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NZ electricity sector at crossroads and UK energy lobby group does U-turn

Photo: Researchers have produced super thin solar cells so light that they were able to balance them on soap bubbles.

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The Electricity Authority has started work on a review to ensure that unintended barriers do not prevent consumers from adopting new technologies such as electric vehicles and batteries. It is also looking to ensure that consumers are able to benefit from potential new ways of buying and selling electricity.
While the electricity sector agrees that new, consumer-friendly ways to charge for power are necessary and possible, thanks to new technology, different parts of the industry can't agree on how, why and what to charge, according to Nick Russ, from the Commerce Commission, who was a speaker at this week’s Downstream energy sector conference. Electricity company leaders at the conference agreed solar power is now part of NZ's energy mix. Powerco chief executive Nigel Barbour says technology changes to the industry will be largely customer-led, rather than by the industry. Energy Minister Simon Bridges told the conference that small scale generation, like solar PV, batteries and other forms of storage, and demand management technologies would likely have wide-reaching consequences for the entire electricity supply chain. Wellington Electricity, the electricity lines company for the Wellington region, says there will be an average 4.15% increase in its lines charges from April this year.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund lost at least $5.3 billion over the last three years by remaining invested in fossil fuel holdings. A new report says US$367 billion was invested in renewable energy last year. That was an increase of 7 percent on 2014. The investment in clean energy sources reflects the savings and the profits that can be generated by the sector. The growth of clean-power generation has fuelled a large increase in clean-energy patents. In 2014 alone, patents issued for clean-energy technologies hit 3,069, more than triple the number issued in 2009. Researchers in the US have designed the thinnest, lightest solar cells ever produced. Though it may take years to develop into a commercial product, the laboratory proof-of-concept shows a new approach to making solar cells that could help power the next generation of portable electronic devices.

The UK’s biggest energy lobbying group has done a u-turn on its position on green energy and will start campaigning for low-carbon alternatives for the first time, in what environmental campaigners are describing as a watershed moment. Brazil’s distributed electricity generation programme was launched this week meaning consumers that have installed small generators, such as solar panels, will be paid for supplying the local grid. In response to a US complaint, a World Trade Organisation (WTO) panel has ruled that India's National Solar Mission breaches trade rules. The BBC asks whatever happened to all the talk of international co-operation to tackle climate change that we heard during the climate conference in Paris just a few months ago? Australia’s biggest climate polluters increased their emissions in the year to July 2015, according to the latest data from Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator.

Actor Leonardo deCaprio used his acceptance speech when he won an Oscar at the Academy Awards to call on people around the world to unite in taking action on climate change. In his latest TED talk, Al Gore, founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, poses three questions that will determine the future of our planet – and why there’s good reason to be optimistic. In their annual letter for 2016, Bill and Melinda Gates say countries around the world need to develop ways of generating energy that doesn’t make climate change worse. They’re betting that within 15 years, scientists and engineers will develop big breakthroughs that will put us on a path to zero carbon emissions and make energy more affordable for everyone.

Bloomberg reports that a shift is under way that will lead to the widespread adoption of electric vehicles in the next decade. According to the latest registration data, the European plug-in electric car market doubled in 2015 to a record high of 186,170. The South Island's first fast charger for electric cars has been opened in Dunedin, with promises it will help curb 'driver range anxiety'.

The third global coral bleaching event to be recorded is snaking its way around a warming globe, devastating reefs and now threatening the world-heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, reports the Guardian. The levels of the climate gas methane is increasing more than expected at measuring stations both on Svalbard and in Southern Norway. Seven new research proposals that focus on the challenges of warming in Antarctica are being supported by the NZ Antarctic Research Institute.