Electricity revolution: Here comes the sun

by Pattrick Smellie / 10 June, 2016
What customers hate more than high bills is uncertainty of supply.
Photo/Getty Images
Photo/Getty Images


Think about this: by 2050 – within the lifetime of most 20-year-olds, the sun is predicted to be the main source of the world’s electricity.

Today, gas, coal, oil and a smattering of uranium are the main global fuels for producing electricity. For all the attention paid to solar electricity, its ­contribution is barely 1% of total output.

In New Zealand, however, a renewable electricity future is kind of whoopty-doo.

Compared with most countries – Iceland and Uruguay are exceptions – we’re already there, producing 80% of the country’s electricity from renewable hydro, geothermal, wind and solar sources, and very much in that order.

Hydro dams account for about three-quarters of renewables, with the six to eight weeks of national electricity pent up behind them representing a watery national battery.

As a result, New Zealand’s electricity debate centres on whether we can get to 100% renewable, a goal unimaginable in Australia, which is heavily dependent on natural gas and coal to keep the lights and the air conditioning on.

Electricity companies doubt that 100% renewable is achievable. At some cost to their desire to be liked more, they’ve just taken out insurance by paying to keep elderly coal- and gas-fired turbines available at Huntly until 2022.

The power companies know that even though customers hate high power bills, what they hate even more is not having electricity at all. Security of supply remains front of mind for electricity industry ­planners, even if most cus­tomers have forgotten the “dry year” campaigns of the 1990s and 2000s.

However, the logic of Huntly may not hold for much longer. One day soon, batteries holding big reserves of electricity could replace fossil-fuel power stations to fill in the gaps when it’s dry and windless for much longer than usual.

And when that point is reached, all bets will be off for the kind of electricity market that emerges: low-carbon, ­decentralised and very different from what we see today.

Who knows? Customers might even love their power company, especially if their power company is mostly them.

Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyranny of events
86009 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Richard Prebble: Jacinda Ardern will face the tyra…

by Richard Prebble

I predicted Bill English would lose the election and the winner would be Winston Peters. But no forecaster, including the PM, predicted her pregnancy.

Read more
Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’
85966 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z World

Aokigahara: More than just the ‘suicide forest’

by Justin Bennett

It's known as a 'suicide forest', but Justin Bennett found Aokigahara's quiet beauty outweighed its infamous reputation.

Read more
Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance of Len Lye
85816 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Arts

Truth and Lye: New perspectives on the brilliance …

by Sally Blundell

New essays on New Zealand-born US artist Len Lye elevate him to the status of Australasia’s most notable 20th-century artist.

Read more
Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infertile couples
86046 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Health

Brain activity may hold the secret to helping infe…

by Nicky Pellegrino

For about a third of infertility cases in New Zealand, there is no obvious reason why seemingly fertile couples struggle to conceive.

Read more
Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by photographer John Rykenberg
85964 2018-01-19 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Farewells on the Auckland wharves, captured by pho…

by Frances Walsh

More than one million images from Rykenberg Photography, taken around Auckland, are now in the Auckland Libraries Collection. But who are the people?

Read more
'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke covered in insects
86027 2018-01-18 11:59:55Z Environment

'Termite hell' for Golden Bay man after he woke co…

by Hamish Cardwell

A Golden Bay man spending his first night in his new house says he woke to find his bed, walls and floor covered in hundreds of creepy crawlies.

Read more
Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want to save the oceans
86015 2018-01-18 11:18:49Z Environment

Ten ‘stealth microplastics’ to avoid if you want t…

by Sharon George and Deirdre McKay

There's a growing movement to stop the amount of wasteful plastic that goes into our oceans, but what about the tiny bits we can hardly see?

Read more
It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking water
86001 2018-01-18 09:41:15Z Social issues

It's time to chlorinate New Zealand's drinking wat…

by The Listener

The inconvenience to chlorine refuseniks is tiny compared with the risk of more suffering and tragedy from another Havelock North-style contamination.

Read more