PV installations for free, for all..

PV installations for free, for all..
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In a small and peaceful village of 3500 inhabitants in Belgium (Flobecq), a group of elected people aim for energy autonomy and launch an innovative service for their citizen.

Do you want a PV installation for free?

This was the simple –but yet hard to believe- proposition that the municipality made to all their households, through its newly created non profit association ‘Collines sous levant’. 300 households answered positively. ‘Surprisingly, this wasn’t obvious at all, comments Philippe Mettens, a few conferences and a lot of meetings where required to demystify the system and make people believe that there was no trick behind and that this could really work.

How does it work?

Technically speaking, the system is a third party investment model in which a third party (the non profit organization) rents the roof of private houselholds, takes a loan to buy PV units from local PV companies and have them installed.
The third party recuperates his investment through the sale of the green certificates given by the Walloon region. After the installation has covered its full costs (between 5 to 10 years), the ownership of the PV installation is automatically transferred to the houselhold at zero cost. During all that time, the electric meter of participating households turns backward, considerably reducing the energy bill (on average, 750 €/year).
The total investment of the third party amounted 4,5 million euros. An interesting aspect is that ‘All the money came from the bank. Expect for the feasibility study, the municipality did not pay a cent’, says Philippe Mettens.

Is the model replicable?

Yes. If the level of public support allows it. In our model, green certificates are used to pay off the third party’s investment and all energy production benefits (the meter that turns backward) goes to the household.  That only works if the revenues from green certificates cover alone the cost of the installation. Nowadays, with less certificates given by MWh produced through PV (the green certificate system has recently changed in wallonia), the system has to be adapted and a part of the economy of energy generated by PV production has to be used to paid back to the third party.  Participating households would have to pay a yearly fee to benefit for this service. Still, it would remain financially interesting as, on one hand this fee would remain lower that the economy of energy and on the other hand, no initial investment is required by the household.
Building competences and know how on grid issues
The project goes beyond its green production aspect. A chair at the University of Mons was created to study and learn from the integration of such high number of installation in a small perimeter. Also strongly involved was the grid operator (ORES) who equipped all installations with free smart meters. Now ORES monitors and learns from the impact of these installations on local grid.

Local Economy

All PV companies were invited to join the project. ‘This concern was very important as we wanted to take this opportunity to support local enterprises (and not just a big one). But as we also wanted to make sure that our installations were of quality, so we made all PV entreprises sign a quality charter with detailed technical requirements’ said Philippe Mettens.

Towards energy autonomy

PV systems were dimensioned to meet electrical needs of households. Now (2013), a  third of all citizens are electricity ‘autonomous’. To reach them all, the municipality launches a new 1,5 million biomass project while working with its Territorial development agencies on the possibility of jointly engaging the CoM and creating project in synergy.