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Complaint over solar tax, global temperatures spiralling up

This graphic by climate scientist Ed Hawkins shows how global temperatures have risen over the past 166 years.

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

Solar

At the start of April, Hawke’s Bay lines company Unison Energy introduced an extra charge for its customers who also have solar power. This week we lodged a complaint with the Electricity Authority asking it to put a stop to Unison’s solar tax which wrongfully disadvantages solar users. Our CEO, Andrew Booth, was interviewed on the issue by Radio NZ and Newshub.

At the same time Hawke’s Bay Today reported there were 425 solar connections in the region at the end of March, up on 249 at the same time last year. Nationally there were 9506 solar connections, up from 5756. And, staying in the region, two Hawke’s Bay innovators have signed a global distribution deal for their solar powered water pump. The device can be used to get water to remote farmland and for international disaster relief missions.

Solar photovoltaics (PV) will be one of the cheapest sources of electricity generation in Europe by 2030, according to a new report. Australia’s biggest solar farm is set to be built near Townsville and will start operating at the end of next year. Using tracking technology 350,000 solar panels will follow the sun to maximise generation capacity throughout the day. Santa Monica, in California, has joined San Francisco by legislating for rooftop solar PV systems on all new construction, both residential and commercial. With year-round sunshine and thousands of miles of windswept coast, investors are warming to the renewable energy potential in South Africa, with 66 projects completed or underway since the government launched a first bid round four years ago. Now a large solar park project has been announced and is expected to start operating in 2018.

Solar Impulse 2, the ‘zero-fuel’ aircraft, is flying from Phoenix to Oklahoma today on another leg of its flight around the world. The plane’s four engines are powered by 17,000 solar cells with surplus power stored in four batteries during the day.

Climate change

The world is hurtling towards an era when global concentrations of carbon dioxide never again dip below the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone, as two important measuring stations sit on the point of no return. An animation by UK-based climate scientist Ed Hawkins shows how global temperatures have risen over the past 166 years. Hawkins says the spiral graphic reveals the pace of change, especially over the past few decades. Tesla chief Elon Musk says educating the public on climate issues is essential in countering oil and gas lobby’s influence over big political decisions. Unpredictable temperatures associated with climate change are proving a challenge for the forestry and farming sectors. NZME reporter Kim Fulton looks at the impacts and how the industries are adapting.

A newly published paper by Australian academics reveals at least five reef islets in the Solomon Islands have been lost completely to sea level rise and coastal erosion, and a further six have been severely eroded. As that report was released, NZ and the United Arab Emirates inaugurated a new $6 million solar power farm in Solomon Islands. It is one of a number of Pacific states where the two nations have worked together to help ease Pacific countries off their reliance on diesel generation for electricity. Devastating images showing the complete destruction of coral colonies on the Great Barrier Reef have been obtained by Guardian Australia and illustrate what is happening to coral there that would fill an area the size of Scotland. The world is in the midst of a global bleaching event, which is a result of a pulse of warm water flowing around the Pacific Ocean caused by El Niño, and the background global warming.

Renewables and fossil fuels

A Victoria University of Wellington study shows that retrofitting New Zealand’s commercial buildings to use less fossil fuel-generated energy could save enough energy to power many homes in the South Island. The Break Free campaign is in its second week. A wave of non-violent actions to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and accelerate the just transition to 100% renewable energy, is taking place across six continents. In New Zealand protesters called on ANZ to pull $13.5 billion out of fossil fuel projects at events in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin. By 2040, coal, natural gas and renewable energy sources will provide roughly equal shares (28%-29%) of world electricity generation -- a tremendous change from 2012, when coal provided 40% of all power generation, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration.

South Australia is the country’s first state to go coal-free following this week’s closure of the Port Augusta coal-fired power station. "The reality is, the technology we are using here is old, the cost structures are high and there's no longer a place for us in the market," said the company’s chief executive. Critics have argued that because of the daily peaks and troughs of renewable energy—as the sun goes in and out and winds rise and fall—it will always have only a niche role in supplying power to major economies. But that’s looking less and less likely, especially when you see what happened in Germany last weekend. A wildfire that partly destroyed the city of Fort McMurray has cut Canada’s oil output by as much as a third after forcing the oil sands industry to effectively shut down in the province of Alberta.

Cleantech

Masdar City, near Abu Dhabi, has set its sights on being the most sustainable city on the planet, and it is well on the way to meeting that goal. Development started in 2008 and is expected to continue for at least the next five years. New York is preparing for a future in which clean, distributed energy resources, including solar, will form an integral part of a more decentralised electric grid. This vision means the role of the customer is changing: from recipient to both user and provider of electricity and other grid services. By investing in clean, distributed energy resources, customers can make the electric system more efficient and contribute to a cleaner environment, while gaining greater control over their energy bills.

Electric vehicles

Nissan has also revealed a vision of the future where batteries in its electric vehicles are used to power motorists’ homes and offices. Motorists would be able to charge their cars as normal by plugging in but the batteries would also act as added capacity to the national grid, helping balance demand at peak times with power being sold back into the grid. See the video.

Four car makers are exploring how the batteries that power their electric vehicles can be given a second life in the electricity storage market once they pass their use by date. Westpac has recently started an EV trial with the first of five cars in operation. It has also launched a leasing product to its corporate and institutional customers to make EVs more accessible to them and to ultimately help create a secondary market for New Zealand consumers. 

London's delivery companies are experimenting with electric vehicles to curb the smog spewed by vans distributing parcels packed with goods purchased on the Internet. A Switzerland-based company has developed an 18-ton all-electric truck with a range of 300 kilometres. After winning the English Premier League title, all 30 Leicester City players will be given a Mercedes-Benz electric car.