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Solar set for massive growth, NZ breaks temperature records

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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

Our CEO, Andrew Booth, responds to a recent opinion piece in Stuff on the carbon reduction benefits of electricity vehicles and solar panels. He says the challenge to decarbonise our entire economy is an opportunity to bring our nation together.

Solar power generation could grow from 2% of the global total to 13% by 2030, according to a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency. Across the world, solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind are the dominant clean energy technologies. Renew Economy says this dominance is likely to become overwhelming over the next few years, preventing other clean energy technologies (including carbon capture and storage, nuclear and other renewables) from growing much. After a rocky start the US solar industry is now entering what may be its most prosperous decade ever, reports the Guardian. A merger between Solarcity and Tesla in the US could transform the power sector, says Bloomberg.

A new solar plant will soon start powering a mine in Western Australia. The Conversation says that In the future solar power could also replace fossil fuel energy in the heating process used to convert minerals to chemicals and metals. A section of the iconic Route 66 in the US will soon feature America’s first solar road panels. In addition to producing renewable energy, the panels contain LED lights to create lines and signage without paint and contain heating elements to prevent snow and ice accumulation. A German start-up has figured out how to cram an entire solar power plant into a shipping container. It has sent its first kits to off-grid villages in Africa, where they provide a new source of clean, affordable electricity after just two hours of assembly. A new twist on the use of renewable energy is saving children's lives in Africa. The innovation - a solar powered oxygen delivery system - is providing concentrated oxygen in hospital for children suffering from severe pneumonia.

Bertrand Piccard, one of the pilots flying Solar Impulse 2 - the solar powered plane flying around the world with no fuel, shows off the tiny cockpit during his 71-hour flight across the Atlantic last week. The sun is entering a phase, known as ‘solar minimum’, when it’s surface is unblemished by sunspots.

Renewables and fossil fuels

The US, Canada and Mexico have announced that 50% of North America’s electricity will come from clean power sources by 2025. Sydney has raised the bar on its renewable energy and climate targets, with the release of a new five-year plan that targets 50 per cent renewable electricity by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2050.

German politicians have approved a law that bans fracking, ending years of dispute over the controversial technology to release oil and gas locked deep underground. Thousands of mines are closing in Indonesia’s tropical coal belt as prices languish and seams run dry. But almost none of the companies have paid their share of billions of dollars owed to repair the badly scarred landscape they have left behind, reports Reuters.

The Energy End Use Database run by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) has been revamped. It allows members of the public to drill down into how energy was consumed in various ways ranging from road transport to space heating from 2012-2014.

Power prices

A group of Turangi residents say they are paying more for their grid connection than they pay for power. They are calling on power distribution company The Lines Company to change to a fairer way of calculating their bills. New Zealanders do not have much confidence or knowledge when it comes to using smart technology to cut their electricity bills, according to new research. The findings - which came in three studies carried out by Otago University's Centre for Sustainability - found less than 10 percent of respondents were very familiar with smart appliances, smart light bulbs, smart thermostats and smart electric wall plugs.

Climate change

The first six months of 2016 will be the warmest start to a year on record in New Zealand, due to a combination of climate change, exceptionally warm seas and more northerlies than usual. Scientists are warning that the record-breaking temperatures are causing a surge in the numbers of agricultural pests and ongoing drought, with predictions the problem is set to get worse. Climate change projections released by the Ministry for the Environment show average temperatures in New Zealand are expected to rise by up to 1C by 2040 and by up to a further 2C in the 50 years after that.Environment Commissioner Dr Jan Wright has criticised the government's landmark environmental report released last year, saying it gives no diagnosis on the health of the environment. The is failing to be forward thinking when it comes to climate change - the biggest environmental issue facing NZ, she says. Youth organisation Generation Zero announced plans to draft a law that commits New Zealand to being zero carbon by 2050.

The pledges made by countries at the historic Paris agreement on climate change would lead to “completely catastrophic” global warming, scientists have warned. In a major analysis of 10 different studies into the effect of what world leaders promised to do, researchers calculated that the planet was still on course for a temperature increase of 2.6C to 3.1C by the end of this century.

Earlier this month, Nasa scientists provided a visualisation of a startling climate change trend - the Earth is getting greener, as viewed from space, especially in its rapidly warming northern regions. A new book shows Pacific farmers and foresters what adaptations can be used to cope with climate change over the next 70 or so years.

Transport

No final decision has been made on whether trains or trams will eventually run to Auckland Airport, says mayor Len Brown. His comments came after news that the NZ Transport Authority (NZTZ) and Auckland Transport were ditching plans to extend commuter rail because it would cost more than $2.6 billion as against $1.3bn for light rail or trams. Jon Reeves, from the Public Transport Users Association, says NZTA and Auckland Transport are overlooking obvious solutions while putting faith in uncosted, undeveloped plans which are over a decade away.

New electric vehicles will be the same price as comparative fuel-powered cars within six years, says a visiting associate professor from Oxford University. Toyota is entering the electric vehicle market in New Zealand with used cars as it says new EVs are too expensive. The company is importing and refurbishing low-mileage, three-year old third-generation plug-in Prius cars from Japan which will sell for between $35,000 and $40,000. Tesla continues to dominate when it comes to long-range electric vehicles. But that may not be the case for long. Tech Insider looks at the electric cars in the works that could challenge Tesla's Model S. 

German automaker Volkswagen AG will pay as much as $15.3 billion after admitting it cheated on US diesel emissions tests for years, agreeing to buy back vehicles from consumers and provide funding that could benefit makers of cleaner technologies.