Sun rush in China and US, EV rush in Norway

A worker maintains photo-voltaic panels at Xinyi station in Songxi, China. Photograph: Feature China/Barcroft 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 amount of solar power added worldwide soared by some 50% last year because of a sun rush in the US and China, reports the Guardian. Solar power is headed for a “huge year” in Australia in 2017 on the back of a boom in the large-scale market and a home solar and storage market that is expected to treble. The Queensland Labor government in Australia has given its support to three separate large-scale solar projects totaling almost 100MW of new generation capacity.

Three Californian utilities are testing new ways to network solar panels, battery storage, two-way communication devices and software to create “virtual power plants” that manage green power and feed it into the power grid as needed. Amazon is to power its fulfilment centres across the US using solar energy and plans to introduce solar panels at 50 centres globally by 2020.

Nigeria, Africa’s biggest oil exporter, may be about to turn sunward to generate more of its power. It’s part of a growing list of Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that are increasing the use of green power. 

Solar is estimated to take 23 per cent of the power generation market by 2040 and 29 per cent by 2050, according a new report by Carbon Tracker and the Grantham Institute at Imperial College London. Electric vehicles will account for around 35 per cent of the road transport market by 2035.

Power prices

The Electricity Authority is being accused of using flawed data in its reforms for paying for the $918 million national grid costs.

New Zealand Steel is repeating its warning that high prices for electricity transmission could make it impractical to stay in business. It could even contribute to the closure of the steel industry in New Zealand, it says.

Kiwi consumers are going cold on power companies who offer great deals to new customers, but not to existing ones. 

Renewables and fossil fuels

Greenpeace is crowdfunding to buy a boat to confront the world’s biggest seismic blasting ship, the Amazon Warrior, as it searches for oil off the East Coast of the North Island.

The oil and gas industry has launched a publicity blitz telling people their products are essential to their everyday lives. Z Energy says climate change is the biggest challenge of our time, and it is “committed to moving from being part of the problem to the heart of the solution.” It has launched a six-week public consultation to gather ideas on what it can do to make a difference.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is pledging to make the country's smoggy skies blue again and "work faster" to address pollution caused by the burning of coal for heat and electricity.

Climate change

Record-low Antarctic sea ice levels are drawing renewed international attention to climate change at a time when Arctic ice extent is also reaching minimums not recorded before. Parts of the Arctic recorded temperatures that averaged up to 5°C above normal for February. The area of sea ice was 733,000 square kilometres below average - that's equivalent to four times the size of Italy. 

The US has experienced a strangely warm winter that scientists are likewise linking closely with climate change and the past summer in Australia has been dubbed the 'angry summer' by climate scientists who found that 205 weather records were broken in 90 days. 

The UK’s CO2 emissions fell by 5.8% in 2016, after a record 52% drop in coal use, according to the Carbon Brief website which reports on climate science and energy policy.

More than half the world's oceans could suffer multiple symptoms of climate change over the next 15 years, including rising temperatures, acidification, lower oxygen levels and decreasing food supplies, new research suggests.

The National-led government is getting more ambitious on our two greatest environmental challenges -- freshwater and climate change. But it's still failing to commit to policies to enhance our economy and safeguard our reputation, says commentator Rod Oram. 

The Trump administration would slash programs aimed at slowing climate change and improving water safety and air quality, while eliminating thousands of jobs, according to a draft of the Environmental Protection Agency budget proposal obtained by The Associated Press.

Electric vehicles

Norway, which already boasts the world's highest number of electric cars per capita, said this week that electric or hybrid cars represented half of new registrations in the country so far this year.

NZ car rental firms are looking to introduce electric vehicles. One company that’s trialling its first electric vehicle has plans to add another 30-40 to its fleet by the end of the year. Auckland electric vehicle owners may be able to glide through peak-hour traffic a little faster this month after being granted access to five priority lanes around the city as part of a trial by NZTA. It aims to encourage more people to choose electric vehicles and thereby reduce greenhouse emissions.

New York State will soon launch a rebate of up to $2000 designed to make electric vehicles more price competitive with traditional cars. The incentive is part of efforts to reduce automotive carbon emissions, the state's largest climate change contributor.

Panasonic has unveiled an improved solar panel to power cars. The panel will be used for the first solar roof model of the Toyota Prius, the Prius Prime, which is slated for release this year. The Tesla Model 3 will also likely feature this solar roof option. 

A group of Canterbury University students have created what they believe to be a world first – a fully recyclable electric car. The little one-person, one-wheel drive car is undergoing final testing in Christchurch before being shipped to Singapore to compete in a global vehicle economy competition called the Shell Eco-Marathon.