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Solar delivers first power to millions, NZ takes steps on climate action

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

The world’s first solar train. Image by Byron Bay Railroad Company

Solar 

More than 100 million people around the world now have access to electricity for the first time thanks to simple solar power systems that typically provide LED lights and a phone charger, reports New Scientist.

BP has bought a 43% stake in Europe’s biggest solar developer, marking its return to the sector from which it withdrew six years ago.

South Korea says it plans to increase its solar-generated power by five times current amounts by 2030 to boost use of renewable sources in the nation’s energy mix, reports Reuters.

An Australian company has created the first fully solar-powered train. While it doesn't travel long distances, it does prove that the sun is a viable source of energy for passenger transportation.

And China is set to open its first solar motorway that can generate electricity under sunlight. The two-kilometre-long stretch of highway could charge electric cars as they are travelling on it, reports the Daily Mail.

Energy storage

Tesla's big battery is having a big impact on Australia’s electricity market, far beyond the South Australia grid, reports Renew Economy.

Renewables and fossil fuels

France's parliament has approved a law banning all exploration and production of oil and natural gas by 2040 within the country and its overseas territories.

New Zealand’s largest environmental organisations have sent an open letter to our government calling for an end to new fossil fuel expansion. And Coal Action Network Aotearoa says it's not too late for the government to stop the Te Kuha opencast mine proceeding on the West Coast.

Only one exploration permit has been granted in the Crown's block offer this year. It covers 547km2 of ocean off the coast of Taranaki. WWF-New Zealand says by issuing the permit the government is failing to protect the last 63 Māui dolphins that live in that area. 

Environmental groups say they will be taking to the water this summer to protest against seismic testing for oil and gas between Raglan and Farewell Spit. And Oil free Wellington activists have launched a campaign to shut down the 2018 Petroleum NZ Conference in the capital in March. 

Climate change

A new climate-change law next year will bind Governments to carbon targets and set it down a path to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 - though agriculture looks set for a free ride until at least mid-2019. Greenpeace has called on the Government to back up its talk by banning all new mining, oil drilling and fracking consents.

The 2017 global land and ocean temperature will likely end among the three warmest years on record, and is expected to be the warmest year without a warming El Niño, says the UN. Meanwhile, in the US President Donald Trump has removed climate change from the list of worldwide threats menacing the country.

Between 2009 and 2015, Auckland's net emissions increased by 2.1 per cent while gross emissions increased by 7.1 per cent. The increase was driven mainly by activities in the industrial processes and product use sectors, as well as from transport.

Power prices

High power bills are becoming a year-round phenomenon, and it's crippling some families. A recent Otago University study says one fifth of all New Zealand families have experienced energy poverty. And a Northland rest home is facing a power price increase of around $20,000 per year.

Low snow-pack levels will affect Meridian Energy's ability to generate power. Wholesale prices for electricity have already risen, reports the NZ Herald.

Electric vehicles

BMW has hit its target of selling 100,000 electric cars this year. Chinese electric-car maker NIO has launched sales of its first vehicle three years after the company was founded, undercutting the price of a rival model from Tesla Inc. Every model in the Toyota and Lexus line-up should be available as either a dedicated electrified model or have an electrified option by 2025, says Toyota NZ.

Two new breakthroughs in battery technology that could benefit electric vehicles are previewed by CleanTechnica. The Wellington City Council will soon be trialling electric-vehicle charging points in residential streets.