rate). The next 99 kilowatts of consumption from 201 to 300 costs 23.5 cents and each kilowatt over 301 pays the highest rate of 32.4 cents. In our example of photovoltaic generated electricity, the solar system will produce energy during the day which is either consumed by the home directly, therefore reducing consumption of electricity from ICE, or may produce an excess of energy which is measured by the bi-directional meter.

At the end of the month, ICE will calculate how much electricity was consumed and how much was produced by the homeowner. The net amount of this calculation is what the homeowner pays. So if a home consumes 350 kW per month and the PV system produces 250 kW, then the home owner will only pay for 100 kW. So the credit to the homeowner is the expensive energy first and the less expensive energy second. In the renewable energy industry this system is called net-metering and is the vehicle by which the investment can pay for itself.

The other interesting aspect of the ICE program is that if a homeowner produces more energy than is consumed during months of peak sunshine or wind, ICE will bank that energy and credit the bill later when there is not so much energy available. So it is possible to use all of the energy that has been produced by the system throughout the year. At the end of the year in November, ICE will balance the accounts and start the new year of accounting. In addition to the 10-kilowatt residential systems ICE will allow larger systems to be connected to the grid for industrial and commercial customers.

Jason Borner
CEO – Poderco S.A.

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