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Over 3 million jobs in solar PV industry, Kiwis search for power price deals

Solar leads the field for renewable energy employment by technology. Graphic: IRENA

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

The global renewable energy sector employed 9.8 million people in 2016, according to a new report (PDF). Solar photovoltaic was the largest employer, with 3.1 million jobs, up by about 300,000 from 2015. The growth came mainly from China, the United States and India.

One of the largest battery storage plants to be built in the UK will offer vital services to the national grid. The project is seen as a crucial part of the jigsaw for helping wind, solar and other renewable sources go from the 25% of UK power they provide today, to the much greater share the government needs to hit its climate change targets. Utility-scale storage and solar should be a priority for governments with shrinking R&D budgets, shows a new paper published in the scientific journal Nature Energy.

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency is committing $20 million in funding to boost the growth of solar PV research and development. The world’s largest floating solar PV power plant is now generating power in China. The Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, home to 36,000 Syrian refugees, is now being powered by solar energy, and will be able to supply solar power to all refugees by early next year.

Butterfly wings could be used to inspire new technology in solar cells, according to researchers at the Australian National University who said that "filtering" light could be a major feature of future solar projects.

Renewables and fossil fuels

Swiss voters have backed government plans to replace the power from ageing nuclear reactors with renewable energy.

In the first four months of 2017 New Zealand used less thermal and more renewable electricity generation than the average for the previous six years, says the Electricity Authority. That's likely to change as a water shortage for South Island hydro lakes will create an increase in thermal generation this winter, says Genesis Energy.

Mercedes-Benz is expanding its operations into clean energy by following Tesla's footsteps. And Daimler has started construction on its second lithium-ion battery manufacturing facility. Overall, Daimler has decided to invest approximately €1 billion in the global battery sector. 

The latest draft of the Trump administration’s 2018 federal budget calls for cuts to clean energy and environmental-related departments, while providing a boost to nuclear power.

Climate change

Yesterday’s budget announced the government will invest just $4 million of new operating funding over four years to progress New Zealand’s climate change work programme. The climate change allocation was slammed by the Green party and environmental groups. New Zealand will spend $14.2 billion over ten years buying international carbon credits to offset our own emissions, reports Newshub. The Green Party argues it would cheaper to reduce our domestic gas emissions. 

Small but inevitable rises in sea level will double the frequency of severe coastal flooding in most of the world with dire consequences for major cities that sit on coastlines, according to scientists. Researchers in Antarctica have discovered rapidly growing banks of mosses on the ice continent's northern peninsula, providing striking evidence of climate change in the coldest and most remote parts of the planet.

Climate scientist Ed Hawkins has updated his 2016 animated spiral showing the inexorable rise of global temperatures thanks to humanity’s release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. Though 2017 is unlikely to best 2016 as the hottest year on record globally, so far each month of the year has ranked as second or third hottest, a clear sign of how much greenhouse gases have warmed the planet.

Power prices

When New Zealanders look closely at their power bills, more and more are opting to switch. About one in five households switched power companies in the 12 months to March this year, 418,000 in total, reports Stuff. The Electricity Authority estimates that if people had switched to the cheapest retailer available in 2015, they would've saved an average of $175 each in a year.

Otago’s Aurora Energy has unveiled a massive $720 million plan to upgrade its ageing infrastructure, but consumers will be taking a hit through larger power bills.

Electric vehicles

Drivers should ditch petrol and go electric for all but the longest trips, says the AA. The cost of owning an electric car will fall to the same level as petrol-powered vehicles next year, according to bold new analysis from UBS which will send shockwaves through the automobile industry, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Volvo says its going to stop work on developing diesel engines and concentrate on electric motors. Its first purely electric vehicle is scheduled for release in 2019. Subaru is considering installing electric powertrains in current models rather than designing an all-new car.

BMW has developed its Light & Charge system, which converts existing street and parking lot light poles into connected nodes on a smart city network. Each pole includes high-efficiency LED lighting, EV chargers, and a sophisticated Sensor Bus that connects the site to the cloud.