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Run of record global temperatures continues, Africa embraces solar

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

Climate change

Last month was the hottest June in modern history, marking the 14th consecutive month that global heat records have been broken, and the the longest such streak since temperature data started being recorded in 1880, according the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Rising temperatures caused by climate change may cost the world economy over US$2 trillion ($2.8 trillion) in lost productivity by 2030 as hot weather makes it unbearable to work in some parts of the world, according to UN research. According to NASA, the Amazon is the driest it’s been at the start of the dry season since 2002 which means the stage is set for extreme fire risk in 2016.

A new 20-year Government "roadmap" that singles out climate change as an environmental research priority for New Zealand is a step in the right direction but needs to be treated with more urgency, says Climate scientist Dr James Renwick. “While the Government has an Emissions Trading Scheme and is investing in agricultural emissions research, there is no hint that the country's total emissions are decreasing, or are expected to decrease at any time in the coming 20 years." The Conservation and Environment Science Roadmap discussion paper is now open for public consultation until Sept 7.

Volunteers in the northern state of India have planted 50 million trees to increase forestation in line with agreements made at the Paris climate change summit in 2015. The mass planting was completed in 24 hours - a record that is waiting to be verified by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Solar and batteries

In Kenya some 4,100 primary schools to power using solar PV systems In one of the most ambitious rural electrification projects in Africa. Earlier this year Tanzania launched a joint initiative with the World Bank to curb carbon emissions by encouraging the increased use of solar power. Since then 33 out of the country’s 344 manufacturing companies targeted by the initiative have made the switch. Nigeria plans to build three solar plants that will start supplying the national grid next year. According to a statement from one of the companies involved in the project the power generated will be equivalent to 10% of the total national generation that Nigeria currently produces.

Construction starts in Queensland, Australia, next month on a world-first solar power station with a storage battery big enough to feed electricity into 1000 homes. “This is the real battery storage story coming out of Australia – batteries used to convert large-scale solar to effectively baseload, or peaking plant,” says the company behind the project.

The government of one of India’s largest states is working on a long-term proposal to shift all agricultural power consumers to solar power. Home and business owners in India are coming up with inventive ways to protect their rooftop solar systems from marauding monkeys, reports Reuters.

The Obama administration is making a new large-scale effort to encourage deployment and use of rooftop solar power on homes. Numerous agencies have announced new, or strengthened, coordinated efforts aimed at increasing solar installations in houses owned by low- and moderate-income Americans, including a new goal for solar installations and a policy change to increase access to a key financing mechanism for solar power and energy efficiency. A recently released paper estimates that by 2021, there could be 27,000 new jobs in the US related to solar and energy storage. US Military veterans are being trained to work in the fast-growing solar industry. The Solar Ready Vets programme was born from a partnership between the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense, working through colleges outside major military installations.

An electricity industry argument we often hear is that because solar users are usually still grid-connected (but paying less because they’re using less), they’re somehow making power more expensive for everyone else. It seems that argument is also being made in the US but a co-founder of one of the country’s larger solar companies says the argument is a total red herring. We agree.

An innovative European solar plus storage solution called “SmartFlower” is expanding into the US market. The SmartFlower wakes up at sunrise, fans out its solar panels and automatically cleans itself in preparation for capturing the sun’s rays. SmartFlower then turns to face the sun at a 90°angle, and follows the sun throughout the day using dual-axis tracking to maximise solar energy yield. 

The New Zealand Transport Agency has installed about 60 solar-powered roadside beacons on the drive from Christchurch to Queenstown, reports Stuff. The beacons communicate with a smartphone app in passing vehicles and a computer voice warns drivers of hazards ahead, including accidents or changing conditions. The app tells drivers about travel times and suggests good places to stop and refresh.

Renewables and fossil fuels

A 96-turbine wind farm is to be built in Victoria, Australia. Scheduled for completion in 2019 it will generate enough to power 140,000 homes and will save an estimated 700,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year – equivalent to removing 170,00 cars from Victorian roads. Germany aims to generate 35% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Based on figures from the first half of 2016 it looks like it may hit that target much earlier.

European Union renewable energy targets may have increased greenhouse gas emissions because the dirtiest biofuels produce three times the emissions of diesel oil, according to the most complete EU analysis yet carried out.

Transport

Chief Executive Elon Musk sees a future with heavy electric trucks and buses, as well as autonomous electric car-sharing networks, all powered by solar energy. The co-pilots and founders of Solar Impulse – the remarkable solar powered plane that is making a ground-breaking flight around the world – predict there will be short-haul electric planes for up to 50 people operating within 10 years.

Newshub’s Story talks to enthusiasts about the benefits of the electric cars. The government is encouraging a switch to electric cars and has set a target of 64,000 vehicles on the road within five years. Tesla Motors Inc. 

Audi will aim for electric cars to account for a quarter of its sales by 2025 as part of a strategic overhaul following the emissions scandal at parent Volkswagen, in a move that could step up the challenge to U.S. group Tesla. Daimler, which owns the Mercedes-Benz luxury brand, says it has accelerated development of premium electric cars and will reveal more plans at the Paris motor show in October. Hyundai, the Korean automaker, is launching its first electric car just as the government is stepping up its efforts to promote electric vehicles, with expanded infrastructure and a range of incentives for consumers. Samsung Electronics is on the verge of making a substantial investment in BYD, a Chinese manufacturer of electric cars and batteries. The Samsung investment comes as its chief rivals are investing in car tech and the market for car battery technology continues to grow.

Power prices

Bay of Plenty consumers overpaid for power by more than $39 million last year, reports the Bay of Plenty Times. A new Electricity Authority report on the performance of the residential electricity market in 2015 showed Bay of Plenty people could have saved $39,182,815 or $331.25 per household last year by switching to the cheapest deal available. Bay of Plenty households stood to save the most of any region in NZ.

Energy efficiency

Supermarket sales of LED light bulbs are rapidly increasing as the cost of the new technology drops, according  to the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA). It says only about 1,600 LEDs were sold through supermarkets in 2012 but this figure jumped to more than 257,000 LED sales last year. The NZ Herald spoke to Vanessa Willats, product manager for Partner Eco for Schneider Electric New Zealand and got six smart tips for reducing your usage plus found out how much you'll save with each tip.