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Could New Zealand generate all its electricity from renewable sources within 20 years? An expert says yes
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The Roxburgh hydro power station is clean but too lean—we need more

Could New Zealand generate all its electricity from renewable sources within 20 years? An expert says yes

Brendon Winitana

Energy //

New Zealand could easily generate all its electricity from renewable sources within 20 years with the right support from government, a leading overseas expert in green energy says. “I know the target is 90 percent, but New Zealand could easily get to 100 percent renewables by 2025 and have a more reliable configuration of renewable plants,” says Dr Benjamin Sovacool. “There is certainly the potential for New Zealand to be a world leader.”

Sovacool’s comments may be provocative—but what’s not controversial is that New Zealand lags the rest of world in embracing solar power, mini wind turbines and other small-scale renewable energy sources.

The technology certainly exists for New Zealanders to install solar panels or wind turbines in their homes and businesses, as is common overseas, but it needs political will and the right support mechanisms to help lower the capital costs.

In June this year, a UK government report on micro-generation identified that British buildings equipped with solar panels, mini wind turbines and other renewable energy sources could generate as much electricity as five nuclear power stations.

The report says if the government offered the right combination of incentives, nearly ten million micro-generation systems could be installed by 2020. That means nearly one in five buildings would become mini power stations feeding electricity into the grid or generating enough to be largely self-sufficient.

The report also calculates that a large-scale switch to micro-renewable energy generation could save 30 million tonnes of CO2—the equivalent of nearly five percent of all the emissions produced in generating electricity in the UK.

The most effective support mechanism common in all countries is the feed-in tariff—a regulated tariff requiring electricity retailers to buy power from households and businesses that generate their own electricity at a rate several times the normal retail rate. This provides a quicker pay back on the capital costs of the technology, with the cost spread over all consumers. They all pay a little bit extra. It costs the government nothing.

Germany is leading the world in this. It has invested approximately US$20 billion in market stimulation in renewable energy, including micro-generation initiatives to initially kick-start industry growth over the last decade.

The majority of that investment is not in capital grants, subsidies or handouts, but in regulated feed-in tariffs. Now the renewables industry (especially solar) contributes significantly to the German economy, employing 250,000 people, generating 10 percent of its power and saving 115 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year.

In our region, Australia is the leading innovator. This year New South Wales became the latest state to introduce a feed-in tariff, joining most other states. The stage is set for an explosion in the uptake of small scale renewables.

We believe there is not only a compelling energy argument; there is also an economic incentive. There’s no reason why we can’t create a world-class industry here. We have innovators busy now. For example, at the University of Waikato School of Engineering a team led by Dr Mike Duke is developing a photovoltaic concentrator that is water cooled. Concentrators generate huge power by focusing the sun’s rays. At Powerhouse Wind, Bill Currie and his team are developing a unique single-blade wind turbine that is incredibly innovative, functional and effective. At IRL in Wellington, Dr Ian Brown and Dr Tim Kemmit are working on innovative Solar PV called quantum dot which is a nano-based technology that generates electricity.

There is no reason why a country almost as sunny as Australia, and far sunnier than Germany—certainly much windier!—can’t seize the opportunities. We are working hard to develop our case to take to the new government over the next few months.