China hits 2020 solar target already, Brazil to build massive solar plant

Nissan’s Infiniti prototype electric car. 

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

China has already reached its solar energy installation target for 2020, reaffirming its position as the largest producer of solar power on earth. The country's attempts to revive the Silk Road are likely to create a new market worth about 50 billion yuan (US$7.5 billion) a year for the country’s solar panel makers and solar farm installers. Brazil has installed the largest solar PV plant in Latin America. Covering 690 hectares it will power about 300,000 homes.

Global solar capacity will likely double today's nuclear capacity by 2022, according to figures released by GTM Research. With demand for solar already expected to surge over coming years, its growth rate could effectively double if there is rapid uptake of electric vehicles, and as more companies turn to the technology to save energy costs, and more countries reach solar and storage “parity” with grid prices.

Solar power facilities across the US faced a big test during a total eclipse on Monday. Despite the unavoidable disruption, it seems that current infrastructure was well equipped to handle the situation, reports Futurism.

The demand for grid-scale storage will increase from less than $300 million a year today to as much as $4 billion in the next 2–3 years, predicts investment banker Morgan Stanley. There are plans to build a solar powered “gig-factory” for lithium-ion batteries in Darwin, Australia.

Renewables and fossil fuels

Almost 140 countries – including the UK, US, China and other major economies – could run entirely on energy created by wind, water and solar by 2050, according to a roadmap developed by scientists, reports the Independent.

The final US Department of Energy report into the impact of renewables on the grid has tempered its backing for solar and wind compared to an earlier, leaked draft.

Long term investors are rapidly ditching high-carbon stocks, says visiting climate change expert Prof Will Steffen. “The pension funds are getting out of all fossil fuel companies, out of all oil and gas. The have stopped investing in anything to do with petrol engines.”

The vast geothermal potential throughout Central America could be a key tool in the low-carbon economic development of the region according to the International Renewable Energy Agency. Currently only 5 per cent of geothermal energy is being used in New Zealand. There is significant potential for greater use both across the Bay of Plenty and other regions in New Zealand, says Economic Development Minister Simon Bridges. Plans to triple the output of the geothermal power station at Ngawha power station and make the Far North an energy exporter have been granted final resource consent.

Bringing one of the two mothballed generation units at the Huntly gas and coal-fired power station back into production represents “New Zealand's cheapest next unit of new generation”, says Genesis Energy CEO Marc England.

Climate change

A Russian tanker has travelled through the northern sea route in record speed and without an icebreaker escort for the first time, highlighting how climate change is opening up the high Arctic, reports the Guardian.

Climate change is going to dramatically disfigure New Zealand’s economy, cutting up to half our GDP, according to fund manager Lance Wiggs. The good news? We have a chance to lead in a new low-carbon world. New Zealand's current Paris climate commitment is pathetically feeble, says Peter Whitmore an executive member of Engineers for Social Responsibility “We are not actually undertaking to make any reduction in our emissions by 2030, even compared to today's levels.” The current carbon accounting system is a nonsense and needs to be overhauled, says Robin Grieve, the chairman of Pastural Farming Climate Research Inc.

Climate change is one of the top ten government-related issues for businesses, according to the Deloitte BusinessNZ Election Survey. Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has urged business leaders to look at the fight against climate change as not an opportunity not a burden. Auckland Council has released an overview of its preparation for climate change.

Kiwi scientists have helped unlock a 12,000-year-old frozen "time capsule" that could change the way nations tackle climate change, reports the Herald. NZ environmentalists pushing to plant a global forest cheekily dedicated to US President Donald Trump say they've been overwhelmed by worldwide support for their bid. 

While the rest of the world ignores the gradual onset of climate change, the lives of Pacific peoples are already being drastically affected, says former president of Kiribati Anote Tong.

Power prices

Lower wholesale power prices over the past year have helped Mercury and Genesis Energy, reports Stuff.

A massive upgrade of electricity wires, poles and transformers across wide areas of the North Island by Powero could add $3 to $4 per month to average consumers' power bills. As a natural monopoly, without market competition, Powerco needs Commerce Commission approval to raise its prices. Public submissions are now open.

Electric vehicles

Northland's electric-car users are in for a boost with six new charging stations due to be installed between Kaikohe and Cape Reinga in the next six months.

Ford is in talks to launch fully electric cars for the Chinese market as the US carmaker plays catch up to international rivals in the race to develop battery vehicles. Hyundai says it intends to produce a long-range electric vehicle by 2021 that will be capable of traveling 310 miles on a charge. VW’s iconic combi van has inspired the design of an electric version expected to go on sale in 2022 in North America, Europe and China. And Nissan has produced a prototype electric car which takes its inspiration from the 1940s.

Labour has formally warned KiwiRail that if it wins the election work on switching from electric trains to diesels on the North Island main trunk line will immediately cease.