Saturday, 12 December 2020

Solar promises dashed

"If you can count, count on yourself" - old Polish proverb. The man from Innogy Stoen Operator came today, Saturday 12 December, to change the electricity meter to a two-way one that measures energy produced from our new solar panels balanced against the energy drawn down from the grid on cloudy days (and nights). Once Innogy emails an aneks do umowy to sign, the formalities will be complete, and the solar panels will start to earn a living...

But there will be no 5,000 złotys (£1,000) forthcoming, as promised by the Polish government. I had intended that as a Christmas bonus. The Mój Prąd programme, which originally had the deadline for applications set for 18 December, suddenly had it moved forward to Sunday 7 December. The announcement came on the afternoon of Thursday 3 December, leaving one working day to finalise the paperwork. Reason given: the money has ran out. [You can still offset the capital investment against income tax - this remains helpful.]

Applications for subsidies were arriving at the rate of 2,000 a day, and those due to arrive over the last 11 days of the programme (such as ours) are now too late. The original plan was: get the chitty from the meter man, dash with it to the nearest BOK (customer service centre, at Galeria Mokotow), get them to print out the annex to the contract, sign it - and by Monday, 14 December, four days before the deadline, we're sorted, and over the finish line. 

Why did we leave it so late? 

Why did it take energy company Innogy Stoen Operator 13 working days between receiving the registered mail with our application (it arrived on 18 November) to authorising a change of meter (4 December), and another eight days for the chap to actually come round and do it?

* * * * *

The ill-will and mistrust generated by having the rug pulled from under one's feet affects not only the 22,000 or so households who won't receive the promised refund, but also the numerous solar-energy companies set up on the back of Mój Prąd to install and connect the panels and sort out the paperwork. And the grid companies, whose call-centre representatives are no doubt getting an earful from disgruntled customers across Poland. A lack of decent forecasting is no doubt to blame - there were ten per cent more applications than planned, and those ten per cent were cut off; the possibility of a premature termination of the programme was not properly communicated, neither to consumers, nor to the industry.

This is one of several instances where poor communication and unpredictability and lack of established rules have held back renewable energy in Poland - biogas, waste-to-energy and onshore wind turbines being the previous ones. I've seen British investors come and leave with their tails between their legs as all of a sudden the rules change mid-project. 

Things like this do nothing to boost investor sentiment in Poland's renewable energy sector.

Climate change is accelerating (this year's Covid-driven drop in CO2 emissions notwithstanding); moving away from fossil fuels is crucial if we are to avoid environmental disasters in coming decades. Poland still generates more than three-quarters of its electricity by burning coal. Yet fossil fuels are currently cheaper than renewables by a factor of between 1:1.3 to 1:1.5. To make up the difference, any top-down initiative to wean consumers away from coal must be kick-started by subsidies.

With the 5,000 złotys subsidy, the panels on our roof would have paid for themselves in full after seven years. Without, the payback period will be nearer 10 and half years. 

Would I have taken the decision without the incentive offered by Mój Prąd? Probably not. I would have waited until the renewables-to-fossil-fuels cost-ratio had fallen to 1:1, driven by ever-cheaper, ever-more effective solar panels. (A perovskite/crystalline silicon sandwich panel, or even better, a perovskite/perovskite sandwich panel could be getting 80%+ extra solar energy from the same surface, but that's maybe three to four years off.) But by then - sod the government and its whims. Renewables will be cheaper than coal. Switching to solar will be a no-brainer.

Having said that, as soon as the aneks do umowy is signed, our electricity bills will tumble. Average monthly consumption of electricity for the past 12 months was 190 złotys (around £38) for 360 kWh usage. This should now fall to 41 złotys (around £8) a month, which is the connection charge. 

The difference is 150 złotys (£30). How many months will it take to pay off an investment of 21,500 złotys (£4,300)? Nearly 12 years. But then there is the income tax relief...

Do I feel bitter about having that 5,000 złotys snatched away from me two weeks before the original deadline? Yes, I do right now, but I'll get over it.  

Unlike Brexit.

This time three years ago:
Meditations on West Ealing and Change.

This time five years ago:
Warwick University alumni meet in Warsaw

This time six years ago:
Pluses and minuses of PKP InterCity

This time seven years ago:
When transportation breaks down

This time 12 years ago:
Full moon closest to Earth

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