Kiwis can show the world how to run a city on solar power

Germany, on average, gets as much sunshine as Alaska yet last summer it harnessed 80% of its electricity from solar panels. Here’s why Auckland needs to seriously consider solar as a mainstream source of energy given the city produces more carbon emissions than New York and London.

Clean tech used to be considered ‘alternative’, the domain of back-to-the-land lifestyle advocates and lab scientists on research grants. This technology did not have widespread political support and very few large, established companies were embracing it. Times have changed and the world is witnessing a historic, global shift in the way we power our homes, businesses and economies. 

If you’re leaning back now and thinking that ‘clean green New Zealand’ has nothing to worry about, then lean in – Auckland alone produces more carbon emissions than New York and London and unless things change it will get 46% worse in the next 10 years[1]. Something to think about when 50% of all New Zealand jobs rely on the country’s clean green reputation[2].

The time to embrace the clean tech revolution is well and truly here and solar power is at the forefront. Although the energy potential of the sun is, for practical purposes, limitless, the cost of converting that energy into usable electricity has traditionally kept solar power out of reach for many Kiwis. But declining technology costs for solar power now means that the infinite power of the sun is within reach for all of us.

Tony Seba, a Stanford University clean technology lecturer who visited New Zealand recently, believes the world is on the brink of the biggest technological revamp since the industrial revolution. In his opinion solar power will be the main global source of electricity in the next 15 to 20 years because centralised power generators won't be able to compete.

An estimated USD$50 billion loss has been experienced by fossil fuel companies as a result of people switching to renewable energy sources in recent years.

Forget the rise of sea levels for a moment – this is a sea change, happening before our eyes, as the confidence in the oil and coal industry starts to collapse.

CEO and founder of solarcity, Andrew Booth

Doing away with need to buy solar panels

Here’s a model that paves the way for New Zealand to be among the first markets in the world to adopt widespread use of solar without any government incentives.

In 2012, solarcity worked with Riverstone Capital, Ernst & Young, and Westpac, to create a model which can be applied to the New Zealand market. Prior to this, the model has never been achieved beyond the US.

We know 85% of Kiwis want to go solar but until now have been put off the cost of the panels. With solarZero you can now buy solar power without having to buy solar panels. Instead you purchase solar power at a fixed-monthly fee that’s at a lower rate than you’d pay for grid power and the rate is fixed for up to 20 years. It could save you thousands in the long run when you consider the cost of power in New Zealand has increased by 55% in the last 10 years.

While the speed at which the solar technology is developing is impressive, questions remain about storage. Fortunately, new and improved batteries have stepped up to the mark, offering a solution.

First off, traditional lithium batteries – the kind widely used in cell phones and laptops – are becoming cheaper than ever before. Secondly, big corporates like electric car company Tesla and Japanese battery giant Panasonic are at the forefront of designing and deploying energy storage systems, which are not only cheaper than ever before but meet the growing demand for renewable energy. With new technology both Panasonic and Tesla plan to sell some of the batteries recently developed into the power grid market. The big idea being that you can now put solar panels on your roof, a battery in the garage, and become utterly independent from the grid.

The power of two: batteries plus solar

Batteries, electric vehicles and solar will combine to create an unstoppable hybrid force. A force, which within the next five years will allow Kiwis to decide when and what they pay for power.

In New Zealand, we are in a unique position to lead the world in the deployment of these new smart technologies. There were days last summer when Germany got 80% of their electricity from solar panels – and Germany, on average, gets as much sunshine as Alaska.

New Zealand has a world class solar resource and the chance to lead a new global economic order built on 100% renewable energy. The faster Kiwis embrace this change, the less likely it is that New Zealand will have to adopt crisis measures to halt climate change. According to President Obama, “the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century” and if more people embrace clean tech, that country could be New Zealand.

[1] Low Carbon Auckland: Executive summary - July 2014

[2] http://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/en/campaigns/climate-change/The-Future-is-Here/

Disclosure: Andrew Booth is CEO and founder of solarcity, a company providing solar power systems.