Calls to overhaul NZ electricity sector, global temperatures hit high

Last month was the second-warmest May in 137 years of modern record-keeping. Nasa.

We're all about saving you energy and have rounded up the latest solar, climate and energy news so you don't have to.

Solar and batteries

A High Court decision has put our legal challenge of Unison’s solar tax on hold. We say it’s time the government stepped in to change the way the electricity sector operates so that clean energy technologies, like solar and battery storage, are encouraged rather than penalised. Greenpeace is also calling for an overhaul of the electricity industry which it says is diseased.

Meanwhile, in Florida USA, new legislation is expected to help make the state a solar star. Starting next year solar and renewable energy equipment on commercial buildings will be exempt from property taxes for 20 years.

Solar power, once so costly it only made economic sense in spaceships, is becoming cheap enough that it will push coal and even natural-gas plants out of business faster than previously forecast, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The World Bank has approved US$54.4 million in funding to strengthen Mongolia’s electric grid and to build the first large-scale PV plant in the country. Solarplaza has compiled a list of the top 50 solar PV plants in Asia. A highway in Korea features a stunning 32km solar-powered bike lane running right down the middle. The lane is offset, protected by barriers, and sheltered by solar panels.

Utility-scale Tesla batteries will be integrated into the New South Wales power grid in Australia to increase stability of supply. And a team of researchers in Australia has developed a solar paint that can be used to generate clean energy.

Renewables and fossil fuels

Dropping prices of renewable energies, like solar, are putting on pressure on fossil fuel firms. Now Coal India, the largest coal mining company in the world has announced it will close 37 mines because they are no longer economically viable. 

Major US companies have become some of America’s biggest buyers of renewable energy, driving growth in an industry seen as key to helping the United States cut carbon emissions, reports Reuters.

Two power stations at Huntly are burning a 60-40 mix of fossil fuels and gas to provide back-up electricity as dry weather deprives hydro dams of water in the South Island. Cindy Baxter of the Coal Action Network says the use of coal could be averted with better insulation, more use of solar and other renewable energy, and proper recognition of the real cost of climate change. 

NZ Government plans to embark on coal-mining projects in the Buller region would be a disastrous move to prop up a dying industry by sacrificing our unique environment, says Kevin Hackwell, Forest & Bird's chief conservation adviser. Pressure has mounted on foundations linked to the University of Auckland to pull their money from fossil fuel companies, with 240 university staff signing an open letter backing the shift.

Climate change

May 2017 was the second-warmest May in 137 years of modern record-keeping, according to a monthly analysis of global temperatures by Nasa. It was only a tenth of a degree behind the current record holder, May 2016. This week extreme heat across large tracts of the Northern Hemisphere raised fears for crops in China, fuelled forest fires in Portugal and Russia's Far East, forced flight cancellations in the Southwest U.S., and melted tarmac on roads in Britain, reports Reuters

Nearly a third of the world’s population is now exposed to climatic conditions that produce deadly heatwaves, as the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere makes it “almost inevitable” that vast areas of the planet will face rising fatalities from high temperatures, new research has found. And, as Australia’s senate launches an inquiry into the national security ramifications of climate change, a new report has warned global warming will cause increasingly regular and severe humanitarian crises across the Asia-Pacific.

Sarah Thomson writes in The Spinoff about her motivation for taking Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett to court for what, she claims, is a lack of action over the issue. Celebrities, scientists, doctors and businesspeople have launched a fresh nationwide push for action on climate change. The new movement, Our Climate Declaration, calls on the NZ Government to phase out the extraction and burning of fossil fuels by 2050 - including stopping all new coal mines and coal-burning plants and ending deep sea oil exploration and fracking for oil and gas - and adopting bolder policy.

Power prices

A dry start to winter is proving uncomfortable for some customers of power companies that offer variable, wholesale rate-based pricing. In early June, spot prices were about double what they were at the same time last year.

There’s a 1% to 4% chance that Kiwis will be asked to make some voluntary reductions in electricity usage this winter due to low levels of the South Island’s hydro lakes, says Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins. 

Electric vehicles

The UK Government plans to invest more than 800 million pounds in new driverless and zero-emission vehicle technology as it seeks to boost its economy while leaving the European Union.

A concept for an all-electric airplane, designed to fly about 600 nautical miles at a cost similar to travel by airliner (or even bus) over the same distances, was launched at the Paris Air Show.

Production of batteries for Tesla's Model 3 has started at the company's Gigafactory in Nevada. The first Model 3s are expected to be delivered in 2017.