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

The Labour Party's spin doctors are doing a cracking job
89858 2018-04-23 00:00:00Z Politics

The Labour Party's spin doctors are doing a cracki…

by Bill Ralston

Perhaps Labour's PR outfit should next turn their talents to Washington, where Donald Trump is turning the White House into a cesspit.

Read more
Are confidentiality agreements letting sexual harassers off the hook?
89729 2018-04-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

Are confidentiality agreements letting sexual hara…

by Donna Chisholm

Some experts are calling for confidentiality agreements in sexual harassment cases to be scrapped as the #MeToo movement gathers pace.

Read more
How to know if you are being sexually harassed at work
89757 2018-04-23 00:00:00Z Social issues

How to know if you are being sexually harassed at …

by The Listener

The Employment Relations Act is very clear about what constitutes sexual harassment in New Zealand.

Read more
Some corner of an English field
89918 2018-04-22 00:00:00Z History

Some corner of an English field

by Pamela Wade

Pamela Wade visits a village in rural England and finds the war-time deaths of her uncle and his two Kiwi-airmen mates have not been forgotten.

Read more
The brain researcher who was diagnosed with a brain tumour
89704 2018-04-22 00:00:00Z Profiles

The brain researcher who was diagnosed with a brai…

by Clare de Lore

Few people could be better suited than Louise Nicholson to deal with a brain tumour diagnosis.

Read more
Discovering the majesty and fragility of New Zealand kauri
88483 2018-04-22 00:00:00Z Environment

Discovering the majesty and fragility of New Zeala…

by Josie Stanford

A twilight tour in Waipoua Forest highlights the majesty, and the fragility, of our mighty kauri.

Read more
Sweet Country – movie review
89842 2018-04-22 00:00:00Z Movies

Sweet Country – movie review

by Peter Calder

An Australian western with Sam Neill is a searing masterpiece.

Read more
The role that diet plays in causing gout is smaller than people think
89404 2018-04-22 00:00:00Z Health

The role that diet plays in causing gout is smalle…

by Nicky Pellegrino

It's often said that diet is the most important cause of gout, but for most people changing it won't lower uric acid levels enough to stop the pain.

Read more