New Zealand is in a transitional phase when it comes to energy. Like many developed countries across the world, we are trying to make a big shift away from oil and towards more renewable energy sources. But how is this transition going? What have we been doing to move towards cleaner energy and a happier environment? Let's investigate.
Part One: The Past
There have been plenty of moves towards smart and clean energy sources over the past decade. However, covering everything that's been done to push environmentally sustainable energy choices would require a novel. Instead we put together somewhat of a highlight reel. In 2011, the government created a strategy that laid out big picture plans for the sector and the role energy will play in the New Zealand economy through to 2021.
The energy strategy was defined by four main areas:
- Diverse resource development
- Environmental responsibility
- Efficient use of energy; and
- Secure and affordable energy
At the time, a short-term plan titled The New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy (NZEECS) 2011-2016 was created in tandem with the bigger picture ideas.
Technology has changed the game permanently and often for the better.
It has allowed important areas of innovation to thrive. Just look at the medical field, doctors have access to predictive instruments and near-instant diagnoses. It allows us to connect with other people, across the world, in seconds. The list of gadgets and gizmos could fill an entire library. Put simply, technology is just really cool.
We may be a *little* biased but some of the most exciting (and practical) technology has come in the form of smart energy inventions particularly in the solar sector.
Part Two: The Present
Fast forward to more recent years and New Zealand has hit some impressive benchmarks laid out in the long-term national strategy. In a 2016 press release, Transpower, the owners and operators of the National Grid, reported that the levels of renewable generation on the power grid had hit around 90 per cent.
Chief Executive Alison Andrew added that the percentage of renewable energy used on the power system had remained at 90 per cent or higher for over 8 months at the time of the press release. It's an increasingly good sign for the New Zealand government's target of achieving 90 per cent renewable generation by 2025.
"New Zealand is extremely fortunate to have a large amount of renewable energy at its disposal - both in natural resources as well as in past investments made in large hydro plant, wind and more recent investments in new geothermal plant," explained Andrew
"There are very few countries that can boast over 90% renewable generation. New Zealand should feel proud that as a country, we can run such a green power system and have a continued commitment to do so."
The improvements have been steady for the past two years. A report by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment provided some statistics showing the progress of various renewable energy sources, here's a sample:
- In 2015 renewable sources made up 80.8 per cent of electricity generation - the highest in 20 years.
- Geothermal electricity generation again reached a record of 7411 GWh, overtaking gas as the second largest producer of electricity.
- 40.1 per cent of our primary energy supply came from renewable sources, the highest on record.
- Solar generated an estimated 33 GHh of electricity - about enough to supply every household in the Central Hawke's Bay District.
- The average residential electricity cost for the March year 2016 fell 2.1 percent in real terms.
While these statistics bode well for the clean energy push, the MBIE report did note that oil and gas continue to dominate the country's Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES) - with oil accounting for 32 per cent of TPES and gas making up 21 per cent.
Part Three: The Future
While the New Zealand energy sector is moving in the right direction, there is still work to be done. The NZEECS objectives tied into the overall New Zealand strategy through to 2021 will continue to guide future improvements.
Other major initiatives in infrastructure, detailed in the government's Thirty Year New Zealand Infrastructure Plan, will also affect future energy moves. According to the report, new improvements will call for a smart electricity which will leverage data to help consumers make smarter decisions about energy consumption while also enabling decision makers to improve asset and demand management.
Major cities across the country are also taking steps towards improving energy consumption levels detailed in the report. The Auckland Council has created a plan titled Low Carbon Auckland, which sets out a 30-year pathway and a 10-year plan of action for a lower carbon city, powered by more efficient, affordable, clean energy.
Moving towards cleaner energy is a transition that takes time. As with any major change, there needs to be shifts not only in government policies, national regulations and industry standards but in the mindsets of people across the country.
Taking a step back from our reliance on oil and stepping towards a more green approach to energy is a move that will benefit New Zealand and it's people for years to come.