Where Are The Greens


It seems somehow appropriate to parody Sondheim at this time. For a number of years now I have been waiting to see what the Green Party would do in New Zealand, especially with an election coming up. I’ve blogged extensively on the poor state of our lakes and waterways, the apparent lack of management of dam capacity and maintenance and the continued practice of feeding Aucklanders water from the Waikato River.

Brown Waikato Water

I’ve complained about our eagerness to send money based on the Kyoto Protocol offshore instead of spending it on restoring New Zealand to the clean green country we like to tell the world it is. Above all I get really frustrated that we still don’t have a policy of interest free loans for solar power with feed in tarrifs allowing us to sell excess power generated back into the grid. So with the latest election coming up I don’t mind telling you I gave the Greens my Party Vote.

I have to be astounded that they didn’t take this opportunity, the best in their history to become part of the Government in this MMP environment. No, they said they would not back John Key on Supply and Demand. Sure they are strongly against asset sales, but that is only one policy albeit a huge one. They could have found imho a middle ground which would have National supporting some real green policies and sustainability and made a serious difference with their 11% vote and 14 seats! I have to wonder if their ideology is more important than their policies. Are they now going to focus on being a jeering opposition in the house, or will they fight for my feed in tarrifs, making the rivers drinkable again, encouraging green and sustainable urban development, enforcing emission control etc? Are they going to show respect for the people who voted them in by concerted positive action or be the jeering laughing annoying opposition party there to undermine our Government and hold us back until the next election.

So back to Sondheim:

Isn’t it rich

Is this a fair

You here at last on the ground

NZ in mid air

Send in the Greens

Isn’t it bliss

Don’t you approve

One who keeps tearing around

One who won’t move

Where are the Greens

Send in the Greens?

Just when I’d stopped

Writing my blogs

Finally knowing

The one that we wanted was you

Making your entrance again

With your usual flair

Sure of your lines

No one is there.

Don’t you love farce

My bad I fear

I thought you’d want what I want

Sorry my dear

But where are the Greens

There ought to be Greens

Quick send in the Greens

Isn’t it rich

Isn’t it queer

Losing their timing this late

In their career

And where are the Greens

Quick send in the Greens

Don’t bother – they’re here

Creating jobs with FIT for renewable energy


So how about this picture. If the Government gives us interest free loans to install solar panels on roofs, we could reduce the need for expanding coal and oil based electricity, whilst maintaining our geothermal and hydro production.

The Government would set up Feed In Tariffs enabling power companies to purchase spare power units to feed in to the grid to supplement its own resources and those of the community as and when required.

The technology would include smart meters where appliances and power consumption may be monitored by the consumer This is already available in NZ from companies such as SmartNow. This is very important because it educates consumers of all ages  as to the impact of each household appliance.

Smart Meter

You would be able to monitor this on your SmartPhone as well as the touch screen in your home, perhaps even control appliances remotely. Now you will know if you turn your 3 TV’s off instead of having them on stand by, exactly how much energy and cost you are saving.

Many of our household devices are developing sufficient intelligence to be turned on and off remotely. This can apply to anything from your stove or microwave, to your TV Set Top Box, washing machine, heating etc.

Kiwis are very clever. With a little encouragement and support, we could have people coming up with new technologies for smoothing power, sharing and reticulating, designing solar panels that look good and work more efficiently in our environment.

Whole new industries and thousands of jobs would come out of this. Educators, estimators, designers, manufacturers, installers, inspectors, service people, finance companies, new boutique electrical companies, to name a few.

New Zealand is an island and we can be potentially isolated from gas and fossil fuels, especially if the worst happened and a serious war broke out somewhere on the planet.

Do you think that in the Middle East, Europe or USA, they would be saying, oh don’t forget New Zealand, we must set aside x number of tonnes of crude for our antipodean mates down under? But I digress. We are smart people and I think we could create not only some serious domestic growth, but our inventions spawned from this adventure could also contribute to some huge potential export revenue through the innovations that we would produce.

We also made a commitment to being clean and green. Digging up coal and gas doesn’t exactly honor that commitment, although I agree we need the money. Maybe we can’t do it with solar and wind alone, but if we could produce even half of our requirements from our roofs whilst at the same time reducing power consumption through smarter use and education, wouldn’t that be cool?

We could also lead in international design and R & D, with companies like Fisher & Paykel in the development of new technologies that burn much less power, including heating, consumer electronics and more. We need revival of new companies like Gallagher, Rakon and Taits, which have shown that we can be world leaders in technology. Those number 8 fencing wire companies we are so proud of.

The problem is that all of this needs to start with the politicians and all I seem to hear from them is that the coal, oil and gas is worth a lot of money and we should sell them. OK, if we need to do that because New Zealand is insolvent, then do it, but put the money earned into renewables, try to make ourselves self sufficient and then develop export revenues by exporting the technologies we built and developed locally, exploiting our IP. Kiwis are smart people.

Come on National, Labour and Green Parties, lets take a long term view beyond the next election. Change only happens when you do something different. Make it happen and you can have the credit if that is what drives your ambitions, but lets show our leadership.

I didn’t mention tourism, but I don’t think people really buy into clean green anymore. Lets show them we can be clean and green and beautiful and then generate export revenue out of our new skills and industries.

As a footnote, a quote by Farrell J. January 2011 on the Ontario FIT which started in 2009 from New Rules Project:

Ontario’s clean energy program encourages local ownership and distributed generation, in part to broaden support for renewable energy and in part to capture the increased economic impact generated from local ownership.

The domestic content requirement has already resulted in the promise of 43,000 jobs and dozens of new manufacturing plants to support the 5,000 MW of new clean energy.

As a footnote, imagine if the panel didn’t have to be on your roof, but could be on every one of your windows and you could see through it? That’s what MIT is hoping for. 

What FIT’s could do for NZ


Having teased the concept of Feed in Tariffs over the last few blogs  I’d like to get a bit more detailed. So in NZ the government has provided subsidies for roofing insulation, especially for older houses that were not built as efficiently from an energy perspective.

That is good in that it may reduce the need for heating, which is the biggest consumer of energy. A large percentage of energy sources pollute the atmosphere, damage the ozone layer and produce carbon waste. I’ve explored the fact that solar power is a renewable source that produces very little waste, mainly in manufacturing, packaging and installation, marginal issues.

The ideal scenario for me is interest free loans from the Government to cover the cost of purchase and installation of solar panel systems for both domestic and business. There are some lessons overseas where businesses have exploited the opportunities for subsidies and rebates and in some cases they have benefited from the interest free finance and feed in tariffs more than the public. This needs to be considered, but even where that happens, they are still producing energy in forms preferable to oil and coal and other non renewable or potentially dangerous sources.

So the basic idea is that consumers can get an interest free loan to have solar panels and related equipment installed in their homes. The systems include meters and technology that allows people to understand how electricity is being used in their homes, where is it being wasted. They can use the power they generate for free (keeping in mind they do have a long term loan to repay) and when they have excess power, they can sell it to the power companies for a tariff that is mutually agreeable.

A key point that I have raised through out this discussion is redundancy in the case of emergencies. Every time we have had a major emergency people have been without power. As recently as the aftershocks in Christchurch yesterday 17 April 2011, parts of Christchurch were without power for a couple of hours, but previously it has been days and weeks.

UK has had local FIT’s for a couple of years and other countries have had them for several years. There have been many benefits from this. One of the big ones that people don’t automatically think about is job creation. This happens at all levels. Industries to benefit include finance, manufacturing, installation, inspection, education and more. One of the great things about not being first in the industry, we can get our clever Kiwi inventors coming up with new technologies and inventions which will find a ready export market. Many new industries will spawn from this as new developments are made. Mobile technologies will allow control of what appliances are active from your smart phone. You’ll be able to turn off non essential appliances when you are at work, on holiday etc, whilst still monitoring what is going on and being able to turn the hot water back on while you are on your way home.

For business there is the rent a roof program where people can generate income from their roof, while someone else looks after generating the power and selling it into the grid and to the building occupier. This is extremely scalable. In fact in the UK, many roofs rented by power companies are domestic!

Rented roof

Electricity, disasters and Feed In Tariffs


I’ve been itching to write more about FIT for ages as you will know if you have been reading my blogs. If you didn’t, my last blog was pretty much a summary of my thoughts which started with the Christchurch earthquake.

Prior to that for a few years I have been wondering why a ‘clean green’ country like New Zealand only went so far as to provide subsidies for roof insulation and clean heating. Where is the NZ Green Party on FIT, I asked 2 years ago. I’m not even sure where the party is on much at all at the moment and its election year, when National has launched its new policies on oil and gas and other efficient power sources like coal.

In fairness I do have to acknowledge that Environment Minister Nick Smith did through caution to the wind at the NZ Wind Energy Conference this month, but he also made the point that you need windy places and probably also noted the frequent opposition any time someone wants to set up a wind farm. Personally I like them and if they are silent, I wouldn’t have a problem looking up at them on a hill somewhere.

Dutch windfarm

I have 2 interests here, the first one is renewable energy in the form of solar panels, with the ability to feed power into the grid, but also the ability to make individual households and businesses more resilient in times of crisis.

The common thread anywhere in the world when there is a disaster is that the power goes off. In my recent posts this month I have discussed a whole range of issues where we are so reliant on electricity today that there are a variety of problems after the crisis is over.

I want to again acknowledge the heroism of electricity workers and supporters who risked life and limb to get things up and running as quickly as possible.

Anyway, back to my story. Imagine if we followed on from the subsidies to put insulation into our roofs, by offering subsidies and Feed In Tariffs for installing solar panels on the roofs. This is something we should be doing anyway, but imagine if a large number of people were still able to have at least some electricity when the grid is down. They would still potentially have phone communication, they would have lighting, heating, the ability to wash themselves and much more.

We could find ourselves with a renewable energy source that doesn’t pollute, makes people much more aware of power consumption, involves the community and provides greater resilience while allowing us to get closer to meeting our commitments to reducing carbon waste that we so obligingly adopted with the Kyoto Protocol.

It has been said that I am wont to be verbose. I don’t necessarily want to change that because I am intensely interested in what I write about, however I don’t want to lose you dear reader (borrowed that from Stephen King). So here’s what I’m going to do. I am going to write an new series of shortish blogs on the benefits of FIT for New Zealand in the hope that more people will understand the massive potential benefits to New Zealand and put some pressure on the politicians and energy authorities to do something about it.

I’ve done some reading on the topic and found the paper by Miguel Mendonca of the Birkbeck Institute of Environment, Birkbeck College, University of London particularly helpful. He also wrote the book Feed-in-Tariffs Accelerating the Deployment of Renewable Energy. You can find more information here. He discovered that FIT could work in the UK, that it had many positive benefits above and beyond the basics of a renewable energy source and I plan to discuss some of these from a New Zealand context. I also find it interesting that some people (who perhaps are the ones who wanted Henry Ford to breed faster horses instead of horseless carriages) say there is not enough sunlight in NZ to create an acceptable level of energy. Kiwis who go to UK for their OE’s don’t often come back recounting stories of endless sunny days.

So lets explore what FIT’s and solar power can do for NZ, for our resilience, for our GDP, for our commitment to the environment, for industry, for entrepreneurs and to generally show the world that we are in fact as green as we say we are. There are some amazing benefits to be had along the way.

Please come back and check out what I have learned.

Doesnt look that shabby

The practice of dumping excess fuel from aircraft


Qantas has had some bad press lately, having to abort several flights due to engine or other malfunctions. The most recent was when a flight to Buenos Aires from Sydney returned to Sydney yesterday after smoke was detected in the cockpit. A few days earlier a Qantas flight from Perth to Melbourne returned to Perth not long after take off due to engine trouble. In all 4 Qantas flights have been unable to reach their destination in less than 2 weeks.

In the overall scheme of things, this is of concern, but what it got me thinking about was that every time a plane gets turned back to due a malfunction, they dump most of their fuel because it would be dangerous to try to land a plane ‘heavy’ with aviation fuel, especially when there are already technical problems with the flight. Obviously the fuel itself adds weight and restricts low altitude manoeverability, but also represents a major fire/explosion risk.

With the price of fuel, I’m sure that airlines take as much as required to cover contingency plans and civil aviation law will also dictate rules around this. Nevertheless, it got me thinking about how much fuel is dumped from aircraft around the world on a daily basis and what the consequences might be.

According to an enlightening article in Wikipedia  only large aircraft, fitted with fuel dumping systems have the ability to dump fuel. It is not universal. It also says that they generally dump fuel at high altitude which means that most of it dissipates before it hits the ground.

So is it safe? The Institute for Southern Studies found that fuel dumping was behind crop damage in Tennessee. They say that most of the fuel vaporizes and doesn’t reach the ground, yet the net is full of news stories about problems caused by fuel dumping. Of course it could be considered far less risky than an explosion on impact and in my research, there was far more evidence of massive losses of oil at sea from ships.

I found it really difficult to get any sort of statistic of how many fuel dumps happen around the world daily, I know its a lot because of the number of PA’s I have heard from the flight deck on my travels. I’d be interested if anyone has any statistics on this. One thing I do note is that in New Zealand we don’t have problems like acid rain and we have very low flight density. Yes, I do understand that most acid rain comes from heavy industrial pollution.

Anyway, just something I’ve been thinking about. Yes, I would still fly Qantas without hesitation.

A Qantas 380 Dumping Fuel in Flight

The World Dairy Summit and Water


Auckland’s Sky City Convention Centre is hosting the World Dairy Summit this week, a conference which will be attended by delegates from all over the world.

I was pleased to hear that sustainability is a major part of this event, with a day committed to the environment. One of those sections is on knowing your water footprint and water accounting in the dairy industry. Another is zero waste, although I’m not sure if that takes into consideration the leaching of all sorts of bio waste, hormones and fertilizers into the rivers, such as the Waikato River from which we Aucklanders have to drink, but I digress.

In a recent blog about In Vitro Meat I mentioned that according to Fred Pearce who wrote the book When the Rivers Run Dry, it requires around 24,000 liters of water to grow the feed to make a kilo of beef, or 2,400 liters for a Quarter Pounder. Now that’s a lot of water. We’re quite lucky in New Zealand being an island nation, that we get a lot of rain, but a lot of the world is not so lucky.

Of course this water is recycled in some ways, although not scientifically, most of it flows back into the ground together with whatever chemicals and particulates have been absorbed with it. That is why I previously blogged about the water quality issue in Auckland with the Super City Elections, but this was not high on any agendas.

Now my blog has been criticized before by farmers saying I am anti farming. This couldn’t be further from the truth and I love eating meat. I’ve gone off pork in recent times having seen how its farmed, but I won’t say no to wild pork.

I chose the following video because it helps explain the water issue in growing beef, but I won’t be following the advice to become a vegetarian. I don’t think humans were supposed to be vegetarian. I just think we need to stop the outrageous waste of water in our current farming methods and find better ways to grow feed, recycle water and reduce the amounts required in the farming process. I hope that New Zealand will take a stronger leadership position on water and its preservation. We are on the verge of a global water crisis and I believe that we are taking it for granted that we will always have plenty downunder.

I’ve been thinking


Do what you do well, is advice that is often given. Get back to basics. So let’s think about this for a moment from a New Zealand perspective. At the moment our economy, like many economies is looking grim. We are borrowing lots of money to stay afloat. We look to electronics, bioengineering and other things that we are good at, but aside from a few exceptions we don’t seem to capitalise on it. We are great with ideas, but not so good at doing something about it.

We have some success stories sure, wine does ok, lamb was doing ok until they invented food miles and we are pretty successful at controlling segments of milk and fruit, particularly apples and kiwifruit. The legacy of people like Angus Tait (who I had the privilege of working for 7 years) continues, but without his innovative attitude. We have some success stories, but they are really far and few between.

Many years ago, when we all took it for granted, we were an agrarian economy and very successful at it. We’ve been successful food exporters, right back to when the Dunedin, the world’s first refrigerated ship left New Zealand full of frozen meat carcasses, back in 1882.

New Zealand fed many parts of the world for over a hundred years and life was good. Live sheep have been exported for over 100 years, although a number of incidents where thousands of sheep died have had a negative impact on this. My biggest argument, besides the inhumanity of keeping live animals penned up for so long, was that much of the stock was exported for breeding purposes, which of course reduced the demand for our own product.

But I digress. In today’s economy, we seem to have turned our backs on some opportunities, such as creating large call centres to look after communications needs of other English-speaking countries in other time zones, a market that South Africa has made a huge industry out of. We aren’t doing enough in areas such as science and medicine, possibly because the people with the smarts go offshore.

So lets look at what problems the world is going to face in the near future, in fact many parts of the world are facing right now, food! Scarce water resources, growing populations and growing tracts of land that are becoming so dry and depleted that nothing will grow on them. Then of course we also have oceanic dead zones, which are killing fish and other sea life.

Is this something we could look at with a different De Bono Hat on? Oceanic Dead Zones thrive through a combination of fertilisers and nutrients that leach into rivers and down to the sea, causing large algae blooms. These compound as the phytoplankton absorbs available oxygen and pretty much kills everything off.

Could this be another opportunity? When I need some extra energy before a run, I swallow a pile of Spirulina. Spirulina is actually algae. Of course the algal blooms often contain toxins, but there are many algae that can be used as a food source. Perhaps we could turn a bad situation into a good one.

In New Zealand, since we signed the Kyoto protocol, it has become relatively economic to grow forests (which while gobbling up Carbon Dioxide also use up a lot of water). We have lots of land, a good climate for agriculture and a need to find new sources of income. In fact I have heard that NZ can no longer feed its population without importing food. So why don’t we start looking at ways of growing bulk food?

If we want to do the right thing, we could look at product that has low cost to grow, that we can export for a profit and help countries that have problems at the same time. More than 1 billion people (1 in 6) suffer from food deprivation.

Food Science is something we are very good at. Most universities have food science and biotechnology majors and there is even a Food Science Institute. Many people have a problem with GE Food. I don’t personally know enough about it, but one way or another we either have to put production into overdrive or accept that hundreds of millions of people will die soon through malnutrition and starvation.We have a food crisis now. Grain is scarce and with oil running out a lot of people are now growing grain to fuel cars, creating even less food source.

Whilst human population growth is slowing, there were still 74 million new mouths to feed last year. A large chunk of these are in countries where soils are eroding, water tables falling and wells going dry.

Water politics is becoming a new issue and it could be that future wars are fought between countries that share water sources. This is especially likely where low lands are reliant on water coming from highlands. Think Europe, where many of our recent wars have begun. But again I digress.

Can we go back to agriculture as something we are very good at and the world needs? Dairy is currently our biggest export and apparently Fonterra’s income represented 25% of New Zealand’s total export revenue 2 years ago!

So we are good at growing crops, but could we do more? I think so. First, we should be self sustainable. We can’t afford to rely on other markets, especially when things get to a crisis where 1st world countries start fighting over resources. Then we should look at how we can feed the world and get paid for it. As a country surrounded by sea, we do not face the extremes that occur with countries that have large land masses, including our neighbours Australia.

As to Food Miles, I’m all for sustainability, so lets look at this is an opportunity. This can mean focussing on closer markets such as Australia and Asia, but also on biotechnology to get more for less.

Sometimes I think we try to be too clever. Faster computers, cloud computing, cars, planes, rockets, 3D TV, all things I want to continue to enjoy, are meaningless to the ever rowing numbers of starving and malnourished people around the world. Because of our geographic isolation, we became very good at food. Let’s look for more and new ways to exploit this. Lets make sure that if everything turns to dung, we can still feed ourselves, then lets look at how we can help feed the world and pay off our national debt at the same time.

I’ll leave the last word to NASA who have remote sensing technology to monitor conditions affecting food resources and their management: