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

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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

Electricity, Earthquakes and other Disasters


So in this series motivated by the Canterbury Earthquakes and particularly Christchurch, I have looked at how prepared we were and what personal lessons we could take away. I asked is it now business as usual, have we gone from maybe it could happen to me, to phew, glad that’s over and we’re good for my lifetime?

 

I don’t think the people of Dannevirke thought so this week when the 5.1 hit there. But then, were they planning on getting prepared before that? Possibly not. Are Wellington people still watching?

I talked about putting together an emergency kit and all the things that Civil Defence recommend you should have both for in the home as well as a kit that you can have ready to throw in the car last minute. This could be useful for so many things, not just earthquakes. In NZ and Australia fires, floods, volcanoes are just a few reasons for people to have to bail in a hurry. If you prepare a getaway kit and never ever need it, that’s great:)

I had a look at community issues and remembering or meeting your neighbors. This is really only a starting point and I want to come back to this in future because once we get over the physical wounds, the things we can see, we are going to have to deal with the psychological outcome. I believe we are going to be dealing with a whole city suffering from PTSS. We are starting to see small examples such as when people are visiting areas of Christchurch that have been closed to them. The tears are good and the visits will help with acknowledgement of the situation and belief in the recovery, but there are still people n0t able to get their cars back let alone go back to their places of work. There are still buildings being torn down.

There are kids who won’t sleep in their own rooms at night. There is an underlying emotional distress of an order that NZ has never had to deal with before. People will be saying I’m OK Jack, but many of them are not. I have some ideas on this, but it will be a separate blog.

I started on the insurance saga, this was before the EQC story and the AMI bailout.  I don’t know about you but I’m getting concerned about banks and insurance companies getting massive bailouts.

They are always talking about the risks they take in consumers, but it seems like perhaps it is the people taking the risks. Should we pay premiums to insurance companies, trusting that they will re-insure and spread their risk and spend a minimum of our premiums on sharing profit amongst employees and shareholder dividends, at least until after they know they have the necessary reserves for major disasters.

Insurance is like playing poker machines or lotto, it is about risk. If a gambler blows their rent money at the casino, does the Government bail them out? Rhetorical question. But when the banks get carried away and over commit themselves to loans that don’t stack up, when insurance companies commit themselves to risk they can’t cover and the government bails them out, it isn’t some nice friendly uncle we’re talking about. You and I are the Government. That money comes from our taxes. It means more pressure on minor things in our community such as education, health, taxes.

So I was wondering, if an insurance company has failed in managing its risk, is it in fact guilty of trading while insolvent? Should the $500 million bailout go to them, or should it go to a liquidator to share amongst the people who bought policies from them in good faith? How much of the bailout goes to the people waiting on insurance payouts? Would you like an answer?

I wrote about the lessons we learned about the telecommunications companies and I have to say I think the telcos did a great job. There are things you can do as well to be able to continue to communicate without power to run or charge your phones. Have you changed anything since then?

Today I wanted to write about electricity, but I’m at 681 words already and there is a fair bit I’d like to stay, so if you’re interested in my thoughts on electricity and emergencies, you could subscribe to my RSS feed or bookmark this page. I think you might find what I have learned interesting.

I also want to write about green power and particularly about solar power schemes, following on from my blog a couple of years ago on Feed-in Tariffs. I’ve learned a little since then and I’m not sure the Government has. It was great to see Bunny McDiarmid from Greenpeace on TV1’s Close Up last night talking about the Petrobas oil exploration and the tension between that and our ‘renewable energy policies’. But I have to wonder where the Green Party is right now. This is a huge opportunity for them in election year to discuss solar power opportunities which are really starting to prove effective in many countries around the world through FIT programs. More on this in one of my next blogs…………….

In the meantime, here’s a video that explains the installation of a PV system on a house in Puget Sound.

Feed-in Tarriffs and The Greens Party


So election year is hear and in less than 2 months the political fate of New Zealand will be decided for the next 3 years. With Greenhouse / Global warming , Kyoto and the global call for positive action on sustainability, I would have thought that The Green Party would have had the perfect opportunity to become a dominant force.

In several parts of the USA there are government subsidies and interest free loans on the purchase and installations of solar panels for domestic use. New Zealand has major problems with power. This year the lakes which are used to generate hydro electricity in the South Island were close to empty and given that this has been a recurring situation, it is only a matter of time before we start having enforced power cuts.

The government has been quick to sign the Kyoto Protocol which apparently gives us a sustainability debt which we will have to pay to other countries. In my humble opinion this is stupid, not the least because countries including our Australian cobbers and the USA have not signed. But more so because we would be far better using those funds, taxpayers dollars, to do better things at home, such as interest free subsidies for urban water tanks for drinking water and solar panels on our homes to generate water to heat it. Surely that would make better sense?

When I started to research this, I found that South Australia is enforcing a concept that they got from the NZ Green Party which is a Feed-in-Tarriff. I’m amazed that I had never heard of it! I’m not sure if that reflects more poorly on me for not knowing or on the Greens for not being more vocal about it. Anyway, rather than providing subsidies and interest free finance, which I feel we should still enforce, this concept requires the power companies to purchase excess power from consumers who have solar power in their homes, at a price higher than they pay to the commercial grid.

If we are in for some serious problems as a consequence of global warming, rising sea lavels, increased pollution in lakes and rivers, exacerbated by increasing water temperature, how is it that the Greens do not feature high on the political radar. I suspect that a lot of it is driven by their perception as tree huggers, driving sooty diesel vans who used ot be extremely vocal, but just didn’t seem like us, the average Joe Public. They don’t fit the mould of the ordinary politician, perhaps because they represent only one (important) facet of life on planet Earth today. They haven’t convinced us that we need them, which is a shame, because they may have some great ideas that we dn’t know about. Maybe they need to make some changes to the way they present themselves.

So here’s the problem. I can’t afford to spend between $30,000 for water heating and $100,000 for generate power to my home equivalent to what I get off the grid today. But if I could borrow the money interest free and pay for it from savings as well as selling excess back into the grid I’d be keen.

New Zealand Carbon Taxes and Carbon Trading


I sometimes wonder about this country. First of all we told the world that we were clean and green and carbon friendly, so we signed the Kyoto Protocol as a sign of good faith. Our government likes to set a good example and we are very PC (politically correct) so we led the way. Of course we noted that countries like the United States, China and other major polluters didn’t sign, possibly because they uderstood the implications better than our politicians did. I believe even Australia didn’t join the party.

Then we started looking inward and understanding the implications and in the last year we have seen dramatic changes in the way we look at ourselves, much of it very good. Business and consumers have been given lots of opportunities to measure their carbon footprint and look at ways that we can recycle and in other ways try to become carbon neutral.

I understand that one of the Agreements we have signed allows us to only have to worry about the increase in carbon emissions since 1999. Now I’m not a specialist in this area and not so much interested in the finer details. I’m happy wherever possible to do my bit as a consumer and in business. I have been recycling and separating paper waste, plastic, metals and glass from my household waste and do the same in the office wherever practicable.

I was surprised to learn recently that even though as a country we are separating waste into various categories much of it is still dumped and not recycled, but that’s another story.

I don’t have a major issue with carbon trading within business in our country, for those who wish to partake, but for many small businesses that it is a problem, yet another compliance issue that makes it difficult for businesses to focus on generating revenue and hopefully profit. This has the potential to damage many industries in New Zealand.

What really bugs me though is that even though we have loads of native bush and domestic forestry and are largely an agrcicultural nation, we will apparently still have to buy carbon credits from other countries who have a better carbon footprint. I wouldn’t have too much of a problem with this if it applied to the entire developed world, but when giant countries who have huge large scale industrialisation and generate mass pollution, greenhouse gases etc don’t and don’t have to participate, this situation is unfair.

I accept that the world can’t go on as it is and that the future landscape for our children and grandchildren looks bleak. I accept that we have to take responsibility and I believe that most New Zealanders do. Even industry such as the Comalco aluminium smelter in Invercargill which could close down due to the proposed carbon taxes claims to be the greenest of the 200 off smelters around the world. If they close due to our governments obsession of being the best example in the world, they will take away 3,000 direct and indirect jobs which in an area of only around 50,000 people could be enough to close the city down economically.

The government want us to pay carbon tax on our petrol which is already up at the highest level it has ever been per litre, as well as adding regional taxes to pay for roading developments, public transport improvements, when traditionally the taxes we pay in this area go to the consolidated fund to be used on whatever they deem important. Fortunately there is a moratorium on this for 2 years, I wonder if there is any relevance to this being an election year. Then instead of using those taxes to improve our country’s carbon footprint, we have to buy tax credits from other countries and then on top of that again, they will want us to spend even more money on trying to become carbon neutral.

All of this in a climate (pardon the pun) where house prices are higher than they have ever been, food prices are going through the roof, interest rates are high, in short the cost of living is far exceding the average income earners pay increases and businesses in the finance industry are falling over. I could go on, but if you live here you know what I am talking about. We don’t have enough money to support our stretched resources in health and many children are going to school without breakfast in our working class areas.

So for all of that, instead of taking carbon taxes and investing them in our own country to improve our sustainability, our government wants to send the money to other countries. I applaud the government for drawing our attention to the environment, to our responsibility to its health and to future generations. But surely the money would be better spent at home? If the rules are not the same and enforcable for the whole developed world, then lets make our home a better place and set the example. We can’t afford to give money to other countries who are ‘greener’ than us, because it sets a good example. Let’s tidy up our own back yard and become sustainable and then say to China and the USA and anyone else that isn’t doing their bit, ‘follow our example’.