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2016 hottest year on record, NZ defies clean energy trend for trains

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

Climate change

2016 was the hottest year on record, setting a new high for the third year in a row, with scientists firmly putting the blame on human activities that drive climate change. The final data for 2016 was released on Wednesday by the three key agencies – the UK Met Office and Nasa and Noaa in the US – and showed 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been this century. The New York Times has an interactive tool so you can see how much warmer (or cooler) your city was in 2016. Extreme weather events associated with climate change have been identified as the most significant global risk for 2017 - greater even than the threat of terrorism - in a survey by the World Economic Forum.

Climate change scientists have projected that if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, Northland would heat up more than other regions in NZ and suffer increased wild fires, flooding and coastal erosion, invasive pests and more drought by the end of the century.

With the US about to inaugurate a president who is openly sceptical of the almost unanimous scientific view that human activity is contributing to global warming the Guardian is conducting a major digital event to concentrate minds at this pivotal moment: 24 hours of live, uninterrupted coverage of the issue from around the world. Films, data, experts, writing, graphics, the lot.

NZ Prime Minister Bill English doesn't share Donald Trump's scepticism about global warming - but says he has always been wary of "extreme" views about the appropriate response to climate change, reports the NZ Herald.

Outgoing US president Barack Obama has heeded calls to help secure the future of the historic Paris agreement by transferring a second $500m instalment to the Green Climate Fund. Al Gore's second climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power," premieres at the Sundance Film Festival this week. It follows Gore 10 years after his Oscar-winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth," as he educates children on climate change, visits scientists to collect data to present at forums and attends the Paris climate summit.

Solar and batteries

Global grid-connected solar PV additions reached 75GW in 2016, a 50% year-on-year growth from 50GW in 2015, according to the PV Market Alliance. Growth was led by China followed by the US and India. 

About 73,000 new jobs were created in the U.S. solar industry in 2016 which now employs 373,807 people. Worker numbers in the wind sector grew by about 25,000 to 101,738.

The 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl power plant in Ukraine resulted in vast areas of land being contaminated by nuclear fallout. Now two companies from China plan to build a one-gigawatt solar power plant on 2,500 hectares of land in the exclusion zone to the south of the Chernobyl plant.

Renewables and fossil fuels

New investment in clean energy fell to $287.5bn in 2016, 18% lower than the record investment of $348.5bn in 2015. This decrease was due partly to cooling in two key markets, China and Japan, and sharp falls in equipment prices, particularly in solar photovoltaics, reports Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

Greenpeace intercepted the world's largest seismic oil ship, Amazon Warrior, off the Wairarapa coast and called on it to immediately cease searching for oil on behalf of Statoil and Chevron.

China is suspending 104 planned or in progress coal power plants in a bid to limit its coal capacity. Approximately 50,000 lives a year could be saved by 2030 if no new coal-fired power plants are built in Southeast Asia, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan, according to a groundbreaking peer reviewed study from researchers at Harvard University and Greenpeace International. More than $76 million of taxpayer's money has been invested in foreign companies that make a large amount of their profit from coal. The New Zealand Superfund has invested $76.8 million in 47 companies that the Norwegian Government Pension Fund - the largest Sovereign welfare fund in the world - has blacklisted, reports RNZ.

Apple has topped Greenpeace's global league table ranking tech firms' decarbonisation efforts for the third year in a row. Netflix, along with its cloud service provider, Amazon Web Services, did not fare very well.

Power prices

Powerco has proposed a $1.4 billion spend to upgrade the network that supplies some North Island regions but it will mean a rise in power prices. The Commerce Commission will make a decision after reviewing the plan and public feedback later this year.

There are 34 retail electricity brands actively serving the NZ residential electricity market. New figures show small and medium sized electricity companies are chipping away at the market dominance long enjoyed by giants such as Meridian Energy and Contact.

Electric Trains

Kiwirail’s decision to dump its electric freight trains in favour of diesel powered locomotives is a strikingly counter-intuitive move that seems to be based on a short-term financial pay-off rather than a balanced view of the national interest, says the Dompost.

Meanwhile Melbourne's trams network is to be powered by the first large-scale solar plant to be built in Victoria. the competition date is set for the end of 2018. London, researchers are looking at connecting solar panels directly to the lines that provide power to trains, a move that would bypass the electricity grid in order to more efficiently manage power demand from trains. And all Dutch electric trains are now powered by wind energy, says Holland’s national railway company.

Transport

Electric cars will pick up critical momentum in 2017, many in the auto industry believe - just not in North America, reports Reuters. More electric cars are sold in China than in the rest of the world combined, but are mainly locally-branded models that are cheaper and have a shorter range than those offered by foreign automakers such as Tesla and Nissan. A custom-made all-electric vehicle has finished the Dakar Rally - a first for a zero-emission vehicle. The 9000km event is considered one of the most difficult endurance rallies in the world.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has accused a second major car company, Fiat Chrysler, of cheating on its diesel emissions testing by using secret software applications in multiple models.

The market for non-military electric watercraft and marine motors will balloon to over $20 billion worldwide by 2027, according to analyst firm IDTechX.