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Planned power price hikes create backlash, NZ solar passes milestone

Apple’s new $5 billion campus in California is nearing completion and will feature 700,000 square feet of rooftop solar panels. Credit: Matthew Roberts.

We're all about saving you energy and have rounded up the latest solar, climate and energy news so you don't have to. We'll be taking a short break over the festive season so our weekly digests will resume in mid January.

Power prices

Auckland consumers will be hit with a $59 million per annum increase in transmission prices under the Electricity Authority’s latest proposal for how the national grid is funded says Entrust Chairman William Cairns. New Zealand First is calling on new Energy and Resources Minister Judith Collins to reign in the Electricity Authority’s proposed power price increases for three regions. It says Northlanders face increases totalling $8.8 million, Aucklanders could pay an average of $176 per year and Ashburton residents an average of $226. Southland community and business leaders are backing the local aluminium smelter in its battle to pay lower electricity transmission costs, reports RNZ.

The Commerce Commission has cut the rate of return that local electricity lines networks and national grid owner Transpower can charge in its latest decisions on monopoly network pricing. The changes do not apply to electricity itself, which is provided by competing generators and retailers, but to the wires that carry electricity around the country on the national grid and local networks of electricity lines, all of which operate as monopolies. Gas pipe networks are also covered by the regime.

Solar and batteries

New Zealand has passed the milestone of 11,000 small scale solar connections, with over 2,000 installations in the last 10 months, says the Electricity Authority. Chief Executive Carl Hansen says the EA is “committed to removing unwarranted barriers to the connection of small scale generation.”

Solar is now on a par with wind energy and will soon become the cheapest form of energy in developing nations, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

One of the world’s most anticipated buildings is nearly complete. New drone footage shows that Apple’s $5 billion solar-powered “spaceship” campus in California is on track to meet its 2016 completion goal. The building is expected to meet net-zero energy standards by generating 100 percent of its power from renewable energy sources – including 700,000 square feet of rooftop solar panels. Las Vegas just became the largest US city to power its municipal facilities 100% on renewable energy including solar and geothermal.

A virtual power station is being created across Adelaide with the installation of solar panels and battery storage at hundreds of properties, and owners will use the internet to share details of their storage data, reports ABC.

Finnish researchers have developed a 3D printed solar tree that can capture energy from the sun. The trees also harvest energy from the wind and changes in temperature and can power a cell phone of other small device. Sustainable solar cells made with jellyfish goo are just one project happening in the field of biosolar, which utilises biological material to harness the power of the sun, reports Salon.

Renewables and fossil fuels

The Green Climate Fund, a United Nations fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change, has granted the Cook Islands US$12 million to expand the main island's energy grid using renewable energy.

India’s new draft National Electricity Plan for the two five year periods to 2027 unambiguously concludes that beyond the half-built plants already under construction, India does not require any new coal-fired power stations.

Groups campaigning on climate change, fracking, oil and gas drilling and social justice from across Aotearoa have announced plans to disrupt the New Zealand Petroleum Conference in March next year.

Climate change

A variety of extreme weather events in 2015 were likely influenced by global warming, from heat waves in Australia to heavy rain in China to raging wildfires in Alaska says a new report from the US. The dramatic melting of Arctic ice is already driving extreme weather that affects hundreds of millions of people across North America, Europe and Asia, leading climate scientists have told the Guardian.

Sub-Saharan Africa is in the throes of a population boom, which means that people have to grow more food precisely at a time when climate change is making it all the more difficult. For hundreds of thousands life is becoming increasingly intolerable, reports Somini Sengupta for the New York Times.

Transport

Kiwirail announced plans to ditch its North Island electric rail fleet and replace with diesel freight engines - a decision derided by environmentalist and Opposition MPs.

Nissan Motor Co, Renault SA and Mitsubishi Motors Corp will combine their electric vehicle platforms in an effort to slash prices down to levels comparable to conventional gasoline cars. A top Nissan executive is forecasting that it won't be long before the purchase costs of conventional cars and hybrid and electric models will be the same.

Automakers are starting to catch up to Tesla by launching longer-range electric vehicles – and Lucid Motors is one of the most promising start-ups to throw their hat into the ring.