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NZ temperatures rising, oil exploration crashing

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

NZ is in a unique position with solar uptake starting to take off at a time when batteries are becoming financially viable, says Australia’s Renew Economy.

The US solar market just shattered all previous quarterly solar photovoltaic installation records and it’s about to get even bigger. Community solar projects, in parts of the US, are making it possible for homeowners and renters to access solar power from panels that are jointly owned.

Uganda has started up its first grid-connected, 10 megawatt solar power plant as it moves to tap its renewable energy resources and expand its electricity generation capacity. Using 32,600 panels the plant will power at least 40,000 homes. Out of ideas for stocking fillers? A Swedish tech start up has a suggestion: why not give those in need the gift of electricity? The aim is to open up business opportunities by connecting people with disposable income to African entrepreneurs, called "solar partners", who supply solar power kits to people who live in rural, off-grid areas.

The largest operating solar farm in Queensland, Australia, has plugged into the national electricity grid and is set to generate enough power for almost 10,000 households by the end of 2016. South Australian wineries are embracing solar energy at twice the rate of other business sectors, installers say. Yalumba Wine Company in the Barossa Valley is just weeks away from completing one of the largest commercial solar system installations in South Australia and the largest to date by any Australian winery.  

Israeli robotic technology will clean the photovoltaic panels at a 10,000 hectare solar park in India. Located in a vast desert area, the park is prone to numerous dust storms, which can cut energy generation by as much as 40%. To counter this the panels will be cleaned nightly by an automated waterless system.

Renewables

The NZ government opened public consultation on a new national renewable energy strategy to cover the period 2017-2022. Its actions and targets focus on three priority areas: transport; the heat used in industrial and manufacturing processes; and innovative and efficient use of electricity. Submissions close 5pm, 7 February 2017.

A consortium of investors, led by tech entrepreneur and philanthropist Bill Gates, is backing a new US$1 billion fund for clean energy technology. Gates says the fund, known as Breakthrough Energy Ventures, will filter investment into “anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy.

A clean energy revolution is spreading across Latin America, reports the Economist. For almost seven months this year, Costa Rica ran purely on renewable power. Uruguay has come close to that, too.

Fossil fuels

Todd Energy was the sole explorer granted a permit in the NZ government block offer this year. In 2014 a total of 15 permits were issued. Last year it was nine. Energy and Resources Minister Simon Bridges said the awarding of just one permit in 2016 reflected the global downturn in the petroleum industry. US oil giant Anadarko says it will surrender two major permits that allow it to search for oil in Pegasus Basin over an area of 7,085 square-kilometres off the Kaikoura and Wellington Coasts. Greenpeace says the government’s oil agenda is broken and it’s time to invest in a new, clean economy. Earlier in the week the environmental organisation released aerial footage of the world’s biggest seismic ship, the Amazon Warrior, searching for oil 120 nautical miles off the Wairarapa Coast. “It’s a complete betrayal that our Government has invited this climate-wrecking beast to roam our unique coastlines,” said climate campaigner, Kate Simcock.  

The value of investment funds committed to selling off fossil fuel assets has jumped to $5.2tn, doubling in just over a year. The new total, was welcomed by the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, who said: “It’s clear the transition to a clean energy future is inevitable, beneficial and well underway, and that investors have a key role to play."

Growth in global coal demand will slow over the next five years due to lower consumption in China and the United States and as renewable energy sources gain ground, says the International Energy Agency.

Climate change

This year is set to become New Zealand's hottest on record, breaking the previous record set in 1998. "What we are seeing is the stark reality of global warming," said NIWA principal scientist climate Dr Brett Mullan. The Arctic saw the warmest temperatures ever recorded in 2016 as they continue to climb at double the rate of the planet as a whole.

US President-elect Donald Trump says he's "very open-minded" on whether climate change is underway but has serious concerns about how President Barack Obama's efforts to cut carbon emissions have undercut America's global competitiveness. Trump’s cabinet will likely include climate change deniers Scott Pruitt, Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Rick Perry. ExxonMobil Chief Executive Rex Tillerson, who has been nominated as secretary of state, has a more nuanced position on climate change, reports the Washington Post.

The US Energy Department says it will not comply with a request from Trump's Energy Department transition team for the names of people who have worked on climate change. Meanwhile, scientists in the US are making copies of federal climate and environmental data over fears it could be erased under Donald Trump's administration.

Scientists say they are concerned at the rate at which methane in the atmosphere is now rising. Methane (CH4) is a smaller component than carbon dioxide (CO2) but drives a more potent greenhouse effect. Researchers warn that efforts to tackle climate change will be undermined unless CH4 is also brought under tighter control. Scientists have used photos taken by Cold War spy satellites to reveal the dramatic environmental changes in the Himalayas, reports the BBC. By comparing pictures collected by a US reconnaissance programme with recent satellite data, they have been able to measure the extent of glacial melt. This same method will be used to track changes in other parts of the Earth.

Power prices

The Electricity Authority is softening its proposed reforms for the way people pay for the national grid, reports the NZ Herald. The latest proposals limit increases to no more than 3.5 percent of a customer’s total energy bill in the first six years of the proposed new regime’s operation, from 2020.

Minister of Economic Development Steven Joyce is incapable of understanding that power price hikes are stifling major development, says New Zealand First. The party’s spokesperson for Energy and Commerce, Fletcher Tabuteau, was responding to news that plans for a new pulp mill near Kaikohe had been scuppered last week because of proposed Electricity Authority Power price hikes.

Electric vehicles

Norway, a global leader in electric vehicle adoption, announced that it has reached the milestone of 100,000 all-electric vehicles on its roads.

A new electric car share service, called Mevo, launched in Wellington this week. The company is starting with three cars and a charging station in the city centre. In the next 12 months it plans to expand to 50 cars across 64 charging stations, as well as launching the service in Auckland.