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Aussie to cash in on wind and solar, Northland hit by high power prices

SolarStratos - aiming for new heights in solar aviation. (Credit: Creatorz Deitz)

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

Wind and solar will provide nearly all Australia’s electricity generation in Australia by 2050, saving billions in upfront capital costs of business as usual. A new study by the the country’s top scientific body, CSIRO, and Energy Networks Australia says up to one-half of that generation will come from the rooftop solar systems. Battery storage in homes and business, and located on the grid, or at renewable energy installations, will balance the output and provide most network stability services.

The first circumnavigation of the world in a solar powered plane was completed earlier this year by solar Impulse. Next year another solar powered plane, SolarStratos will start test flights for a mission that will eventually see it fly to an altitude of about 25,000m - more than twice the altitude of most passenger planes. The aim of the project is to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy and to explore the possibility of flying people to such altitudes using solar technology. 

A solar PV system will pay back the energy and greenhouse gas emissions released during its production multiple times over its lifetime, reports Nature Communications. The next wave of solar cells might be green… literally. Quantum mechanics is helping to make better solar cells – and may give us another perspective on why plants are green in the process, reports New Scientist.

The Advertising Standards Association rejected a complaint about Greenpeace using the term solar 'tax' to describe a new charge imposed on solar users by Unison Energy.

Solar panels and battery storage are the biggest change to the electricity industry since the lightbulb was invented, says Genesis Energy's chief executive Marc England.

Renewables

Google’s data centres and the offices for its 60,000 staff will be powered entirely by renewable energy from next year, in what the company has called a “landmark moment”. Generation from geothermal, solar, and wind energy in the US increased by 24 percent compared with the first nine months of 2015. 

Fossil fuels

Greenpeace says Genesis Energy is "burning our future with gas” following news the company has been granted consents to replace Huntly Power Station’s coal-fired Rankine units at any time it likes for the next 20 years. Hundreds of people around New Zealand have lobbied ANZ and Westpac branches to divest from fossil fuel investments, says climate change group 350. Fewer than half of New Zealand’s councils have enough staff trained to respond to marine oil spills - prompting questions over whether authorities are prepared to deal with a major leak, reports the NZ Herald.

The US Army Corps of Engineers has turned down a permit for a controversial pipeline project running through North Dakota, in a victory for Native Americans and climate activists who have protested against the project for several months.

Miners seeking the green light to dig up Australia’s Galilee basin, in Queensland, should be stopped as a priority, according to a new report showing existing fossil fuels projects worldwide are enough to push global warming beyond 2C.

Climate change

Both the Arctic and Antarctic experienced record lows in sea ice extent in November, with scientists astonished to see Arctic ice actually retreating at a time when the region enters the cold darkness of winter, reports the Guardian.

The pressure is building on President-elect Donald Trump to take action against climate change. This month, over 2,300 scientists signed a letter to Congress and Trump appealing for his administration to take on urgent environmental issues.

There is no foundation for claims that we’ve only got 10 years to live because we’re pushing the world’s climate system over the edge says Professor James Renwick from Victoria University. Actor and director Robert Redford has been engaged on the issue of climate change for more than 40 years. He tells Time that he firmly believes the moment to build a clean and affordable energy economy has finally arrived.

Bathurst Resources and Talley’s NZ are top contenders for a satirical ‘Roger Award’ following their joint takeover of four Solid Energy coal mines. They have been nominated for “expanding coal mining in defiance of NZ’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Accord”.

Power prices

Plans to build a $300 million pulp mill near Kaikohe - bringing hundreds of millions of dollars and an estimated 200 jobs - have been shelved due mainly to an Electricity Authority proposal to hike the price of power in Northland, reports the NZ Herald. Meanwhile, Northland households shelled out $11.5 million more for power than they needed to in the past year by not switching to the cheapest provider, according to figures from Consumer Powerswitch and the Electricity Authority.

The Electricity Authority will remove subsidies for generators connected to local electricity distribution networks (called distributed generators). Until now, DG operators have been able to claim 'avoided cost of transmission' (ACOT) revenues under a regime that was intended to reward the installation of plant that took pressure off the national grid. The decision has no impact on solar rooftop generation at a household or small business level.

Transport

A boom in electric vehicles could erode as much as 10 percent of global gasoline demand by 2035, according to an oil industry consultancy firm. While battery-powered cars and trucks today represent less than 1 percent of total vehicle sales, they are expected to take off after 2025 as governments move to tackle pollution and costs fall.

The mayors of four of the world’s largest cities — Paris, Madrid, Mexico City, and Athens — have publicly committed to banning all diesel vehicles from their jurisdictions by the year 2025. At the same time they’ve also committed to doing everything within their means to incentivise “the use of electric, hydrogen and hybrid vehicles,” as well as bicycling and walking.

The world’s first hydrogen fuel-cell electric freight truck has been unveiled in the US. The zero emission Nikola One will offer a range between 1200 and 1900km. It is expected to be released onto the market in 2020.

Honda says it will release a concept car next month that will be automated, electric, designed for commuters, and will come equipped with artificial intelligence in the form of something called an “emotion engine.”