Grahame Sydney puts the case for microgeneration and self-sufficiency as the solution to our energy needs.
We’re learning how little control we have over two of our renewables, water and wind: security of supply is never certain.
And not just with renewables, a fault which has closed the Otahuhu B power station is expected to take up to four days to fix.
If Nature refuses to comply – in this case blow steadily – when the market demands it, wind generation, like hydro generation in a dry year, will be treacherous and unreliable, and of scant value to consumers. Large-scale schemes only multiply the problem. If we must have a wind component, let it be in already modified or semi-industrialised landscapes – in the “grey belts”, not the green; on community-need scale and close to demand.
The Save Central support group has been established to muster financial support for the Environment Court appeals against Meridian’s monster Project Hayes, but also beyond that immediate task to stir public interest and informed debate about the nation’s woefully ad hoc energy strategy.
There are many other alternatives to this Think Big degradation of our treasured landscapes … Our best energy security lies not with massive schemes which depend on undependable nature, but with a solid foundation of proven base-load generation, and an additional structure of other sources.
Sydney suggests geothermal resources, tidal energy, combined cycle plants using gas and geothermal power. He also notes the hypocrisy of exporting coal to countries which haven’t signed up to Kyoto.
The increased incentive for domestic users to install solar water heating is another welcome sign that energy conservation by homeowners can make a difference, but it must go much further than that: a recent government-backed report in Britain says that with changed policies to encourage microgeneration, the number of homes producing their own clean energy could multiply to one million within 12 years, save enough CO2 emissions by 2030 as taking all trucks and buses off British roads, and produce enough power to replace five nuclear stations.
The Conservative Party …has policies aimed at a “decentralised energy revolution”, enabling factories, schools, hospitals and households to generate their own electricity through independent solar and micro wind. It might not suit the major generators, but a like policy in New Zealand would be something to be proud of.
That is the problem with our system – the energy companies have no incentive to encourage independent generation and because they’re SOE’s the Government doesn’t either because that would reduce the dividends it receives.
Fifteen European countries have “feed-in tariffs” which pay householders for feeding the electricity they produce from microgeneration (e.g. photovoltaic cells) into the national grid. Consequently, 130,000 German homes have solar photovoltaic cells, encouraged by generous government installation grants. It would not be difficult here, but where is the political will? This is what the Greens ought to champion, if the Government will not.
Why only the Greens? Security of supply trhough increased generation and the financial and environmental benefits of self-sufficiency cross political boundaries.
Sydney explores the pros and cons of nuclear generation but concludes New Zealand is probably too small and the anti nuclear political mindset would take years to change.
All energy schemes have negative impacts, and opinions will always vary over which are least damaging, which are most preferable. It’s a question of how you want this country to look, and how you want it to behave. If the nation wants endless supplies of energy to be provided and its undisciplined energy consumption to grow exponentially regardless of the cost to both consumer and landscapes, then we carry on the present path.
But I suggest there are other, better ways: with the right incentives, New Zealand could lead the world in microgeneration and self-sufficiency; we could champion renewable schemes which do not depend on fickle nature, but utilise dependable base-load resources; we could retain the unspoiled landscapes as we know and admire them for generations ahead; we could learn lessons from the ugly mistakes of other countries, not repeat them; and we should reclaim the energy industry as an essential service, like health and education, and dissolve the present subdivided, competitive format which has failed so spectacularly, to the detriment of all consumers.
New Zealand could and should be thinking carefully about the consequences of decisions made too hastily, taking us on yet another doomed Think Big strategy which fails to live up to the many promises made to usher it in.
I haven’t found a definitive answer to the question of how much energy is lost in transmission but the lowest figure I’ve been given is 20%. Even if it’s half that, it’s silly to waste 10% of what’s generated all day, every day sending power thousands of kilometres from where it’s produced to where it’s used.
Supporters say more power is needed in the south and cite examples of the Cook Strait cable being used to get power from the North Island as well as too it. I am not sure if that would be needed if water had been conserved in hydro lakes instead of being used for generating power to send north earlier.
If we want a first world economy, and I do, then we need first world energy supplies. I don’t object to wind generators in general, and I don’t think I’d object if some of the windy hills we own could be used for it. But I am not entirely convinced that the Lammermoor Range is the best place for it.