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Transpower predicts big solar and battery uptake, NZ climate emissions still rising

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

Solar

Transpower released a report outlining scenarios for the electricity sector, including the rise of technology such as solar and battery storage. It is predicting the failure of some lines companies amid a big uptake of "disruptive technologies" such as solar energy. Transpower CEO Alison Andrews discusses the report on RNZ.

Stanford University lecturer Tony Seba, who is talking at investor meetings in Australia this week, says that within just 15 years conventional energy production and transport will have been rendered obsolete by the revolution taking place in batteries, solar power and electric cars. The combined power of home solar and battery storage could be provide the bulk of Australia’s “peak demand” needs, particularly in winter, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance senior analyst Kobad Bhavnagri.

Solar power is going to be a crucial part of New Zealand’s energy mix, says Gord Stewart, an environmental sustainability consultant. The sunny Gisborne region has enormous solar potential, a public meeting in the city was told this week.

The Samoa Government's target to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2017 moved one step closer with the opening of a 2.1 mega watt solar plant. Some 2 million Mexicans living in rural areas are are set to benefit from solar energy as companies work to install solar panels in two states. India’s rooftop solar power programme has received a major boost from the World Bank which has approved $625 million of debt funding. The Indian government is also promoting small-scale solar and wind hybrid systems in unelectrified areas through a new programme, which aims to repeat the success of similar projects in the US and Europe.

An Australian team has set a new record for squeezing as much electricity as possible out of direct, unfocused sunlight via a new solar cell configuration. Due to the high cost of manufacturing the record-breaking cell configuration it will be some time before this technology leaves the lab and is used in rooftop panels. The Metro of Santiago, Chile, will be the first public transport system to run mostly on solar energy. A solar project to supply the transport system which carries 2.2 million passengers every day, is expected to be completed by the end of next year. 

Tech companies, like Kyocera, are experimenting with translucent solar cells that let touch screens draw energy from the sun. The first unmanned, autonomous boat to cross an ocean using only solar power is scheduled to set off from the California coast on May 30 and arrive in Hawaii a month later. 

Power Prices

Commentator Rod Oram says the Electricity Authority’s (EA) proposal to increase lines charges will encourage more people to invest in photovoltaics, other micro renewables and off-grid solutions. The EA calculated that the impact of its proposal on an average residential customer in Auckland would be about $58 to $66 a year. However, Auckland electricity distributor Vector is questioning the EA's numbers, saying it estimates the cost would be significantly higher at $97 a year. King Country Energy, the central North Island power generator and retailer, says the planned overhaul of grid charges would increase prices for its customers and leave it with little incentive to invest. The economics of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter continue to slide despite it being the largest single beneficiary of the EA’s proposed reforms, says Woodward Partners energy analyst John Kidd.

Fossil Fuels and Renewables

The International Renewable Energy Agency says the renewable energy sector has employed 8.1 million people worldwide — a 5% increase from last year. The solar PV sector remains the largest renewable energy employer worldwide with 2.8 million jobs. Doubling the global share of renewable energy could dramatically decrease worldwide energy pollution, and save up to 4 million lives per year by 2030.

The Associated Press talks to Daniel Yergin, from research firm IHS Inc, about oil prices, the shale revolution, the fate of coal, and the next big thing in energy. Shell is involved in blocking the development of a renewable energy project in a legal battle between a private club owned by the company and a community hydropower scheme on the river Thames. Microsoft is stepping up its commitment to reduce the impact its data centres have on the environment, with a goal to use 50 percent renewable energy by 2018.

The US insurance industry, the country’s second largest institutional investor in oil, gas and coal with $459bn in fossil fuel investments, needs to divest or face serious threats to its financial stability, according to a report funded by Ceres, a Boston-based sustainability advocacy group. Australian banks are being urged by activist group Market Forces to follow through on commitments to combating climate change by rejecting new loans for coal projects.

Climate change

Climate Change Minister Paula Bennett says she will set up a high-level taskforce to drive down New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions after the latest annual report revealed another 1 per cent increase in 2014. Gross emissions have now risen by 23 per cent, and net emissions by 54 per cent, since 1990. The price of a tonne of New Zealand carbon in the emissions trading scheme has pushed through $15, creating theoretically breakeven conditions for forestry planting based on carbon farming.

Nature Climate Change has published a study which shows that burning the rest of the world's untapped fossil fuel resources - an equivalent five trillion tonnes of carbon emissions - would push up the average global temperature by between 6.4C and 9.5C. The NZ Herald talks to NZ climate scientist Dr James Renwick, of Victoria University, about the study’s findings.

A first United Nations meeting on implementing the Paris agreement to combat climate change has shown it could take two years to work out a detailed rule book for a sweeping shift from fossil fuels, say delegates. One of the coldest places on Earth is already starting to see signs of spring — a good month or two before it should, according to researchers. The Barrow Observatory, located 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, just reported the earliest snowmelt in 78 years of recorded history. The worrisome snow melt comes on the heels of a record-warm Alaska winter. 

An Inconvenient Truth brought the issue of climate change out into the open and into mainstream culture in 2006. To mark the 10-year anniversary of the doco, The Climate Reality Project highlights five moments of progress the world has made in solving climate change.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, says he will pull the United States out of the UN global climate accord and slash environmental regulations on the energy industry if elected.

Electric vehicles

Andrew McCarthy, writing for Stuff, says it makes economic and environmental sense for two car families to make one of those cars electric. He also debunks some of the myths about electric cars, based on his own experience. The Renault Zoe is the latest electric car to enter New Zealand's new vehicle market and will sell for around $75,000. Rob Maetzig, from Stuff, takes one for a test drive. The AA says government funding to promote electric cars should come from the electricity levies rather than the oil and gas sector.

The company that manufactures London’s iconic black cabs is building a £300 million factory in England which will reportedly produce up to 36,000 electric cabs a year. Madrid is adding 110 all electric Nissan Leaf cars to its taxi fleet. Sales of electric cars in Europe are up 28.8% on a year ago.

Reuters reports that Apple appears to be responding to a key shortcoming of electric vehicles: "filling up" the batteries. A shortage of public charging stations, and the hours wasted in charging a car, could be an opportunity for Apple, whose simple designs have transformed consumer electronics. BMW South Africa has unveiled its first solar carport designed to charge electric cars. The world’s first 3D-printed electric bicycle/motorcycle has been produced but it’s not cheap.