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


Carbon Tax on petrol, yet another great idea?

get-in.jpgThe New Zealand Government has once again raised the prospect of a Carbon Tax on Petrol, rated as 7 cents in the litre. The concept I gues is based on a user pays scenario, so the more you drive, the more carbon you burn. Given that in most parts of New Zealand our public transport systems are pretty substandard, it looks like most of us will pay the price.

They have talked for a long time about measuring exhaust emissions and setting levels below which you can’t pass your Warrant of Fitness tests, but that still hasn’t come in. Of course that doesn’t generate significant revenue and the NZ Government has just announced a significant budget deficit, not that these 2 things are in any way related. I’ve also noticed that many of the ‘greenies’ drive diesel cars that blow black smoke and are often covered with soot, as are many of the buses I follow on the motorways. I suspect that the black soot on the bus I saw recently covering an advertisement on the back of a bus which said “we are drivers too” is a carbon waste product.

Currently, according to Caltex NZ, 41.6% of the price we pay for petrol in NZ is tax, so why not just round it up to an even 50%? The story was good though and I was impressed with Caltex’s excellent suggestions on how to use less fuel, some of them are very good. I suspect though that most people will continue their normal lifestyle. It’s like the old story of putting a frog in a pot of warm water and bringing it to boil slowly. We still love our big cars and we want to enjoy the great outdoors which is why many of us love in New Zealand.

The thing that amazes me is that we are still so slow with introducing alternative fuel engines. Toyota and Honda have done very well with Hybrid engines and they can’t seem to get enough to meet demand. Maybe the government should do something to encourage these vehicles and lower the import taxes on them. It’s yet another example of why the things that are good for you cost so much more. Give businesses in the cities an incetive to buy Smart Cars, but of course we have a problem with renewable energy as well, especially after a long dry summer. But wait, what about solar power? This is another tangent, but I read a couple of years ago about people in the USA getting major rebates for installing solar energy in their homes, plus the ability to sell their surplus power into the grid. We have certainly had more than enough sun this year, well actually I wouldn’t mind if it lasted all year round, but the point is we aren’t harnessing it and we aren’t offering people an incentive to help with the cost of making it happen.

So, we continue to encourage the use of fossil fuels (yes I know we are starting to include small amounts of biofuel into the mix, but all that will do at this stage is allow the oil to last a little longer. We know oil is a finite resource and once we have run out and the Middle East has caved in, what then? My prediction based on current consumption is that fuel will become incredibally scarce, travel and tourism will become incredibly expensive and this could have a disastrous effect on economies like ours.

So lets see what happens. Petrol prices go up because of oil scarcity, whether through resource depletion or through wars and terrorism. Oil prices also go up because of carbon taxes as oil companies have to buy carbon credits to meet their obligations. Taxes go up because they are based on a percentage of the price, whether through excise, GST, carbon, road user and others. The cost of living goes up because this impacts on everything we do, all goods and services involve transport. Domestic tourism and entertainment will suffer as people decide it costs to much to go anywhere. We all become a nation of obese couch potatoes because it’s cheaper to sit at home to watch sport or cable TV instead of going out and getting some exercise.

One day it will be too prohibitive to go anywhere except for special occassions and we will we end up living virtual lives, never leaving our homes at all.

Actually I wouldn’t mind the carbon tax if it was used on R & D for alteratives, for incentives for people to develop and commercialise alternative fuels and engines to run on them. The whole concept of carbon taxes seems to be punitive instead of constructive. What happened to Kiwi innovation? We’re still patting ourselves on the backs for inventing number 8 fencing wire, Hamilton jets and bungee jumping. Let’s pay people for coming up with new renewable energy resources instead of punishing people for using the only resources they have available to them, there’s a novel idea? There might even be international carbon credits in it.