Petition against solar tax, global temperatures smash another record

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

Solar and batteries

Last month we laid a complaint with the Electricity Authority (EA) about Unison Energy charging a solar tax. This week Greenpeace launched a petition calling on the EA to take responsibility for protecting solar power and to ban electricity providers from penalising solar users. It received more than 10,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

The Listener looks at how solar PV, energy storage using batteries and electric cars are changing NZ’s $6 billion electricity industry. A New York utility is launching a pilot programme this year to link 300 homes with solar panels and batteries into a virtual power plant. The project represents one of the most ambitious US efforts yet to turn lots of distributed solar installations into a flexible source of grid power.

Private infrastructure investment in solar energy during 2015 grew to US$9.4 billion, 72% higher than the average of the previous five years, according to new World Bank figures. Solar also accounted for one quarter of all energy investments last year. Bloomberg New Energy Finance says batteries capable of storing power at utility scale will be as widespread in 12 years as rooftop solar panels are now, revolutionising the way consumers use energy. It says energy storage devices can be used to smooth out variable power flows from wind and solar plants, reducing the need for large, centralised generation plants fired by fossil fuels. Solar power In India will be cheaper than power from coal-fired plants in the coming two years as the cost of batteries and solar panels come down, says a top Indian government official. 

The pilots of Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane on a globe-circling voyage that began more than a year ago said their flight over the Statue of Liberty before landing in New York inspired them on their mission to promote a world free from reliance on fossil fuels. See the latest updates here. They are now preparing to flying across the Atlantic. Meanwhile two unmanned, autonomous boats are vying to be the first to complete an ocean crossing using solely solar power. Solar Voyager departed the US on June 1 and is attempting to make the 3000km trip across the Atlantic to Portugal. You can track its progress here. And, over in the Pacific Ocean, the Seacharger has just started its 3,200km trip from California to Hawaii. You can track its progress here.

The world is covered in more than 64 million kilometres of roads which could act like solar panels and power our vehicles. In this video Dutch scientist Sten De Wit tells the Guardian how his ideas are being put into practice with SolaRoad. Solar is being used to power high end houseboats that are cheaper to rent than land-based accommodation in Abu Dhabi. The Liter (Litre) of Light campaign is helping provide ecologically sustainable illumination to people who have none. Its innovative solution is a lighting system made of a simple circuit, a battery, an LED, a plastic bottle and a small solar panel. 

Renewables and fossil fuels

The cost of solar and wind energy will continue their stunning falls over the next decade, and by 2027 will be cheaper than existing coal and gas plants in most countries in the world, says Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That means that the role of coal and gas will change completely from the concept of “base load” to that of gap fillers. 

Trustpower has applied to South Taranaki District Council for consent to build, operate and maintain a 48-turbine wind farm. It would take two years to build and cost $325 million. Peabody Energy, America’s biggest coal mining company, has funded at least two dozen groups that cast doubt on manmade climate change and oppose environment regulations, analysis by the Guardian reveals.

Power prices

Auckland mayoral candidate Phil Goff has slammed electricity transmission proposals which would add on average $190 a year to each Aucklander’s electricity bills. He says they are unfair and unwarranted. A price spike that hit the electricity market on June 2 is under investigation by the Electricity Authority. Between 6pm and 7.30pm prices were near $4000 per megawatt hour (MWh), compared to an average $52 per MWh in the South Island. Residential power consumers on a wholesale price plan who were heating their home and cooking dinner at the time could have paid an extra $20 for electricity that night. 

Stuff’s Richard Meadows says the variation in pricing among NZ’s 27 power retailers is massive. For a large household in Christchurch, there's an annual difference of more than $1000 between the cheapest and most expensive companies. A 2015 study found water heating was responsible for 28 per cent of the average New Zealand power bill, space heating, or air conditioning, another 33 per cent, appliances 27 per cent, cooking 5 per cent and lighting 7 per cent. Massey University construction professor Robyn Phipps said one of the easiest things people could do to cut their power bills was to tackle the house's "base load".

Climate change

Global temperature records were broken yet again in May 2016, according to data just released by NASA. The heat has been especially pronounced in the Arctic, resulting in a very early onset of the annual melting of Arctic sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 will shatter the symbolic barrier of 400 parts per million (ppm) this year and will not fall below it our in our lifetimes, according to a new UK Met Office study. The IPCC says that CO2 concentrations must be stabilised at 450ppm to have a fair chance of avoiding global warming above 2C, which could carry catastrophic consequences. Doing that that will require a 40-70% emissions cut by 2050, compared to 2010 levels, and zero emissions by the end of the century.

A team of scientists in Iceland reports on its successful trial to convert CO2 to rock and store it underground. The say the method has enormous potential for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

A climate change documentary made by Kiwi film-makers for the United Nations premiered this week and now live for free viewing. Thirty Million examines the threat posed to the people of Bangladesh by rising sea levels. The country is considered the most vulnerable in the world to climate change, and is predicted to lose 17 per cent of its land by the end of the century, displacing 30 million people.

In the lead up to next month’s Federal election, Australia Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pledged a $1 billion fund to protect the Great Barrier Reef. A report late last month said mass coral bleaching, caused by climate change, had destroyed at least 35 percent of the northern and central Great Barrier Reef. The money would be invested in clean energy projects and reducing agricultural and waste water run-off. A native rat that lived on the Great Barrier Reef is the first mammal species in the world to become extinct on the back of human-induced climate change, say Australian researchers.

The Royal Society of NZ will run a series of climate change lectures around the country starting next month. Titled Ten by Ten they will give Kiwis an insight into how climate change will affect them and what they can do about it.

Electric vehicles

Volkswagen plans to launch 30 all-electric models to reposition itself as a leader in "green" transport. Matthias Mueller, chief executive of Europe's biggest carmaker, said huge investments would be needed as the firm moves beyond the "dieselgate" scandal. He hopes that by 2025, all-electric cars would account for about 20-25% of the German carmaker's annual sales. Three Silicon Valley start ups, with major backing from Chinese investors, are planning to challenge Tesla in the electric car market, reports Reuters.

Daimler will lift the curtain on its much-anticipated electric-powered Mercedes-Benz car with a 500km range at the Paris auto show in October. Nikola Motor says it has has received more than 7,000 pre-orders for its electric truck that was unveiled in the US last month. It will be equipped with a massive 320 kWh battery pack and the company hopes that it will be able to travel up to 1,900 kms with a natural gas range extender. The first shipment of New Zealand Post's 500 new electric delivery vehicles has landed in Auckland for a nationwide roll-out this year.