Solar tax lacks support and record orders for Tesla electric car

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

The Electricity Authority says plans by the Hawke's Bay electricity lines operator, Unison Networks, to charge a special tariff effectively penalising households that install solar power units on their roofs, are out of step with its recommendations. Vector and Powerco, two lines companies with extensive national operations say they have no plans to follow Unison's lead. Eastland Network which services Gisborne and Wairoa says the same but Trustpower came out in support of the solar tax. We responded saying the solar tax was a desperate move to squeeze every last dollar out of a dying business model.

The cost of maintaining Canberra's electricity grid could be reduced in coming years as the number of homes with solar panels and battery storage is tipped to explode. The grid is sized for the highest demand so if you can bring that demand point down, the cost of maintaining the grid is actually a lot lower and that's where there are benefits beyond the homeowner.

In a week when politicians are questioning trust accounts that arrived in Auckland via Panama, Wellington Scoop editor Lindsay Shelton says Wellingtonians should be thinking instead about Wellington Electricity Distribution Ltd which has connections in the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands. The company’s only New Zealand director has an address in Parnell, Auckland. All the other directors live in Hong Kong.

In the face of opposition from local bodies the length of the East Coast, the Crown has decided to go ahead with plans to make large tracts of an offshore area available to petroleum explorers. More than 12,700 people have supported an online petition run by Greenpeace urging Genesis Energy to stick to its plan to shut down NZ’s last coal-burning power station in 2018. And Coal Action Network Aotearoa is campaigning for Fonterra to use wood, not coal, to power its dryers. 

A new white paper from the US called We Have the Power shows that a society powered entirely by wind, solar, and other forms of clean, renewable energy is 100 percent necessary, and 100 percent possible. 

Geothermal, wind, and solar electricity output grew 16% in 2015 across the 34 nations of the OECD. Solar output increased by 86% in the UK last year, according to government figures. Overall renewable energy generated 24.7% of the county’s electricity, an increase of 5.6% on 2014, and electricity prices for the average consumer are slowly declining. The middle-eastern country of Oman has started work on the “Solar Rooftop Project” — a programme intended to spur solar energy system adoption by local homeowners. Panasonic has hit the halfway mark in its quest to distribute 100,000 solar lanterns in poor, rural communities around the world.

Climate change can be expected to boost the number of annual premature deaths from heat waves in coming decades and to increase mental health problems from extreme weather like hurricanes and floods, a US study suggests. And another study suggests most computer simulations of climate change are underestimating by at least one degree Fahrenheit how warm the world will get this century, a new study suggests. Arctic sea ice reached a record low maximum extent last month for the second straight year, according to scientists at the National Snow and Ice Data Centre and NASA. “The Arctic is in crisis. Year by year, it’s slipping into a new state, and it’s hard to see how that won’t have an effect on weather throughout the Northern Hemisphere,” says Ted Scambos, NSIDC lead scientist.

A record number of more than 130 countries will sign the landmark agreement to tackle climate change at a ceremony at U.N. headquarters on April 22. Since 2000, more than 20 countries have reduced their annual greenhouse gas emissions while growing their economies. Last year saw the adoption of two major global agreements on sustainability. There can be a long way between political agreement and practical change, but there’s a feeling that momentum is building. The Sustainable Business Network lists 10 global sustainability trends to watch for.

Nearly $1 trillion could be wasted on overbuilding coal plants that, more and more, are only going to sit idle, according to a new report published by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and CoalSwarm. The Queensland Government has approved mining leases for the $21.7 billion Carmichael coal mine and associated rail and port infrastructure. The project has received widespread criticism from environmental groups who say it will have catastrophic impacts for the Great Barrier Reef which is suffering from several coral bleaching. Royal Dutch Shell has pulled its application from Norway's Arctic-focused oil licensing round in a blow to the Nordic country's ambitions to explore for oil and gas in its northern offshore areas.

Tesla has unveiled its long-awaited Model 3 electric sedan (pictured above) which will be available in NZ at a starting price of $55,000. Some business analysts say the success of the launch, which saw more than US$10 billion in orders placed within the first two days, could be the death knell of petrol powered cars.

The Dutch parliament has taken the first step in banning petrol and diesel cars from sale in the Netherlands from 2025. According to the AA, motorists play a major role in the price of petrol by their "purchasing behaviour". A convoy of electric cars is travelling the length of NZ to raise awareness of zero carbon renewable energy technology. The annual ‘leading the charge’ road trip started at Cape Reinga on Wednesday and finishes in Bluff on April 22. There is a full programme of events along the way including a public lecture in Hamilton with guest speaker Chelsea Sexton who featured in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car.