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Solar tax ruling criticised as fight goes on, solar plane almost home

Solar Impulse 2 flies over the pyramids of Giza prior to landing in Cairo on 13 July. Photograph: Jean Revillard/AFP/Getty Images

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

The Electricity Authority (EA) says Unison Energy has not breached the industry’s code with its solar tax. However, the EA has yet to review our complaint on the subject and we we’re still fighting to have the solar tax dumped. Sustainable Electricity Association NZ says the EA decision reveals the system is broken while Greenpeace says the EA needs to be brought to heel as it is failing in its watchdog role. “This is a blatant move by the EA to wash its hands of protecting and promoting renewable energy like solar so that it can continue to massage New Zealand’s electricity monopoly,” said Greenpeace climate campaigner, Simon Boxer.

Columnist Brian Fallow looks into the challenges of increasing solar uptake in NZ. A new free residential property database, homes.co.nz, will soon be expanded to include details on the electricity use of each of the listed 1.2 million NZ residences, flats and apartments. The website will also how much sun a roof gets, enabling owners to gauge the benefits of installing solar panels.

The Solar Impulse 2 landed in Cairo on Wednesday for its penultimate stop as the solar-powered plane nears the end of its marathon tour around the world. After the two-day flight from Spain, just one final leg lies between it and its final destination, Abu Dhabi, where it started its odyssey in March last year.

There are plans to build the world’s largest storage battery in California that by 2021 will replace the need to burn fossil fuels to meet daily peak demand. The UK is in the midst of an energy revolution and could adopt solar, electric vehicles and batteries much faster than expected just a year ago, according to the National Grid. The new outlook is part of a rapidly changing landscape for the UK energy system, laid out in the 2016 Future Energy Scenarios report.

British retailer Marks & Spencer is crowdfunding a switch to solar energy for nine of its stores in the UK. It is promising a profit of five percent interest, each year over the 20 year life of the project, for people willing to invest in shares die raw $1.63 million solar project. A Las Vegas casino company is claiming the title of largest rooftop solar panel array in the US. The Mandalay Bay Convention Centre has about 26,000 solar panels. They will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 1,340 homes for a year representing a carbon saving equivalent to taking 1,700 cars off the road.

A growing number of people living on the Gaza Strip, fed up with their erratic electricity supply, are turning to solar power in an area where the sun shines for the vast majority of the year, reports the Times of Israel.

The Monaco Solar Boat Challenge is pitting some of the world's most innovative sailors against each other as they compete to register the highest speed in hand-built boats powered solely by solar panels.

Power prices

Northlanders, who already have some of the highest power prices the country, overpaid for power by more than $11 million last year, reports the Northern Advocate. A new Electricity Authority report on the performance of the residential electricity market in 2015 showed Northlanders could have saved $11,565,137 - or $160 per household - last year by switching to the cheapest deal available. And Hawke's Bay consumers could have saved more than $8 million or $135 per household last year by switching to the cheapest deal available, reports Hawke’s Bay Today.

Renewables and fossil fuels

Following Trustpower's announcement it intends to build a $325 million 48-turbine wind farm in South Taranaki a flood of submissions against the proposal has prompted others to question what alternatives there were to generate electricity in the province. While Taranaki might be an ideal place for generating wave energy, the technology to harness it is still years from being fully developed, says a NZ-based oceanographer. An application to build and operate a community-owned wind farm at Blueskin Bay, in Dunedin, has been rejected. The decision to decline the application was "significantly influenced by the adverse effects the wind farm would have on the amenity and character” of three local properties. The company behind the project says it will explore other options.

Most of Australia’s incumbent electricity generators have decided to fight a proposed rule change that could help reduce wholesale electricity costs and pave the way for more battery storage, but may also force out some gas-fired peaking plant from the energy system. After years of “binge-building” new coal plants, China is expected to suspend development of all new coal-fired power generators until the start of 2018, according to state media reports.

The latest data from the International Energy Agency shows that investments in the oil sector declined in 2015, and again in 2016 — the market’s first consecutive two-year drop in three decades. 

 Transport

Fuel-powered cars may soon be a thing of the past, according to Sir Richard Branson, who has suggested that within 15 years “every car on the road will be electric”. An electric vehicle race, which began in Barcelona last month, is taking 11 international teams around the world in 80 days. The cars are now racing through China.

A trio of Toyota hydrogen vehicles — which emit only water vapour from their tailpipes — has landed in Australia ahead of a three-year trial of the future technology. However, in a classic chicken versus egg dilemma, there are currently no plans to introduce hydrogen cars in Australia because, for now, there is nowhere for customers to refuel them.

The electric mobility revolution is in full swing, and although much of the attention tends to get focused on electric cars and buses, the highest selling electric vehicles on the planet are actually electric bicycles (e-bikes), with a projection of some 35 million e-bikes being sold this year.

Climate change

New climate projections from the Ministry for the Environment show the South Island's ski season could be around 30 days shorter before the end of the century. Snowlines will retreat to higher altitudes due to higher temperatures, with some areas experiencing "significant decreases in seasonal snow," the report found. Clouds, which act as thermal regulators for Earth, have altered in character and global distribution due to climate change, and could in turn make warming worse, according to a new study.

Forest fires in Indonesia released 857 million tonnes of carbon dioxide between September and October  last year - a figure representing 97% of the country’s annual carbon emissions. Brexit has created uncertainty and anxiety about climate change, especially the implications for last year’s Paris Agreement, but it does not need to be a disaster. Dr Adrian Macey, adjunct professor at the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute says there is no reason to suppose the UK will resile from its target of 80% net reductions on 1990 levels by 2050, which has strong institutional backing and broad support.