Solar beats coal in the UK, Saudi Arabia plans to end its oil addiction

Climate change is contributing to super storms like the one that hit Sydney this week. Photo: Peter Rae / Sydney Morning Herald

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Solar power in the UK produced more electricity than coal across the whole of May, the first ever month to pass the milestone. Coal was once the mainstay of the nation’s power system but the rapid rise of solar panels and of climate change concerns has seen its use plummet. Dubai is going to build the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) project. The first stage is expected to be running by 2021. The whole project is scheduled to be completed by 2030 by which time it could be generating 5000 MW of power. By comparison the Ivanpah CSP in California (which is currently the world’s largest) generates about 392 MW of power. 

A 20-home development in California represents one of the US’s largest experiments to see if zero net energy can be put into wider use. With a combination of rooftop solar panels, smart thermostats, advanced water heaters and other high-efficiency features, the homes are all built with a similar goal: to make at least as much energy as they use over a year.

Climate change

This week NIWA’s monitoring station at Baring Head, near Wellington, recorded carbon dioxide readings officially above 400 parts per million (ppm) - a level last reached over three million years ago. Carbon dioxide is measured at similar stations around the world. Most emissions occur in the Northern Hemisphere, so the 400ppm threshold has already been passed at stations to the north of New Zealand. Events like this week's super storm that smashed into eastern Australia are likely to become fewer in frequency in a warming world but pack more intensity when they hit, say climate scientists. 

The US and India say they intend to formally join the Paris Agreement on climate change this year, giving momentum to the international fight to curb global warming. India has agreed to work toward joining the Paris Agreement on climate change this year, giving momentum to the international fight to curb global warming. A recent “Decarbonathon” competition set out to find the most promising new ideas that could reduce CO2 emissions in cities, and selected the four technologies that hold the most promise.

Power prices

The Commerce Commission says revenue limits to curb electricity lines making excessive profits are working. The commission also found that Auckland's Vector and Wellington Electricity were among five distribution firms showing a material deterioration in network reliability.

Renewables and fossil fuels

Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer and exporter of oil, has set a plan in motion to end its own oil addiction and move to a low-carbon economy. A 20 per cent increase in wind and solar energy generation in 2015 delivered another annual increase in the amount of Australia’s electricity sourced from renewables. And a new report from WWF Australia shows how Australia could be supported by 100% renewable power without a fossil fuel ‘baseload.’ 

Pacific island nations are a step further towards cutting their high spending on importing diesel to generate electricity thanks to a pledge of more than $1 billion by donors including New Zealand for sustainable energy projects. A new study in the Pacific indicates wave energy could work as an alternative to fossil fuels for some countries. Spain plans to shut down 26 coals pits over the next two years as they are ‘not proving competitive’. Scientists in Japan have developed a new type of electric generator inspired by marine life. 

Electric vehicles

The International Energy Agency reports that 1.26 million electric cars — both battery and plug-in hybrid — were sold worldwide in 2015. The number has tripled just since 2013. The agency says there needs to be 100 million electric cars on the road by 2030 in order to keep average global temperatures from soaring past 2º Celsius. Nissan will soon be using solar energy to help power its UK factory which builds the all-electric Nissan Leaf vehicle. German automaker BMW has beaten California-based Tesla Motors Inc. by winning a contract to supply the Los Angeles Police Department with 100 electric cars.