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Will NZ's future energy be clean? - Expert Q&A

Will NZ's future energy be clean? - Expert Q&A
14 Feburary 2017

Approximately 80 per cent of New Zealand's electricity comes from renewable energy sources. But is this the full picture behind NZ's clean and green reputation?

Today the University of Otago's Centre for Sustainability releases ten policy briefs from its Energy Cultures research. We asked experts how New Zealand's energy usage compares to the rest of the world and what our Energy Future might look like.

Please feel free to use these comments in your reporting.This is an abridged version - you can access the full version on along with the newly-released policy briefs.

- Dr Janet Stephenson, University of Otago
- Prof Ralph Sims, Massey University
- Prof Robyn Phipps, Massey University
- A.Prof Ben Wooliscroft, University of Otago

Dr Janet Stephenson, Director, Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago:

What needs to change to transition NZ towards a clean energy future without risking our energy security?

"New Zealand tends to pat itself on the back about our renewable electricity. Around 80 per cent of our electricity is currently generated from renewable resources, mainly hydro, geothermal and wind. However only around 40 per cent of ALL energy used in New Zealand is renewable.

"So around 60 per cent of our total energy use is fossil fuels – coal, oil (mainly petrol and diesel) and gas. We tend to conveniently forget this when we talk about how clean and green NZ is, and just focus on the electricity story. It will take some major changes to shift away from fossil fuels, which are mainly used for transport and in industry. And a clean energy future is not just about switching to renewables – it’s about using ALL energy much more efficiently, so it takes less energy to do the same amount of work (or more work).

"For New Zealand, changing to renewable fuels for transport and industrial processes offers great opportunities to improve productivity and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Given the quality of our renewable resources for electricity generation, it makes sense to seek to electrify transport and industry, and we’re already seeing the start of this with the government’s support for uptake of electric vehicles, and the focus in the proposed NZ Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy on using renewable energy in process heat for industry."

What do you think NZ’s Energy Future looks like?

"We need to get to a net zero carbon world by the second half of this century and NZ must play its part in this transition. For NZ, opportunities to reduce biological emissions will take longer to develop than opportunities to reduce energy-related emissions. Here we must focus on, in order of importance, stopping burning coal, secondly getting away from burning oil (petrol and diesel) and thirdly moving away from gas. This means changes in what fuels we use to be mobile, to heat our homes, to run our businesses, and to produce and transport goods.

"I envisage NZ’s energy future by the second half of this century as one in which we have a high level of electrification of transport (e.g. trains, buses, cars, some heavy vehicles) and some use of biofuels (e.g. in planes and heavy transport). Industrial processes will shift to electricity and biofuels, which will require some adaptation of equipment. Forestry will be more important both because of its use as a carbon sink and also its use for biofuels (e.g. solid wood, wood chips, wood pellets, liquid biofuels). Advances in other forms of biofuel production (e.g. algae) will also have occurred."

Does anything need to change in government policy or action to assist all New Zealanders to transition to a clean energy future?

"The problem is that there is no government policy! There is a weak emission trading scheme (under review) that a) most people don’t realise exists even though they contribute to it in their gas and petrol bills, and b) has had no effect on reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions whatsoever – even at the current carbon price of around $18/t CO2. A small car typically produces 2 tonnes of CO2 per year – so paying around $36/yr through the ETS, there is little incentive to reduce GHG emissions.

"To reach a major tipping point of emissions reductions requires behavioural change linked with low-carbon technologies – but there is no leadership to drive that change and therefore no signs that the government wishes to significantly reduce our emissions. New Zealand has an opportunity to be a leader in the international aim, from Paris, to stay below a 2oC temperature rise, but is has dropped the ball. If all the world’s countries were to match New Zealand’s target of 11.2% GHG reduction below 1990 levels by 2030, then the world will be on track for a 3-4 oC temp rise. This is obviously untenable.

"On a per capita basis, our GHG emissions are one of the highest in the world, so we are yet to show that we’re willing to 'do our fair share' to reduce emissions. Increasing the plantation forest area to remove CO2 gives us some breathing space, but this can only be a temporary solution as land area is constrained. Buying carbon credits from off-shore is also not a long-term solution, and may postpone the inevitable need to reduce our domestic emissions and make the transition to a low carbon economy.

"The planet is at a critical juncture – and not just in regards to climate change impacts. We will all have to make changes to our current lifestyle because, quite simply, 'business as usual' is not sustainable."

Professor Robyn Phipps, Professor of Construction, Massey University:

When it comes to energy efficiency, is NZ's construction industry progressive in their adoption of technology? Or are we lagging behind the rest of the developed world?

"NZ is lagging behind much of the world with regard to energy efficiency. Our insulation standards are lower than many countries with even warmer climates. The amount of PV panels installed is less than countries, such as Germany, which have low sunshine hours.

"One of the main hurdles in increasing energy efficiency in home construction is the fact that many people regard going anywhere above the requirements stipulated in the Building Code as frivolous. The Building Code is only the lowest legally acceptable solution, it is not the best solution. In the car industry, producers have done a far better job of educating the public that safety features above and beyond the basic requirements to pass a WOF are advantageous and desirable.

"The construction industry needs to be getting a similar message out to the public."

What home energy solutions are good options for New Zealanders? Is there anything that needs to change in order to encourage uptake of such technologies?

"Insulation, heating and ventilation are required. A properly insulated home, with some thermal mass being warmed by correctly placed windows will need almost no extra heating or cooling. Regrettably, many home designers turn to heat pumps rather than good design solutions.

"We're currently researching solar air heaters and finding really good results."

In NZ we have an ageing housing stock - what options are there for retrofitting these homes to be more energy efficient or to use alternate energy sources? Is it likely to happen?

"The first requirement is to insulate our houses, in the ceiling, in the walls and under the floor.

"We also should have double glazing in all our domestic and commercial buildings. The new photovoltaic roof tiles that Tesla has developed would offer the opportunity to re-roof and produce energy in the home.

"The feed-in tariff offered by electricity companies appears to be designed to suppress adoption of PV, but will likely lead to local energy sharing systems that cut electricity companies out."

Is it becoming more cost effective for homes to become more energy efficient? What are the easiest ways for people to lower their energy bills?

"Smart heating, appropriate heat pump technology (too often the wrong unit is placed in the wrong part of the house), good insulation and domestic consumption of energy all lead to lower bills, but require some outlay.

"The EECA does a good job of telling households what they can do for little or no outlay."

What do you think NZ’s Energy Future looks like?

"I am optimistic that NZ’s energy future will be renewable and fairer. There is certainly a groundswell of interest in moving off grid, or producing some of the energy used in the household.

"Unfortunately that option is not available to all people, the poor are likely going to be stuck in the situation of buying electricity with little real choice."

No conflicts of interest declared by the Q&A participants.

**This is an abridged Q&A, read the full version on**


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