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Solar tax battle heats up, Kiwi concern over power prices

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 complaint that lines company Unison Networks breached the electricity industry code when it introduced a solar tax last year has won the right to a full hearing after it was earlier rejected by New Zealand’s electricity watchdog. Greenpeace says the escalation shows an increasing power struggle between households wanting more independence over their electricity and industry players wanting to maintain control.

China's installed photovoltaic (PV) capacity more than doubled last year, turning the country into the world's biggest producer of solar energy by capacity, says the National Energy Administration. And the country’s rising imports of polysilicon indicate its solar boom will continue this year.

The US solar job force had a year of exponential growth in 2016, increasing 25% year-on-year and constituting one in every 50 new US jobs, according to analysis by the Solar Job Census. Large battery storage plants are moving in on the traditional role of natural gas to provide electricity to the grid during peak hours of demand in California. Three battery storage plants will fill the power glut caused by the natural gas leak at Aliso Canyon in Los Angeles, which was subsequently shut down last year.  

West Australian households and businesses are installing solar panels at a record rate, with installations up 33 per cent last year, driven by rising power prices and the falling cost of the technology, new research has found.

Popular Mechanics looks at 11 of the most impressive solar projects around the world. The global market for floating solar panels is expected to grow significantly over the next eight years due to the rising demand for reliable renewable power generation that does not use expensive real estate on terra firma.Miniature, flexible solar cells called "solar glitter”, that can be integrated into objects of any shape or size, could change the way we approach solar energy generation.

A battery made with urea, which is commonly found in fertilisers and mammal urine, could provide a low-cost way of storing energy produced through solar power or other forms of renewable energy, reports Stanford News.

Power prices

The price of power is the biggest concern for Kiwis when it comes to the cost of living, says Consumer NZ following its latest survey.

Renewables and fossil fuels

The falling cost of electric vehicle and solar technology will halt demand growth for oil and coal from 2020, posing a threat to fossil fuel companies unprepared for the transition.

Ireland could become the first country in the world to fully divest its sovereign wealth fund from fossil fuels. And Deutsche Bank, the biggest bank in Germany, has said it will stop financing coal projects as part of its commitments under the Paris agreement to tackle global warming.

Solid Energy is closing its Spring Creek coal mine, near Greymouth. It says volatile coal market conditions made it hard to find any buyers.

A pilot energy efficiency programme developed for Auckland homes will be the first stage of sustainable energy partnership between Auckland Council and energy company Vector.

A climate change advocacy group is putting pressure on the Christchurch City Council to source its electricity from 100 per cent renewable sources.

Climate change

Official briefings show that the NZ Government will fall short of its target for reducing climate pollution by 85%, says the Green Party. Extreme weather due to climate change is going to put more pressure on NZ’s drinking water infrastructure, leading to more boil notices and e-coli scares, says public health professor Dr Michael Baker.

Top international scholars will gather at Victoria University of Wellington next week to discuss the connections between Earth’s frozen waters and the global climate system.

Transport

With ambitious emissions-reduction targets, support from government and the car industry, electromobility is on the verge of major expansion in Europe, reports Yale Environment 360. Shell says it will start installing electric vehicle chargers at its service stations in Britain and the Netherlands this year.

KiwiRail's decision to scrap its main trunk electric locomotive fleet will see its annual carbon footprint increase by 10 percent - the equivalent of an adding 4709 cars on the road, reports Newshub. KiwiRail says it will spend $2million per year to maintain the overhead electric wires between Hamilton and Palmerston North so reinstating electric trains is an option in the future.

A New Zealand-built electric car is aiming to be the world's fastest street legal electric powered vehicle.