Clean energy provides big opportunities for NZ

Solarcity CEO Andrew Booth responds to journalist Pattrick Smellie’s recent opinion piece on the carbon reduction benefits of electricity vehicles and solar panels. 

The Paris climate change agreement says this to our children and grandchildren: “We promise not to expose you to the dangers of climate change.” If we are to keep our word, we have no alternative but to decarbonise our entire economy.

I believe we should regard this challenge as an opportunity to bring our nation together around a common vision to modernise our economy.

Recently, two electricity industry reports looking at New Zealand’s energy future have made news with ‘shock, horror’ type headlines that electric vehicles (EVs) outperform solar photovoltaic (PV) panels when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions. The take home message has been that the nation should be investing in electric vehicles and not solar power.

I believe this argument is divisive and misleading. In reality, both technologies are critical if we are going to keep our promise to our children.

Power generation needs to grow quickly, as the decarbonisation of the heating and transport sectors will only be possible if we use more electricity. This electricity needs to stem from zero-carbon renewable sources, particularly wind and solar PV and we need to be making those investment decisions now if are we are to have any chance of hitting our carbon reduction targets.

It seems that some within the electricity sector are resistant to change and are fighting to keep the business as usual model, despite the challenges facing our communities. Rather than embracing new technologies that will help communities and our economy, they are clutching at reasons to slow their uptake.

The recent introduction of a solar tax by Unison Energy in Hawke’s Bay, just like the EV vs PV debate, is a cynical way to divert public attention away from the very real economic, environmental and societal benefits offered by solar, batteries and EVs. By investing in clean, distributed energy resources, consumers can make the grid more efficient and contribute to a cleaner environment, while gaining greater control over their energy bills.

Here’s how that could work. The average modern EV driver will start the day by driving to work on electricity between 6-9am. The ideal time to charge the car will be between 10am-3pm so that solar power can offset this additional load on the grid.

The EV driver leaves work between 3-6pm. They plug in again at home but this time the EV can supply power to the house, in addition to a home battery, if required. Then, typically when power consumption drops around 10pm, both can be charged by the grid adding more revenue to the utility in a time sector that was previously low on consumption. The cycle then starts again the next day.

Mr Smellie says it costs about $10,000 to buy and install a home solar system. That is not the case. Kiwis can now make a simple switch to solar without any costs for the panels or installation and generate power from their own roofs at a 20-year fixed price, cheaper than grid power. Where grid power is expensive, like Otago, the solar energy service price is up to 35% cheaper.

Our vision is to bring the nation together, at this important moment in time, with a forward looking approach to modernising our energy supply and our economy. If the transformation we need to make is to become a success story, not only in climate terms, but also in economic terms, we will need a paradigm shift.

We believe that shift will start by providing Kiwis with cleaner and more affordable energy alternatives compared to the traditional options that have put the future of our children and grandchildren at risk.