By Lynley Hargreaves 28/04/2016

Dr Janet Stephenson
Dr Janet Stephenson

Experts, just about everyone and even the government would like New Zealanders to be zipping around in electric cars. But it won’t happen, at least not rapidly. Otago University’s Director of the Centre for Sustainability Dr Janet Stephenson explains. She also tells us why New Zealanders are buying photovoltaic solar panels, wonders why we’re buying electric bicycles, and points out that the new Royal Society of New Zealand report on Climate Change Mitigation Options for New Zealand found only one highway to low emissions – reducing the use of fossil fuels.

What is the importance of the Royal Society of New Zealand report?

The thing that’s really important about the Royal Society report is that no one until now has pulled together in a comprehensive way the mitigation opportunities for New Zealand. It’s very important from that perspective. In our work on it we started off talking about different pathways to achieving lower emissions but found there is really only one highway and that is simply reducing the use of fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas, in that order of priority. That really has to be the main change in the short-to-medium term, and there are other opportunities in the longer term. But the big focus has to be how do we cut fossil fuels out of our lives.

Cutting fossil fuels means driving electric vehicles, right?

Well, that is one of many actions people can take. But the problem is the timeframe. In our Energy Cultures research programme we were interested how long it would take to get 20 percent of New Zealand’s transport fleet to be electric vehicles, and experts gave us a range of answers from 5-20 years. However, when we did some modelling on uptake we found that unless there were policies to support it, you might only get around five percent of electric vehicles in the fleet in 20 years, partly because we don’t tend to buy new cars, and hold on to our old cars for such a long time. There’s a lot of hope about the implications of electric vehicles for reducing our emissions but it’s unlikely to have much of an impact in the next couple of decades unless prices come way down or there is strong policy support.

The Minister of Transport is super keen on electric vehicles and has said a number of times over the past year that the government will be bringing in some policies to support faster uptake, but we haven’t seen anything yet.

From a global perspective, EV uptake also depends on the improvement and lowering in price of things like battery storage or retrofitting. You really have to look across the fleet and ask where are the niche opportunities for EVs? Those are probably going to be in areas where people are doing short trips like commuting, or high mileage but stopping so they can recharge, or in vehicles that move slowly but need huge grunt. Retrofitting bus fleets might be a good example. There is a lot more work needed to be done beyond simply the importation of electric vehicles. There are also opportunities for thinking more broadly about not necessary replacing like with like.

If we don’t replace petrol or diesel cars with electric cars, then what?

There are a number of really interesting other options – obviously more use of public transport, biking and walking, but there are also new types of electric vehicles coming in – like the light three-wheeled and four-wheeled delivery vehicles that New Zealand Post is already using in New Plymouth, and electric bikes. If we get a big uptake of lighter more vulnerable vehicles it may require a rethink on layouts of roads. We’re seeing new businesses emerging globally that offer access to shared cars or bikes, as well as people clubbing together to share ownership. In the near future, autonomous vehicles will be able to zoom around picking people up and delivering them. Shared vehicles allow much more efficient use of a smaller number of vehicles.

Urban freight is a particularly under-researched area and we’re also really interested in changes around active transport – New Zealanders are walking and cycling more, although we tend to use bicycles for recreation rather than commuting or getting to school. But there’s a big surge in uptake of electric bikes and the interesting thing is they allow you to go faster and therefore be safer in urban traffic, as well as not be sweaty when you get to work. We’re not sure what people are using them for and this is something we’d like to find out more about.

Change can actually happen remarkably fast when a society is ready for it, as we’re seeing with things like the internet and mobile phones. And change can also occur in quite unanticipated ways. Our team has done work looking at mobility choices amongst young people. There is a significant change occurring in many parts where young people are getting drivers licenses much later, if at all, and they are much less likely to own a car. Nobody is exactly sure why this is happening, but it’s likely to be driven by a whole lots of influences coming together. In research for the Ministry of Transport, one of our researchers found that for some young people owning a car is no longer symbolic of having made it, being a grown up. Instead cars are seen as an expensive problem and it is felt that it’s better to have the freedom of different choices about how to get from a to b, such as walking, biking, or public transport. Obviously this works better in an urban situation but this generational shift is definitely something that is occurring in New Zealand.

Are there shifts on other kinds of energy use?

Yes, I’m part of another research programme called Green Grid, where we look at the future of the electricity grid under high levels of renewable generation, smart technologies, and consumers adopting new technologies. One of the more intriguing aspects of our work is where we are seeing an intersection of people’s aspirations with technology developments so that people are being able to move quite rapidly in new directions.

Photovoltaics are a really interesting example. If you look at the uptake curve in New Zealand – bearing in mind that New Zealand has no subsidies – we have seen a rapid uptake of photovoltaics since 2012. Our research has shown that New Zealanders have an immense appetite for this. While decisions may be triggered by the fact that PV prices have fallen a lot in recent years, this is not necessarily a rational economic decision if you did all the sums. Instead, people are mainly doing it so that they don’t have to be so reliant on buying power from their electricity company, they want some independence, and this has been shown across various surveys we have done. New Zealanders are taking up photovoltaics because of this interesting desire for independence; not primarily for environmental reasons or because they think they are going to make a profit, which tend to be the drivers elsewhere in the world.

As a result of this rapid uptake, lines companies in New Zealand are doing a bit of a double take. If the rate of uptake continues it could have quite serious implications for them, if it’s not well managed. Overall responses from the energy sector have been variable, some saying it shouldn’t be happening, it’s not economically rational. Others are saying it’s better to invest in electric vehicles because they are better at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Both may be true, but that’s not the point … think about what drives people’s choices when they buy a car, or a house. It would rarely be the environment or making money! This appetite amongst Kiwis for PV means that there are now a proliferation of companies installing photovoltaics, some offering zero upfront cost offers for installation. Interestingly, once people have PV and are making their own power, it changes how they use energy and is creating new understandings of energy in people’s everyday lives, leading to more consciousness of energy use.

Are there actually environmental benefits when people install photovoltaics?

Yes, but they are really around the diversification of energy generation to local levels. If you’re looking at where this might go in the future, it’s into what we’re calling prosumer collectives. A prosumer is someone who both consumes and produces electricity. People can be prosumers as individuals, but internationally we are starting to see people start to collectivise. One example is clusters of people buying and selling their surplus solar power to each other. If you have a PV and don’t use it all, you can have a direct relationship with someone else who can use it – say with someone who has a flat in the city and has no opportunity to generate power. There is strong interest in this in New Zealand.

These kinds of changes are making the electricity industry quite nervous, because there are really remarkable implications. New and far cheaper forms of energy storage are emerging as well. One way of looking at it is to think about phone choice: with a digital phone you give up on 100% reliability (because sometimes you might be out of range) but for that you gain a whole lot of benefits as opposed to having a landline. You can think of electrical systems in this way. If you think the benefits of something like PV are worth it, even if you lose some reliability, you might just make the switch.

To learn about how New Zealand can take action on climate change, see the Taking Action section of the  Royal Society of New Zealand report Transition to a low-carbon economy for New Zealand.

These interviews are supported by the Royal Society of New Zealand, which promotes, invests in and celebrates excellence in people and ideas, for the benefit of all New Zealanders.

0 Responses to “Electric cars – a slow hope”

  • As there is no such thing as “man made global warming from C02 emissions” how do these paid off puppets imagine buying electric cars in the bankster’s austerity economy can mitigate the climate?

    Do they suggest we lie under electric cars like chicken little and say “we are blocking the sun, oceans and water vapor mitigating the climate cluck cluck”.

    • this is an interesting interview. your comment, on the other hand, is unmitigated nonsense.

      • Reads like a sales pitch for electric cars while confusing pollution with C02 and telling people without scientific proof that C02 causes global warming.
        Al gore’s hedge fund is invested in electric cars.

  • Then for you, Anabel, try a set of different reasons for buying an electric car and forget the globe and the banksters. Lower running cost because electricity is less expensive that fossil fuels; lower maintenance costs because there are only a few moving parts; safer driving because electric cars have a lower centre of gravity so behave better on the road. No gear changes; faster acceleration making passing safer; quiet running; no city pollution because they do not have exhausts; classy design; internet enabled so maps are always up-to-date. Easier refuelling because you merely plug in a cable when you get home at night and do not need to stop at a petrol station.

    You trade this for the inconvenience of having two half-hour battery charging stops when driving in one day say between Wellington and Whangarei, or Invercargill and Picton. Also the cost of a new battery somewhere between ten and twenty years, by then low cost. And at the moment a higher initial price, though that will come down very fast over the next decade, and even faster after the last internal combustion engined car is made in seven to nine years.

    • My still unanswered question was how the people think that electric cars have the ability to mitigate climate change, they are completely unrelated except that the proponents of the idea of man made climate change from C02 are invested in electric cars/ transition diesel buses and other clumsy tech.

      Does using electric cares alter the Sun, oceans and water vapor?
      It was a climate science question statement the inappropriate unscientific “response” from Tim and Simon, people who do not understand the spin of “Man made C02 emissions cause of climate change” in the article clearly did not explain the connection.
      You say something will mitigate something in science a)without proof and b)when it is not even connected to climate.

      • Anabel, I am convinced that “man made global warming from CO2 emissions” is true.

        I will try to put this as succinctly as possible. Others have written better researched and referenced pieces, readily available in the literature. I am not a climate scientist, but a technologist who understands a lot of science.

        First you have to believe that the measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere are accurate – you have to go back to the early 1970s in NZ, especially near Wellington, and follow the readings made, now as a global set of measurements. It is easy to tell that the increase of CO2 is because of our burning of fossil fuels, by measuring the ratio of the isotopes of carbon in the CO2.

        Then look at the global average temperatures and find that they are increasing. Next you have to follow the amount of melting of major ice flows, like Western Antarctica and Greenland, and calculate the loss of ice and its re-distribution as water in the oceans. As part of this calculation also include the gain in ice in Eastern Antarctica. As a check on this calculate the Earth’s change in balance and measure it.

        Then you have to understand the mechanism of the greenhouse effect and why the Earth’s average temperature is about 30 deg C higher than it should be calculated from the energy input from the sun. Part of this understanding is the properties of the various greenhouse gases, and the calculation includes the change in albedo (reflection coefficient) produced by reduced ice in the North Polar Sea.

        Then you need to look at the history of the Earth by measuring the entrapped atmosphere in ice laid down millions of years ago, and look at stalagmites in caves round the world. This gives a measure of temperature, greenhouse gas concentration and age. You also get a rate of change.

        Then you postulate that the extreme rate of change of the last 150 years just might have been because the extreme rate of increase in the greenhouse gases. The world has never seen such a rate before. Thousands of scientists have worked on this and generally agree that this is a very likely cause. There is no obvious other alternative explanation. Occam’s razor applies. To me the rate of change is critical.

        Then you say what other effects are likely from this global change. You look at rivers like the Indus, fed from slowly disappearing glaciers in the western Himalayas that provides water to the city of Karachi, knowing that India is breaking the agreement with Pakistan and taking some of the water from that river. What happens in twenty years when the glaciers no longer exist is anybody’s guess. They are both nuclear powers.

        You measure the acidity of ocean water which is a measure of the uptake of CO2 and calculate how many life extinctions will occur as calcium carbonate shells are dissolved. As most materials expand when they are heated, the level of the ocean rises, added to the rise of the ocean from the added water that came from especially Greenland and West Antarctica icesheets. You look at the added energy in the air above the warmer ocean and calculate the increase in severity of atmospheric storms like Katrina and Haiyan. You look at the likely influence of increased flood and drought. You look at the increasing human population and its wanton use of resources.

        Then you say, have we done the right thing here? Do we owe it to our children’s children to leave some resources for them to enjoy? What if the scientists are right? Are we destroying the Earth by keeping on increasing the gases that are causing the problem?

        Well, one thing we can do, is to not further increase the CO2 in the atmosphere, with the very high likelihood that this is the cause. One way to do this is to change from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Because the efficiency of a fossil-fuelled engine is lower than 50 %, and that of an electric motor is greater that 90 %, there is an immediate gain in energy consumption. The change from using fossil fuels to electricity in a vehicle reduces the CO2 increase, even in countries that generate most of their electricity from fossil fuels. In NZ we are much better off, with a high and increasing percentage of renewable sources. Because solar panels and wind generators are now less price than any other electrical generator, we are changing rapidly to this technology.

        Vested interests have been very vocal in trying to rubbish the whole idea, just like the tobacco industry tried fifty years ago. The fossil fuel industry now has a million less employees than it did a year ago. The electrical industry is very frightened about its future. Change is generally difficult for people to accept. But we have adopted new technologies quite rapidly, especially in NZ. So we do not now buy film cameras, filament lightbulbs or telephones that plug into the wall.

        Anabel, you wrote: “My still unanswered question was how the people think that electric cars have the ability to mitigate climate change, they are completely unrelated …”

        I submit that they are not unrelated. There are well over a billion vehicles in the world, expected to rise significantly over the next few decades. Changing our fleet to electric will have a significant effect on the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which will mitigate climate change.

        “Does using electric cars alter the Sun, oceans and water vapour?” Their use does not alter the sun directly, but will change the amount of energy that is absorbed by Earth, as the albedo rises when there is more ice over the north pole. Also cleaning up the atmosphere by having less exhausts in cities will also change the albedo. The uptake of CO2 in the ocean, its height and its temperature will be altered by using electric vehicles. Water vapour will change locally, with some areas becoming drier and others wetter, but on average there will be little change, as I understand the science.

        I agree with you that it was inappropriate for Tim and Simon to attack you. I tried to side-track you by not answering your question, but giving you other reasons for you to consider electric vehicles. I should have written this posting as a response, but I knew it would take some hours to write. But you must admit that your statement was also not in the scientific mode – it felt to me like you were upset and very angry when you wrote it.

        My apologies for the length of this response, and the fact I am not quoting references. Others have written much more – properly researched.

        • What convinced you of the myth that man’s emissions of C02 is the( single) cause of “climate change” ?

          Or that articles like this one (which is confusing pollution with C02 and) saying that electric cars will or could even “mitigate” something they have nothing to do with is scientific?.

          • I wrote it above: “Occam’s razor applies. To me the rate of change is critical”.

            There is no known mechanism that can produce the effect so fast. The one change that has occurred is the CO2 increase, and that happens to have the same rate of change. Geologically this change is incredibly fast. There have been fast changes in the past, one leading to the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, and so these have been studied to see if anything else fits, but the only one that does is the CO2.

            Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. Arthur Conan Doyle.

            I did not read anything about pollution in the article, except perhaps the word emissions, which means in this context greenhouse gas emissions.

            I wrote above “Changing our fleet to electric will have a significant effect on the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, which will mitigate climate change”.

            I see that I have not convinced you, and so we beg to differ. I have given you other reasons to change to electric vehicles, and suggest that I was right in sidestepping your question initially, because I guessed from your posting that whatever I said would not help.

            Maybe you would fit nicely somewhere in the Koch Brothers’ set of organisations. Look them up.

          • As I suspected you have no evidence for claiming an non event a) man made global warming or b)that man’s emissions of C02 changes climate( a mis -science that eliminate the biggest climate drivers, Sun, Oceans and water vapor).

            To not have evidence that man’s C02 emissions control the climate….its just unscientific! .
            Belief without evidence is more religious, faith its not science( add the fake “consensus” and the razor’s penny drops)
            There is also no evidence that C02 killed the dinosaurs( that is a new claim).
            Make people fearful threatening an extinction event good one fear mongering has been the core of the Al Gore man made global warming campaign.Check your intellect out at the door.
            Far better would it have been to just promote Al Gore’s hedge funds electric cars on “pollution reduction” alone rather than on a myth about C02 and the climate.


      • Anabel – by any chance were you inhaling contrail chemicals in 1969 when Neil Armstrong et al were filming the moon landing at Area 51? This could account for your interpretation of the article? Look into it.

        • Anabel, you wrote: “As I suspected you have no evidence for claiming a non event a) man made global warming or b) that man’s emissions of C02 changes climate.” I suggest that you read the IPCC’s reports – I think anything I say will be mis-construed. I have given my reasoning.

          “Belief without evidence is more religious, faith is not science” I absolutely agree.

          “There is also no evidence that C02 killed the dinosaurs.” You are absolutely correct – it was highly likely an asteroid. It was an example only of a fast rate of change – you could not get anything faster.

          “Make people fearful threatening an extinction event good one fear mongering has been the core of the Al Gore man made global warming campaign.” It is not a threat, it is a fact. We are in the middle of an extinction event right now, with extinctions at about a thousand times the normal rate. These are not all attributable to CO2, but to mankind’s raping of the resource. NZ’s habitat changes are a sad commentary on our care of the environment. We should be kaitiaki, not plunderers.

          “Far better would it have been to just promote Al Gore’s hedge funds electric cars on “pollution reduction” alone rather than on a myth about C02 and the climate.” The number of deaths due to city pollution is very high (WHO quote 6.7 %), just another example of our not taking care. Some of my time I live in a city with 25 million people in a radius of 100 km, so I understand the problem. Pollution was one of the reasons I suggested that you consider an electric vehicle.

          I suspect that you have no evidence at all that CO2 is not involved with climate change. I think you accept that global climate change exists. You seem to believe that changes in the sun, ocean and water vapour are the reasons we have global change. Have you any evidence? What has changed in these three in the last 150 years, and why?

          • George on a positive note we agree that to believe the Al Gore myth of ” man’s emissions of C02 as the cause of global warming” theory on just faith is religion not science:)

          • I think you have a strong belief that Al Gore’s comment is a myth. I do not think you have evidence. So I think your belief without evidence is faith, not science.

            You are changing your previous comment by dropping the word ‘more’. I see that religion is one example only of belief without evidence.

          • It is you who has provided no evidence that man’s emissions of C02 is the cause of climate change:)
            As I do not believe you in science it is up to you to provide evidence to support YOUR claim.
            For a religion however you are doing fine as belief in Al Gore’s chicken little stuff ” the ice caps melting” is all a cult needs.

          • Anabel, I have been deliberating on how to reply to you. I suggest that you read a copy of “World On The Edge” by Lester Brown.

            It describes the world’s problems, the consequences of these problems, what we are doing about them, and what we have yet to do.

            It is broad in its approach, following the line Lester has been taking in describing Plan B, as Plan A is failing. Lester’s farsighted insight over many decades has attracted many accolades.

            When World On The Edge first came out I bought nearly two hundred hard copies with the help of colleagues and gave them to all politicians, all mayors, top people in the business, industry and scientific fields in NZ. You can download for free – search for the title and download wote.pdf from the Earth Policy Institute site.

          • George wheels out Kaitiaki, forgetting that Maori plundered the environment, but there were too few of them to have a significant effect on the environment.

          • I was using the work kaitiaki as a word in NZ English, borrowed from Te Reo Maori. English borrows from many languages. I made no reference to race in the comment.

            But to comment, it was not the humans, but their companions that did most of the damage – rats were the first of many predators introduced.

  • The uptake of electric bikes also puzzles me. There’s a local store that sells them and is apparently doing quite well.
    Yet on my regular commutes to work (via bicycle) I’ve never seen one.

    I suspect the ordinary bicycle is even kinder on the environment (and more low carbon) than the electric car.

    • Does it puzzle you?
      Thank god Brendon that you are “saving the environment” and looking so friking cool while you do it.
      They are just “not there yet” with the technology of the electric cars.

  • Bicycles are certainly very low on the embedded energy and carbon impact compared to cars. Electric cars are at the moment a little worse than fossil-fuelled cars in their manufacture, but lower in total because of the lower fuel use, even in other countries where electricity is largely generated using coal. The next generation of electric cars will improve the current imbalance.

    Our roading system was designed for cars, and a cyclist comes off second best in any accident, so the uptake of bikes has been slow. Also cities are very reluctant to provide dedicated lanes. E-bikes are safer in mixed traffic, because they can easily travel at car speeds, but still not as safe as having a metal shell round you. NZ is safety-conscious, unlike some other countries. The future is autonomous vehicles, improving the safety of everyone, so expect a big future for bikes, e-bikes and e-trikes.

    • Indeed. There is good evidence that the perceived risk of cycling is a major deterrent for people wanting to commute this way. It’s odd comparing the desultory use I see of bicycles here with other “bike-friendly” places overseas. Nonetheless, it is a form of travel that has appealing cost-effectiveness for emissions reductions .

  • Loving all the climate change mitigation and clean transport press in New Zealand at the moment. Nice work!

    One point; when you say,
    “You really have to look across the fleet and ask where are the niche opportunities for EVs? Those are probably going to be in areas where people are doing short trips like commuting, or high mileage but stopping so they can recharge, or in vehicles that move slowly but need huge grunt.”

    That might be true for CHEAP electric cars TODAY but within a few years such concerns will fade away. Some people I talk to think we will never get electric cars with greater than 100km range, so its important to point out that progress is quickly occurring.

    The Tesla 3 will create a market expectation for owning affordable electric cars that can do 250-300km, within 24 months.

    Expensive electric cars (Tesla S) are currently already rated for 473 km. That’s longer than my bladder can cope! 🙂
    (US EPA test – )

    • Quite correct. Electric car manufacturers are aiming at 200 miles (320 km) as the minimum. These will be fully featured cars with every safety feature available. Some good research is currently being done to reduce the drag coefficient of a car – how much energy it takes to push through the air, so expect improvements in range, when added to fast-improving battery technology.

      So one stop in Turangi, which is half way between Auckland and Wellington.

      There will be a market for smaller cheaper cars as commuting vehicles as well, that can not go faster than city traffic, with a range of 100 km. These are already being produced by Chinese manufacturers who started off as e-bike makers. So the full range of vehicles will be available.

    • Yes electric cars are quiet, so quiet the Ombudsman got run into by one backing silently into her.

  • I bought an ebike 2 months ago to speed up my 12km commute to work, & make the 12km trip back home easier. Acceleration through intersections from standstill makes the journey safer (less time negotiating roundabouts). <$1800 for an Osprey from

  • New Zealand is unique in that it can absorb much more wind and solar into the grid – and simply hold back the Hydro water to a minimum when the solar and wind insertion is high. Gas could also be kept on parked up reserve as a Peaker / dry year back up only. Its super easy for NZ to be 100% renewable!!!

    • The nice thing about the combination of wind and solar is that in NZ and many Pacific Islands there is an off-shore and on-shore wind that extends electric generation both early and late in the day, complementing solar.

      The problem with peaking is that it takes some time to start and stop a generator and is not cost-free: increased maintenance, accelerated equipment degradation, lost generation opportunity, lost water, gas or geothermal steam and reduced efficiency. So it would be crucial to have decent software controlling the system.

    • Justin
      You are just so wrong. Your glib comment at the end shows just how little you know.
      NZ cannot absorb much more wind and solar onto the grid. There is enough problems coping with it now.. There are issues of voltage and frequency control and not enough inertia as well. The hydros also have limited storage in the lakes along them, particularly the last one. The hydro consents have requirements on minimum flows and rate of change of flow. Wind is unpredictable, even two hours ahead. it takes 3 days for water to get from Taupo to Karapiro. What will be the generation (to within 10MW which is about 20 cumecs at Karapiro) of wind and solar in three days time? Can we turn off your power if you get it wrong?
      The gas can’t be “parked” as the gas platforms can’t easily ramp up and down. You need to build a large gas storage facility in an old oilfield, like the small one Contact did. That will cost billions. You are also dependent on the pipeline. Remember how that went down some years ago and the chaos that caused?

      • Chris, I think you are being highly conservative about how much solar and wind can be handled in the NZ system. It is true that the advice to EA in Wellington is that solar should be limited to 5 %, but that is because they are frightened of the electrical industry’s future. Lawrence Jones is one of the world experts and he has advised our industry. He has a very detailed book that explores this subject. It was his comment to me that I was quoting when I wrote above that we need good software. Tony Seba said in Wellington that an electric vehicle is a computer on wheels – there is no reason why the electrical system could not have a similar description.

        Remember that the 4000 km of gas pipeline is storage in itself, at high pressure. The Waioeka Gorge has a 100 mm pipeline through it, but it is about 300 mm from there to Gisborne, purely as storage so it can supply several days gas usage if there is a problem in the gorge. I used to have access to all the numbers, but a quick calculation takes me to about 17 million cub m at atmospheric pressure. Certainly enough to act as a peaker with a fast response.

        Geothermal can also be a peaker, and you are taking the slowest example about hydro generation. Most hydro can ramp up quickly.

        The frequency stability can be quickly improved by syncing the N and S islands. Not a problem at the moment, so it hasn’t been done. Again good software can help.

        I think at a guess that the NZ system could handle something like 50 % wind and solar, ten times what it is now.

        • You are ignoring the environmental limits of hydro cycling. The rapid cycling of release affects river beds and banks. This is specifically considered in consents and can lead to restrictions on releases. Yes geothermal can peak, but why would you! It does not like the pressure changes associated with doing that and the economics of the stations requires them to run 24 by 7. In addition geothermal is only sustainable in the long run. The rate of extraction determines how long a field can operate. Extraction is generally configured relative to the expected economic life of the plant. Sure the field will recover through time, just as ice ages come and go.

      • Chris, I wonder if you are thinking too much within the box of the current so-called “market” and the small mini company scale (Contact, Genesis, Mercury, Merdian, Trustpower all are tiny on an international scale) financial only incentives this creates? And you are also thinking within the framework of untweaked engineering systems and untweaked permits. FYI – the actual bottle neck on the Waikato system is Waipapa Dam which has Mareatai upstream with its twin power stations (hardly ever operating at full capacity), there is plenty of scope for storage / more peaking within the Waikato system esp if a small allowance for spilling and some slight changes to ramp rates allowances were made. There is also plenty of scope on other Hydro systems to essentially store Wind and Solar also. In addition, NZ is very mountainous which is perfect for a pumped storage project or two. The real reason for the historical Gas Baseload design that you appear to be whinging about is more to do with the ridiculous “Take or Pay” Gas Contracts that the Taranaki cartels locked us into than any technical reasons. The gas wells themselves don’t have to operate at a constant rate. Chris you basically have your head in a hole if you think New Zealand couldn’t quite easily cope with a lot more Wind and Solar if just a few adjustments are made. I support Nationalisation of the Electricity System so a central agency can make strategic desicions about moving New Zealand to 100% Renewables before the clowns at Contact and Genesis build an LNG import terminal in Taranaki for when the gas finally runs out – that will be a sad day for New Zealand. The current “every little generator for himself” mentality is crazy given the tiny size of NZ.

  • No George, you are as bad as Justin
    Look at the gas burn for a 100MW peaker. It needs a lot more storage than you think.
    Geothermal can only be used for load following if it is dry steam field like Geysers. There is no dry steam resource in NZ except possibly Ketatahi.
    Hydro might be able to ramp up and down quickly but where do you get the water from or it go to? Learn the difference between power and energy.
    I am sure you can give an example of an islanded grid handling 50% wind and solar – if you can’t, it is just your dreams.

  • George – the gas feed into a GT has to be at 35-50bg, so that means there is little storage capacity in even a full pipeline. the gas line is also sectioned into parts, with pumping stations to boost pressures. That means high pressure in Auckland can support Gisborne or vice versa. Before they built the pumping station at Rotowaro, Otahuhu had to be backed off in the winter afternoons because of increased gas demand in Auckland dropped the pressure too low.
    Looking over the data today, on the 20th April, total wind generation was 290MW at 06:00. By 20:00, that had dropped to 12MW. The country’s demand at the time was about 4800MW. The drop was mainly picked up by thermal. The 20th was chosen because this was the last time it happened, but it generally occurs several times a month.
    On. the afternoon of the 28th, the Waikato hydros were generating 645MW. However, at 4am that morning, Karapiro on 40MW was generating more than any other Waikato station. Both Karapiro and Waitaki are generally baseloaded with only one flow change a day. The lakes also have little working range and storage. There is quite complex juggling to ensure they get the right amount of water through the upstream dams to avoid spilling wateror running them below minimum level.. Most of the river hydros can’t easily cope with the large unpredictability of wind because there lakes have little storage. That load changing is generally left to thermal plant. Benmore does load following most of the time, but even then, Aviemore is working at full range a lot of the time.
    Having a lot of wind and or solar on the grid gives the duck curve, which has to be compensated for by GTs and their load following is a very expensive operational mode. South Australia is closing their coal stations because the government has decreed they can rely on wind and solar, with GTs to match the deficits. Actual experience is they have come very close to blackouts (they have already switched suburbs off) because the wind stopped and the GTs dropped gas line pressures so much. They rely on the grid supplying them generation from Victoria’s coal fired stations. They also have the most expensive power. Tasmania is in a similar situation, except their grid connection to Victoria’s coal stations has a fault so out of service. They are air freighting in diesel generators and seriously looking at buying Otahuhu.

    • Chris, let us assume that the price of solar and its associated hardware drops 10 % per year, and the cost of installation and permitting remains the same. The price of rooftop solar would drop say 7.2 % a year, meaning that in 2026 it would be halved. Add to this utility sized solar and the average price would halve a year or two sooner.

      The price of electric cars is expected to drop from $US 35,000 at the end of next year to about $US 10,000 by 2025, and $US 5000 by 2030. All these will have batteries in them sufficient to store two or three days of electricity for a household, so the combination would compete directly with the troubled electricity situation you describe.

      It would be similar to the uptake of cellphones and the steady abandonment of land-lines. And the uptake of digital cameras – it took a little over a decade for Kodak to change from a couple of billion dollar business to applying for a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And a hundred years ago when it took over a decade from one car amongst the horse-drawn carriages in the New York Easter Parade to no horses at all. Disruptive technology.

      I submit that more and more households will drop off the grid, and that the value of the country’s electrical assets will quickly become the scrap price, less the cost of retrieval. That is what the industry is worried about. They are already fighting a parallel trend, the debacle about the use of LED street lighting in Wellington being an example.

      We have a question mark above Tiwai Point, a lowered average household consumption from thermal insulation and more efficient lights and appliances. A difficult integration of solar when added to wind, as you have described.

      I submit that other renewables, like geothermal and hydro will be the last to go, but they certainly will, because the cost of transport and distribution will kill them. So I think that Justin’s 100 % may become accurate – almost all solar.

      There will be a social bias in the falling apart of the electrical system as we know it. The first to go off-grid will be those that can afford it. There has already been an attempt to shame these people. This is something the government will need to recognise and do something about.

      Now the whole emphasis of the main article above is about how fast we can change our ways and use less fossil fuels. There is only one sure way to speed this up, like we have done with thermal insulation in one direction and the use of tobacco in the other – back pocket incentives. So if there is a government that subsidises the cost of an electric car by say $NZ 10,000, then it would cost the taxpayer 40 billion dollars over say ten years to help buy 4 million vehicles, certainly affordable with a turnover of about a trillion in that time, and we could then hold our head high in the world. The list I gave at the beginning of this discussion gives further incentives to buy.

      A consequence of this action would be that it would speed up the changes in the electrical industry, because solar panels are coming down in price as we speak, and the car subsidy would make the storage more affordable. There will be other consequences as well, health costs from pollution will go down, and the vehicle repair industry will rapidly decline. Most fuel stations will disappear, with the attendant decline in storage tanks and the Marsden Point refinery. As well as reduced shipping currently bringing foreign oil here. So less overseas funds needed. Properly designed LED street lights will be installed in Wellington and elsewhere. This and the reduced pollution will please the astronomers, as they and the public can see the Milky Way.

      There will have to be a change in the way we charge for our road maintenance, but we already have the model with diesel vehicles. Big trucks will also run on electricity, with different rules about axle loading, perhaps making solar-powered electric rail relatively more affordable. Maybe we will see coastal shipping returning – this time with batteries installed – even a sail or two. Not sure about aeroplanes, it depends on possible breakthroughs in battery design.

      I believe that the losers will fight hard and probably dirty, so life will not be easy. But in the end we will be doing the right thing for this earth, proud of our actions.

  • Justin
    Now you are just being stupid.
    Maraetai 2 was built as a peaking station. Waipapa is baseloaded. How are you going to increase storage? Put the lakes on a slope? The rest of your comments are either prohibitively expensive or just tin foil hat wearing stuff.

  • By running the entire river at low flows but full lake levels while the wind insertion is high you ignoramus… Or are you worried about Lake Taupo overflowing…?

  • As I said earlier which you didn’t bother to read, let alone comprehend, it takes three days for water to get from Taupo to Karapiro. They can’t predict what wind generation 2 hours out, let alone 3 days. If you let down too much and spill water because you get it wrong, you burn coal and gas in the longer term. If you don’t let down enough, you burn coal and gas now.

    • It’s official you are no longer worth talking to… Your quite right both gas and hydro are basically base load….. NZ is already saturated with a Wind… Well done… I am off to work in Fossil Fuel sector now… Thanks

  • George
    I assume you know that the main reason the price of PV has dropped is the Chinese manufacturers are dumping on the market. One of their big manufacturers has just gone belly up so prices are likely to stabilize. Remember that the same statements about nearly being viable were made about wind 10-15 years ago (and are still being made) but without subsidies, wind isn’t viable. It only goes in NZ because they freeload off the grid and don’t have to comply with the onerous rules that all other generators have to comply with.
    LED lights are great, but how much power is really used in even old incandescent lights in your homes? Most industries turned to high efficiency lights long ago. If you want to power electric cars, you need a lot more generation. Even with the very modest target of 5% of the car fleet, that is an extra 1GWh a night needed. And it has to be generated between 10pm and 6am. That is extra energy, not something that can be addressed by peak lopping. And it can’t be wind, as people won’t support change if the wind doesn’t blow that night and their cars are stuck in the garage with a flat battery.
    With your target, work out how many billion you need on generation and transmission. Then think on how you can sell that to the electorate.

    • I assume you mean Yingli, who a week ago asked for two weeks delay in delivering their annual records. The big news is not that Yingli may be in trouble, it is that the Chinese Government has decided not to support the company, a new policy for them. I suspect that they see that the industry is big enough that it can sort out its own problems. There is a fine line to tread for optimal expansion, as any businessman will tell you.

      The industry has been following Swanson’s Law (learning curve), and solar panel prices will continue to reduce. Definitely not dumping. The big future for the Chinese solar industry is the installation in China of more than NZ’s total installed GW every year for the next decade or two. Not counting anything exported. They are starting to turn off coal, taking seriously December’s decisions in Paris.

      I agree with you about wind, I see it as a useful interim technology, like MFL lights. The same with concentrated solar power.

      Powerswitch says that lighting is about 8 % of NZ’s household power bill, so small but significant. But industrial, commercial and street lighting will be quite a bit more. Good LED street luminaires can almost entirely eliminate light spill, and can be turned down or off when not needed. Good computer control, again.

      On your figure of 1 GWh per night for 5 %, then that would be an increase of 17 % on NZ’s annual 44 TWh for 100 %. That is a little more than Tiwai Point. Not a problem. Solar in the daytime, where ever the car is parked.

      Look, you have to think differently, a bit like Linus Torvalds who developed Linux. Once you have the investment in solar the energy is free. It can be freely given and received, and will be. Maybe using remote charging, as developed by Boys / Covic. Nissan’s idea of the future is autonomous electric vehicles that find their own charging station.

      In 1940 science fiction writer Robert Heinlein wrote a short story “Let there be Light” about the fictional development of electricity generating cold light and its reverse, the generation of electricity directly from light. He wrote about possible consequences in later stories. We are on the edge of reaping the benefits from his ideas.

    • I have a 3kw solar on the house with a Mitsi IPHEV outlander… Overall still a net exporter to the grid and long term fuel consumption of 1.7l/km. It is all doable.

    • Yes, govt pushing for electric cars and no one can say how electric cars are going to “mitigate” the climate .
      There is no separation of Crown govt from big business (it pre privatized our energy corporations for this ) it works for the profiteering interests of the 1%. Follow the money.

      • Alexandra, I’ll say the same thing I wrote for Anabel above – there are other reasons to change to electric vehicles. For you, use these. For others, allow them to also think that they are changing the climate.

        The government’s push towards electric vehicles works against the interests of a good fraction of the 1 %, as the biggest businesses are related to the oil industry, which will be history in the near future. About a million jobs have been lost in the oil industry in the last year or two, and it is now a sunset industry.

        Well, not quite – it was the last Shar of Iran who said that oil was too good to burn. He foresaw the end of oil – which is why he agreed to buy a score of nuclear power stations when the Americans came to sell the concept. So oil can be a chemical feedstock.

        Note that the now part-privatised energy corporations are destined to go as well. Solid Energy is an example of how things can change.

    • So the continuation of the doubling of electric vehicles till 2021 is 100 % electric vehicles by 2027. The last will come at a price that is good, three or four years after the last new fossil-fuelled vehicle ever made has been sold. Well, heavy trucks will be the last, so there might be a few of these still being made in 2027, eleven years from now.

      So it is a start, in line with what I expected of this government. Maybe a later government will accelerate the middle years, because we cannot afford not to change.

      Good on you for your work in this field, Sigurd.

  • George
    China is not turning off coal – it is closing down some of its 60 year old CHP plants which is very good for everyone. They are still building supercritical boilers as fast as they can.
    If Tiwai closes (which is very unlikely) it will still need billions of capital investment to fully utilize the power in the North Island. They will still need Huntly to stabilize the grid. Is that 8% on incandescent or modern bulbs? If it is the former, I would suggest there is very little more gain to be made. The gain going from low pressure Sodium to LEDs aren’t that great, certainly can’t justify a wholesale replacement programme.
    Swanson’s Law isn’t a law. It is just curve fitting. It is predictive but not absolute.
    With a lot of the other posters here, a lot of your ideas are technically feasible but are they economically viable? The changes need tens of billions of dollars of public expenditure as well as private investment. You can easily end up like Germany where they subsidise renewable power generators, then subsidise fossil fuel to be there because renewables aren’t reliable, so the net result is near a million households in fuel poverty and industries (that give high wages to their employees) leaving the country.
    If you look at the infrastructure here, for significant penetration by electric vehicles, there needs to be massive investment in the distribution network. People don’t understand just how seeming small changes can have such big effects. Look at the issues in South Australia and that is just domestic solar generation. When the cost of that comes through in the power bills, the financial benefits disappear.

    • Chris, then I mis-interpreted China’s intentions.

      I also think that Tiwai Point won’t close. They have already extracted some money from the taxpayer, and I expect more. I assume that the 8 % for household lighting is now, including modern bulbs. It is part of the drop from about 8000 kWh per year average household use to below 7000. But the technology continues to improve.

      Street lighting will be economic to change reducing the energy used to about half or even a quarter, and improving safety by improved colour recognition and light spread. Limiting the light to the street only and largely eliminating light pools by aiming the light correctly would bring the first major improvement, and the second would be to light busy streets brightly, then reduce the lighting as the traffic reduces until most of the time in the early morning hours the lights would be off, triggered by movement and other sensors. Imagine a lone car travelling a suburban street at 3 am, with lights turning on ahead and off behind, exactly at the speed of the car.

      In your scenario there are already approvals for a significant increase in geothermal, and they have not yet tapped the lower layer in the Taupo Volcanic Zone. Geologists are waiting for the first deep drill to verify what they have found by remote sensing. There is even an idea to exploit it and sell electricity to Australia through a cable. So they are following the similar idea that Iceland has, to sell to Ireland.

      I think neither will happen, as solar changes everything. The effect of the proposed exponential increase in electric vehicles is that it is only in the end years when the energy is needed, just at the time that the price has dropped very dramatically.

      Electric vehicles will sell themselves. Put somebody behind the wheel for a test drive and the sale is clinched. There will be an avalanche at about the time that petrol stations are closing in significant numbers, giving fossil-fuel drivers range anxiety.

      Solar is a bit different, and it depends on how the electrical industry reacts to the increase in solar that will determine the industry’s decline rate. The Lines Company customers in the middle of the N Island are already very unhappy about the annual peak usage charge. Expect a series of death spirals – some will go off-grid, the price for the remainder will rise, and more will disconnect.

      Yes, it will take significant investment. But can we afford not to? There is a Social Credit tenet: Whatever is physically possible and desirable, and morally right, should be made financially possible. Think about that.

      (Apologies for the delay in replying – have been planting mahogany trees, organised and financed by my bank. Anabel, not all bankers are banksters.)

      • George, re “most of the time in the early morning hours the lights would be off, triggered by movement and other sensors. Imagine a lone car travelling a suburban street at 3 am, with lights turning on ahead and off behind, exactly at the speed of the car.”
        Customer research (~20 years ago, seen at CCC) showed a desire for street lighting for personal safety. There was even an indication that as vehicles have lights, the primary benefit of street lighting was not for vehicles. Your point re activation by sensors might still have validity – a lot of sensors needed though and not for just detecting vehicles.

    • Chris, re “for significant penetration by electric vehicles, there needs to be massive investment in the distribution network.”

      Not if most (say 80%) of the home charging is coordinated to be diversified during the overnight trough in load. Eventually even with one EV per household, there could well be enough homes with battery storage (say 1/3rd of homes) which could accommodate the network load without increasing the network.

      • Richard
        You are correct but your proviso is a big one. That co-ordination doesn’t exist now. Until it does exist and is shown to be both cheap and reliable, it won’t be accepted. Smart meters have been around for over 20 years. They are still dumb. How much acceptance is there of switching appliances on an off to match load? If I heard the Transpower executive right, Kinleith is the only company that has demand management.
        Everything boils down to cost benefit which is often only perceived. People won’t get double glazing, even though payback is less than ten years. How many still want to buy incandescent bulbs? That is the reality.

        • Chris, I get that some people want incandescent bulbs etc so don’t mean to over simplify the challenges, but I think EV charging coordination is easier than it sounds. eg re “How much acceptance is there of switching appliances on an off to match load?” this is taken as normal for hot water cylinders. Re “If I heard the Transpower executive right, Kinleith is the only company that has demand management.” that must have been out of context as there is a lot of successful demand management by network companies in NZ, and Transpower have a small (I think in the 100s of customer sites) but growing load that they manage also.

  • George
    The report I saw in Pratts said China was commissioning 150GW of new coal fired plant by 2020. I gather that is stuff they have already started building. What they do after that I don’t think anyone knows. A lot depends on what the world and their economy does. The Central government has put a hold on about 100GW of new plant but that seemed to be in the unpopulated regions.
    Don’t put too much faith in deep drilling. Just because GNS says there is hot rocks there doesn’t mean there is any permeability. The hottest wells at many fields are the tightest ones and they don’t sustain a discharge. There are also a lot of technical issues pushing wells so deep. The costs skyrocket with depth.
    There are consents in place for about another 350MW geothermal. Then all the fields left are those with protection orders on or have already been shown to be problematic. The Iceland to Scotland cable is just dreamland. It was never seriously considered. I was talking to someone today who just got back from the IGA conference in Reykjavik. They are still building some geothermal but it isn’t big developments. I don’t think Australia would be happy getting their power through a cable. ask Tasmanians what they think.

    • Chris, are you any relation to Phillip – Morris of the Tobacco industry by chance? I just ask because you seem to love evil industries, which is what the filthy, stupid, obsolete coal fire plant as Huntly is (any readers working for Genesis please fall on your sword now – your not helping!!)…. The ugly duckling will still continue to provide precious grid support by running with no fuel as a synchronous condenser to help support all our additional renewables, we are not going to bulldoze the ugly be-arch completely (that would just cost so many precious “$$billions”) – Spinning operating reserve will come from a new pumped hydro storage project.

  • @Justin – which new pumped hydro project? Serious question.

  • This is an interesting read. There appears to be plenty of vested interest, and lots of fervent hope, but not a lot of real answers to actual problems. And for the record, I am a believer in a long-term transition to various renewables.

    But we have some significant issues to overcome.

    1 – Geography – we are a long, skinny network, and major generating assets are located about as far from major consumer locations as you can get. With a bunch of water in between them.
    2 – Climate – Those major generating assets rely on a significant annual inflow of water from both rain and snow melt. Climate change suggests that this supply may well reduce
    3 – Network purpose -the distribution network was purposed for (mainly) one-way traffic at (relatively) stable loads. Distributed generation suggests that this model will be redundant, requiring significant investment in infrastructure
    4 – Population – we don’t have any, except in Auckland and a few scattered outposts. On a related issue…
    5 – Capital – we don’t have any except in Auckland and invariably its tied up in overpriced residential property
    6 – Societal Expectation – we seem to want poor insulation and cheap construction, energy inefficient transport, lighting and other stuff. We are lazy energy hogs and we love it.
    7 – Economics with a capital E – we have steadfastly maintained a market-based approach to our economy and investment for over 30 years. It’s pretty much a given now. This approach mitigates against the collective good systems that the discussed energy distribution would require.

    I don’t think my list is exhaustive and parts of it may well be off target or indeed not even in the shooting range (I’m no expert, just an interested bystander), but it shouldn’t be read as a reason to do nothing. It should be read as a series of interconnected considerations that have to be understood before we embark on a change that will fundamentally redefine our country’s energy production distribution allocation and consumption systems.

    Actual electric cars (whether direct electric or hydrogen fuel cell) should be the least of our current concerns.

  • I bought an electric bike at the start of the year. I would be happy to talk to you about my reasoning and usage.