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Electricity Authority ignores global shift to solar, April sets another temperature record

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

Power prices

Aucklanders face paying an extra $78m per year on electricity bills under the Electricity Authority's (EA) proposed changes to transmission pricing. Other regions which could need to pay more include Northland, Bay of Plenty and the South Island’s West Coast. We responded saying the EA was out of step with the global move to solar which is revolutionising the way power is generated and distributed. Some regions could pay less but the head of the EA says it will be up to the individual electricity companies to decide whether or not they wanted to lower rates for customers. BusinessDesk says Trustpower could be among the biggest losers and is likely to "vigorously" fight changes to distributed generation pricing changes that could slash $25 million off its annual revenue. Commentator Gordon Campbell says the EA is creating a plan that will enable investors to milk consumers for longer, in order to sustain investment in a national grid – when arguably, consumers might be better able to afford to heat their homes if better incentives were being offered for small scale, localised generation and distribution.

Awards

Our collaboration with Westpac NZ has won a top banking award. Westpac NZ earned recognition for its contribution to making solar power more affordable and accessible to New Zealand homeowners when it won The Business Institutional Banking Innovation Award at the INFINZ awards last night. The 2016 EECA Awards winners were also announced this week. The supreme award went to the Project Lightfoot Trust which has helped community sports clubs making savings worth $3.9 million by being more efficient with energy, water and waste. 

Climate change

The run of record heat continues with last month being the hottest April on record, according to Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. It is the seventh month in a row to break global temperature records. And the amount of heat-trapping carbon dioxide in the air jumped by the biggest amount on record last month, a rise amplified by El Nino, scientists say. Five months after the Paris climate agreement, diplomats kicked off a new round of talks this week to convert a political blueprint into a workable plan. The new goal of capping global warming at "well below" 2C means nothing less than weaning the world economy off fossil fuels within a few short decades. 

Twenty low carbon organisations are hosting the "Yes we can!" Symposium in Wellington at the end of May at which they will be showing what can be achieved. They will also outline a range of low cost policy actions which they recommend Government could take and how much greater the greenhouse gas mitigation would be if these policies were adopted. More than 300,000 health professionals from 30 countries, including NZ, are asking G7 nations to speed up the move away from coal, in the interests of health and climate protection. Coal burning is one of the biggest single contributors to climate change, and at the local level coal burning already kills millions of people through outdoor air pollution's effect on heart and lung diseases.

Solar

Companies working on large-scale solar thermal projects in Australia say they are tantalisingly close to achieving the dream of building plants big enough to replace coal-fired energy in Australia. Solar power could deliver $400 billion in environmental and public health benefits throughout the United States by 2050, according to a new study. The global shift from fossil fuels to renewable and distributed energy is the dawn of the solar age and the investment opportunity of all time, says Renewable Energy World. Researchers have developed a new solar powered battery, capable of changing its shape to fit various flexible forms.

Renewables and fossil fuels

The Royal Society of NZ’s report on a low carbon economy put climate change firmly in the spotlight. Businesses, governments and individuals are all being urged to take immediate action. The Sustainable Business Network looks at who’s ahead of the game. Forest and Bird has given ANZ an ultimatum to develop a credible fossil fuel divestment plan within six months or it may lose the organisation as a customer. 

As more US coal companies file for bankruptcy, it's increasingly likely that taxpayers will be stuck with the very high costs of preventing abandoned mines from becoming environmental disasters. A new report from the influential U.K. think tank Chatham House offers two unappealing options for today’s oil majors: “managing a gentle decline by downsizing or risking a rapid collapse by trying to carry on business as usual.” Of course, there is another option: the oil and gas companies could become energy companies, focusing on new technologies, decentralised energy systems, and providing clean energy. Portugal kept its lights on with renewable energy alone for four consecutive days last week in a clean energy milestone. As recently as 2013, Portugal generated half its electricity from combustible fuels.

Heard about the “duck curve”? It’s a reference to a line graph showing wind and solar generation dropping off at the end of the day just as demand for electricity increases. This scenario is often used as an argument for keeping fossil-fuelled power systems, like Huntly, as a backup for peak demand. Clean Technica debunks this myth saying demand-side flexibility, smart rate design, storage integration, and increased regional coordination are promising low-cost, low-carbon alternatives to “make the duck fly.”

Electric vehicles

Wellington City Council says transforming its public transport fleet to electric vehicles is an essential part of reducing the city’s carbon emissions. Up until recently, only the US, China and Japan had more than 100,000 plug-in electric cars registered. Now, Norway joins the rare list of nations with 100,000-plus registered plug-ins. Electric cars now make up 10 percent of BMW sales. And Ecotricity has published a NZ buyers guide for electric vehicles.