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Solar plane flies round the world, proposal to raise power prices under fire

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

Solar Impulse 2 made aviation and energy history this week when it completed the first round-the-world flight by a solar-powered plane. Apart from setting a record, the flight became a showcase for solar-powered technology, featuring innovations which could have a bright commercial future. Writing for Newsweek, André Borschberg and Bertrand Piccard reflect on their journey.

A world leading wind-solar-battery storage hybrid project is to be built in north Queensland, Australia. It will cost around $120 million and will be the first stage of an expected $1 billion project that will deliver the equivalent of base load power in the energy-hungry north of the state. Coupling solar and wind farms at the same site harnesses clean energy sources that generate power at different times of the day and year, says Australia’s renewable energy agency. 

A new solar farm in Idaho, USA, is using 174,800 solar panels which track the sun’s position and generate power for about 29,000 homes. Tesla officially opened its Gigafactory in Nevada, USA. It has partnered with Panasonic Corp on the $5 billion project which could double the world’s production of lithium-ion batteries. The 93 hectare building is expected to be finished in 2018 and will be powered on clean energy. Battery cell production will start by the end of this year. Los Angeles now has its first apartment building that was designed, constructed, and permitted so tenants could use solar power and achieve net-zero energy usage.

An Indian research institute has developed a ‘solar tree’ which maximises the number of solar panels that can be installed when land space is limited.

Power prices

The Electricity Authority’s (EA) proposal to change electricity transmission pricing came under heavy criticism this week as a two-month public consultation period ended. Auckland, Northland, Ashburton and the West Coast customers face big increases under the proposal. A forum of Northland mayors say charging the region an extra $15 million would be an economic disaster. An unprecedented response from Auckland consumers to the proposal, which would see the city pay an additional $78 million per year, shows how unpopular it is, says Entrust (formerly Auckland Energy Consumer Trust). The Employers and Manufacturers Association says Auckland businesses could face increases between $1,500 and $22,000 a year. It says the grid has already been paid for, and believes the EA should maintain its current pricing regime, which distributes costs across the board rather than imposing a regional tax by stealth.

Climate change

The world’s largest oil, coal, cement and mining companies have been given 45 days to respond to a complaint that their greenhouse gas emissions have violated the human rights of millions of people living in the Philippines.

“Not Reality TV,” a short film produced by James Cameron highlights the deep divide between Donald Trump’s agenda — including his avowal to “cancel” the Paris climate change agreement — and Hillary Clinton’s pledge to “tackle” the climate challenge and install millions of solar panels throughout the country. The 5-minute video premiered at the Democratic national convention this week.

Clean energy policy analyst Joel Stronberg says there is growing body of hard evidence to suggest that the dawn of an environmentally sustainable future has finally begun to break but there are still challenges ahead.

Renewables and fossil fuels

The coal industry is behind a series of attacks on wind energy and is fighting for its life in south Australia, writes economics editor for The Age, Peter Martin.

Electric vehicles

Researchers are working on a new lithium-oxygen or lithium-air battery technology that could make long-distance electric cars (and smartphones that don't need recharging every day) a reality - but it’s still a way off.

Porsche plans to create at least 1,400 jobs to develop, build and sell its first all-electric car, due to starting rolling off the assembly line in 2019 and Jaguar is putting resources into developing two electric vehicles.

South Australia’s state government hopes that plans to increase the number of low emissions vehicles in its transport fleet will act as “a lever” for change in the domestic car market, while bringing the state’s capital, Adelaide, closer to its goal of the world’s first carbon neutral city.