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.

Latest

Germany considered changing the autobahn speed limit and people weren't happy
102497 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z World

Germany considered changing the autobahn speed lim…

by Cathrin Schaer

A Government-initiated working group suggested putting a speed limit of 130km/h on motorways to lower emissions and make roads safer. Big mistake.

Read more
Stan & Ollie pays tribute to Laurel and Hardy's brilliant buffoonery
102440 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Movies

Stan & Ollie pays tribute to Laurel and Hardy's br…

by James Robins

John C Reilly and Steve Coogan are lifelong devotees to comic duo Laurel and Hardy – and it shows.

Read more
Colin Hogg: Why my mates matter (and keep on ending up in my books)
102594 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Books

Colin Hogg: Why my mates matter (and keep on endin…

by Colin Hogg

With his second book about Sam Hunt proving a hit, Colin Hogg ponders why so much of his writing career has been inspired by his mates.

Read more
Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot People’s Choice Award
102345 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Top 50 Restaurants

Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot P…

by Metro

Vote for your favourite dish in the 2019 Peugeot People’s Choice Award and be in to win dinner for two.

Read more
Death of the gods: The woeful response to kauri dieback disease
102578 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Planet

Death of the gods: The woeful response to kauri di…

by Bob Harvey

The closer you get to a kauri, the more you realise you are looking at one of the wonders of the planet.

Read more
National’s failure to grasp climate change a major challenge for NZ
102598 2019-02-21 00:00:00Z Planet

National’s failure to grasp climate change a major…

by Steve Abel

National's Bluegreen wing are set to hold their annual conference this weekend. Greenpeace’s Steve Abel will be there to challenge the party.

Read more
The native Mandarin speaker who's translating te reo on television
102606 2019-02-20 22:10:47Z Education

The native Mandarin speaker who's translating te r…

by Vomle Springford

Lidu Gong first started learning te reo in bed.

Read more
Win a double pass to Everybody Knows
102573 2019-02-20 13:19:44Z Win

Win a double pass to Everybody Knows

by The Listener

Starring Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem, Everybody Knows is a gripping new thriller about the fissures and fault lines that can tear a family apart.

Read more