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More power price hikes, global wave goodbye to fossil fuels

Solar Impulse 2, the ‘zero-fuel’ aircraft, landed in Phoenix, Arizona at the start of the week, completing the first leg across the US in its around the world flight. The plane’s four engines are powered by 17,000 solar cells with surplus power stored in four batteries during the day.

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

Power prices

New Zealanders would rather battle the cold with a blanket or add extra clothing layers than increase their heating bill. A survey by Canstar Blue shows more than 60% of New Zealanders have altered their electricity habits, and of those, 57% have done so in order to reduce the cost of their bill. With winter just around the corner Trustpower will hike its power prices for the average Timaru customer by 7 per cent at the end of the month. And Contact Energy is altering its electricity pricing so customers will be paying an extra $5 to $12 a month in Christchurch, Taupo, Far North, Wellington, Central Otago and Northland regions.

Climate change

Break Free From Fossil Fuels is a two-week global wave of escalated action to keep coal, oil and gas in the ground and accelerate the transition to 100% renewable energy. Environmentalist Bill McKibben says the time has come to take action commensurate with the scale of the problem. Auckland kicked off a series of NZ events with protesters holding a beach party outside the Queen St branch of the ANZ to highlight the bank’s flippant response to climate change. Other NZ events are planned for Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

International leaders, at a climate action summit, have pledged to work hard to stem the rise of global temperatures by investing in public transportation and electric cars, planting trees and switching to solar energy. Commentary on New Zealand failing to walk the talk since signing the Paris climate agreement continued this week. The Otago Daily Times questioned how keeping the coal-fired power station in Huntly could be justified. It also published a summary of the recent Royal Society report on the implications of climate change for NZ. And Geoff Keey from Forest & Bird says following revelations of our government buying dodgy carbon credits it’s time NZ stood up and took meaningful action against climate change.

The transition to a low-carbon economy will require deep changes to transport, energy and farming – but forestry experts say large scale planting of carbon-gobbling trees could buy us precious time as we make the shift. The impact of climate change on New Zealand’s coastlines, and how communities adapt, is the focus of a two-day seminar finishing today. It is addressing climate change and sea level rise, organisational responsibility and response, community engagement and Iwi perspectives on coastal development. The Northern Advocate reports that about 14,000 coastal Northland properties have been identified as at risk from climate change-related flooding and erosion, compared to 1090 at the last review 10 years ago. The NZ Climate and Health Council is calling for an independent health check on Wellington Airport’s expensive plans to extend the runway into Lyall Bay as aviation makes a significant contribution to climate-damaging emissions.

A film by NZ documentary makers explores the threat sea-level rise poses to 30 million Bangladeshis over the coming decades. Titled Thirty Million it will be released online for free at thirtymillionfilm.org following a premiere with the United Nations in New York City at the end of the month. And a community of 60 people will be America’s first climate refugees when they are moved off their land which is suffering from the impacts of climate change. The divisions the resettlement effort has exposed and the logistical and moral dilemmas it has presented point up in microcosm the massive problems the world could face in the coming decades. Wildfires in Canada have forced the evacuation of 80,000 from the city of Fort McMurray which is at the hub of the oil sands region. Unseasonably hot temperatures combined with dry conditions have transformed the boreal forest in much of Alberta into a tinder box.

Solar

Solar power set another record-low price as renewable energy developers working in the United Arab Emirates shrugged off financial turmoil in the industry to promise projects costs that undercut even coal-fired generators. The refusal of Australian utilities to recognise the value of local generation – such as rooftop solar and battery storage – means that they are undermining their own business models and effectively accelerating the “death spiral” they fear so much, according to a government-funded study. Residents of an Adelaide development of zero carbon homes in Adelaide have no fear of the cost of energy because they actually generate as much energy as they use. The Lochiel Park Green Village consists of about 100 suburban homes powered by rooftop solar and include features typical of low carbon dwellings such as energy efficient lighting, solar hot water and appliances.

Engineers at the Vienna University of Technology are developing a flexible, floating platform that would function as a sea-based solar power station. Called a Heliofloat, it will be as large as a football field and will be designed to stay upright in even the worst weather. Researchers have developed a new way of capturing sunlight and converting it into energy by using gold nanoparticles to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen. Scientists are finding ingenious ways to sidestep fossil fuels. They include turning wood into something transparent that could be used for solar panels or even for windows and making plastic bottles out of carbon dioxide and plant waste. Radio NZ interviews US photographer Jamey Stillings who is documenting renewable energy projects including the Ivanpah solar panel plant in the Mojave Desert and the Crescent Dunes molten salt energy plant in Nevada which are featured on the RNZ website.

Electric vehicles

The NZ government has announced incentives to increase the number of electric vehicles on our roads to 64,000 by 2021. Commentator Barry Soper says the government could have done a lot more, including switching its own fleet of 32 BMW diesel limousines to electric cars. The auto industry is gradually making serious inroads into the electric market, with many mainstream carmakers either working on or already selling an electric alternative. Here are the top picks for 2016. And check out these photos of the next generation of electric cars on display at the Bejing Motor Show last week. 

BMW has announced a new option for the i3 in a move that is claimed to extend the overall range of electric powered hatchback to a distance of 300km. Volvo has set a goal of selling up to 1 million “electrified” cars by 2025. Ford plans to introduce a long-range electric vehicle to compete with battery-powered models coming from Tesla and General Motors that would go 320km or more on a charge. VW and Shell have united to try to block Europe’s push for electric cars and more efficient cars, saying biofuels should be at heart of efforts to green the industry instead.