One thing that has worried consumers over the past few years has been the cost of electricity bills. The Labour Administration made the reduction of electricity bills one of its main battle cries in the March election campaign.

Last May, the Government launched a photovoltaic panels scheme that offered a maximum €2,500 rebate on the capital costs incurred by families who opted for this system. However, some argue that consumers have not warmed up to this scheme.

In the first three months of the scheme, 4,329 applications for a cost rebate were submitted. The scheme, which is partly being financed by EU funds, “was open to about 8,400 families”. Suppliers of PV systems believe that this was a “mild” response and claimed that “this probably boiled down to lack of disposable income”. Yet, previous similar schemes attracted more interest in the recent past when economic conditions were arguably not better than they are today.

So what is behind this apparent lack of consumers’ interest?

According to the majority of those who posted comments on this news item on timesofmalta.com, the promise of a substantial reduction in electricity rates early next year could have defeated the whole purpose of investing in this green energy source. This undoubtedly is a valid argument that shows how the Government’s intention to meet its renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020 may now be that much more difficult to attain.

Other reasons that were given for this lukewarm response by the public is that suppliers of alternative energy sources are overcharging for PV systems that can be bought at lower prices from other countries within the EU.

Solar energy systems have fallen in price dramatically in the last few years as China started to produce the solar energy hardware at a fraction of the price charged by European manufacturers. One wonders whether the local suppliers have in fact passed on the lower cost benefits to consumers or just waited for a bonanza of orders from consumers who may not have followed the changes in the economic dynamics of this industry.

One thing is certain, not enough educational material has been made available to the public to help them understand the feasibility of investing in this renewable source of energy.

Purely from an economic perspective, a consumer needs to make a cost-benefit analysis before deciding whether to invest an average of €8,000 minus any capital rebate and future income from ‘a guaranteed feed-in tariff of 22c per unit for six years’.

Investing in a PV system involves a substantial financial outlay for most families. The promise of bank finance and a capital rebate may not have been enough to convince them that investing in this kind of system is economically viable.

Irrespective of any reduction in electricity rates next year, it is essential that the public is informed about the importance of investing in alternative energy sources. One can understand that for most families bread and butter financial considerations take precedence on environmental concerns.

The lesson that needs to be learned from this lukewarm response to a laudable initiative is that no efforts must be spared to inform the public more effectively on the real financial and environmental benefits that can be gained by investing in green energy. All stakeholders need to appreciate this and agree to take concerted action.

In future, the government, banks and suppliers should do more to provide relevant, easy-to-understand information on the merits of investing in green energy.

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