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Panda power in China, Britain acts on vehicle pollution

The world’s first solar farm in the shape of a panda bear. Credit EPA

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

Images have been released of a new solar farm in China built to look like a panda bear when viewed from the air. The energy company behind the project plans to build a total of 100 panda solar farms. China's solar industry is expected to produce 25% more panels in 2017 than last year, supported by domestic sales and demand from the United States and emerging markets.

Sunshine Coast Council is the first local government in Australia to offset 100% of its electricity consumption with energy from a renewable source. It has built a solar farm with close to 58,000 panels which it says will deliver massive savings for ratepayers and sends a clear message about the area’s commitment to clean energy. Solar plants that supply electricity at competitive prices after the sun goes down are about to become a reality in the Middle East, according to one of the region’s biggest developers of power plants.

Consumers in the UK could save billions of pounds thanks to major changes in the way electricity is made, used and stored. New rules will make it easier for people to generate their own power with solar panels, store it in batteries and sell it to the National Grid, reports the BBC. The total global funding raised during the first half of the year for the battery storage, smart grid, and energy efficiency sectors topped $1 billion, a 25% increase over the same time a year ago.

Power company Vector is unable to say how a so-called "world first" to light up the Auckland Harbour Bridge by solar power will work. Vector and the council should be open about the project and candid with their claims, says the Herald.

Renewables and fossil fuels

Electricity companies will be encouraging people to generate their own power in the future to help reduce expensive network upgrades, says Dave Shepard an international technology consultant visiting NZ.

Onshore windfarms could be built in the UK for the same cost as new gas power stations and would be nearly half as expensive as the Hinkley Point C nuclear plant, according to a leading engineering consultant.

Google and a leading nuclear fusion company have developed a new computer algorithm which has significantly speeded up experiments on plasmas, the ultra-hot balls of gas at the heart of the energy technology.

The Supreme Court of Canada has over ruled oil and gas exploration off the coast of an isolated Inuit community in Northern Canada.

Climate change

New Zealand's net emissions rose by 64% between 1990 and 2015, while the UK's fell by 30% over the same time, says a new report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. Dr Jan Wright says New Zealand needs to pass new climate change laws similar to those in the UK, which put greenhouse gas emissions targets into law and set "carbon budgets" to cap emissions. A group of 39 NZ mayors are calling for central government to develop an ambitious plan to transition the nation into a low-carbon economy ready to take on the dangers that climate change may present. 

The Government will introduce the auctioning of carbon units, limit use of international units and roll in a new price ceiling under just-proposed changes to New Zealand's Emissions Trading Scheme. Business commentator Brian Fallow examines the latest proposals.

Extreme El Nino events, which have cost New Zealand hundreds of millions of dollars in the past, are likely to become twice as common under climate change, a new study has found. Unabated climate change would bring devastating consequences to countries in Asia and the Pacific, according to a report produced by the Asian Development Bank and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Following the US withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement small Pacific Island states are turning to other nations like the People's Republic of China to garner more support for climate change efforts in the region, reports RNZ.

The Guardian features an excerpt of an interview by Bernie Sanders with former US Vice-President Al Gore about his new film, An Inconvenient Sequel.

Power prices

The number of Kiwi households switching power retailers hit a monthly high of 16,701 for the year in June. The head of the Electricity Authority says most consumers who switched were driven by price.

Heavy rain in the South Island last week all but missed the southern hydro lakes, which remain at critically low levels for the time of year. Wholesale power prices are continuing to spike. Power companies are watching closely to see whether a general upward trend in prices forecast for next winter and 2019 could justify increased energy charges in the medium term

Due to the spike of wholesale prices Flick customers have paid about $56 more so far this winter than customers on traditional power retailers' models, the company says.

Rising prices for housing, electricity and food have hit beneficiaries particularly hard, the latest Statistics New Zealand data shows.

Transport

Britain will ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040 in an attempt to reduce air pollution that could herald the end of over a century of reliance on the internal combustion engine. 

Opec, Russia, and Big Oil thought they had half a century to prepare for the end of the internal combustion engine. At best they have a decade before the threat turns deadly serious, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Auckland will have 17 new electric trains in operation by 2019. The trains will replace existing diesel trains between Papakura and Pukekohe, and will be fitted with modern batteries which allow them to operate off-grid and recharge when in an electrified section. There are now more than 4000 electric vehicles in New Zealand.

Toyota is working on an electric car powered by a new type of battery that significantly increases driving range and reduces charging time, aiming to begin sales in 2022, according to unconfirmed reports. A plan to build an ultrafast Hyperloop tube train has been given "verbal [government] approval" to connect large cities on the East Coast, tech entrepreneur Elon Musk says. 

The V1 from Avionics is possibly the coolest electric bike you’ve ever seen.