Going off the grid still an expensive option

Greenpeace wants the Government to fork out to help more Kiwis switch their homes to solar power.

Shay Brazier installed a small gadget into his solar-powered house this week. It can track his power usage to work out when it needs to heat water for his shower.

"It's always warm right throughout the year," he says. "It's cheap to live in. When you start adding things like electric cars and batteries, it becomes really interesting."

But while Mr Brazier's home currently pushes surplus energy back to the grid, the new gadget will change that.

"Currently we export a lot of our power, so it means we can store that in the battery and use it when the sun's not shining," he says.

Its creators say it'll remove consumers' reliance on the power grid and allow them complete control over their usage.

"You can start to control appliances in the home, which means you can choreograph what time of day you want the dishwasher to run, how you want the home fridge to perform," says Solar City chief executive Andrew Booth.

With the price of solar panels going down by 28 percent in the past year, Mr Brazier says the low-energy lifestyle is one that more and more Kiwis can afford.

But the price of one standard 300-watt solar panel is about $350, and an average home needs six - at a cost of $6000 - installed. A bigger home needs 17, costing $15,000. The batteries are expensive too.

You can now rent an entire solar power system at a monthly cost of $85 - $145 a month depending on the size of your house - paid over 20 years.

Greenpeace says that is still not affordable enough for most New Zealanders to make the switch. It wants the Government to provide interest-free loans to help half a million homes change to solar-powered living, similarly to the way home insulation has been administered in the past.

"We need regulatory reform to take account of new technology and make it easier for people to generate their own power," says Greenpeace campaigner Amanda Larsson.