New Zealand to transition to an exclusively renewable-powered electric grid by 2035
According to the NZ Energy Quarterly report 2017, New Zealand currently gets more than 80% of its electricity from renewable sources, which is the highest level since 1996, but newly appointed prime-minister Jacinda Ardern has bigger plans. In 2017, the Prime Minister announced in a press conference that they are working on a sustainable long-term plan to completely transition the country to renewable energy by 2035 and reach zero carbon emissions by 2050. Despite the significant rise in renewable electricity and continuous innovation, the biggest challenge in implementing this plan remains the reliance on coal and gas plants as a safety net when the renewables market can no longer keep up with demand. However, the Prime Minister is confident that New Zealand’s geographical location and climate offer the ideal conditions for the development of an exclusively renewable-powered grid.
New Zealand welcomes an energy revolution
Taking inspiration from Norway, Scotland and Germany, which have successfully managed to distance themselves from the heavy use of fossil fuels, New Zealand is confident that they have a sustainable energy future and that New Zealand’s energy infrastructure can be successfully modified to welcome renewables. The road to zero emissions by 2050 will certainly be paved with challenges, but, according to officials, by respecting the commitments made in the Paris Agreement, this goal will be met. According to a Te Mauri Hiko – Energy Futures analysis, these are the changes that will define new Zealand’s ecological turning point:
- Solar, wind, hydro and geothermal energy will gradually replace coal and gas
- Public transportation will slowly integrate more electric vehicles
- Electric-powered vehicles will become more widely available and citizens would be incentivized to buy them by local rebate schemes. The number of electric vehicles in New Zealand has grown steadily over the past 5 years. If in 2013 there were only 38 electric cars on the roads, in 2017 the number skyrocketed to nearly 6,000 and NZ officials hope to reach 64,000 by 2021, as owners get rid of old vehicles.
- Major industrial processes will generate 50% more electricity
Solar power is not the main type of renewable energy in New Zealand
New Zealand was acknowledged at the annual review from the International Energy Agency for its ambitious renewable goals and commitment to the Paris agreement, but New Zealand Energy Minister Judith Collins said that solar power is currently not the most competitive renewable energy sector, as it happens in most countries. Geothermal energy, wind energy and hydro energy, however, present the best opportunities for the countries and should be leveraged in the future. As for solar power, it could become more viable if commercial clients benefited from subsidies and lower tariffs.
Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA Executive Director said that “Government policies, including targets and standards, are needed to open up the potential of energy efficiency in industrial heat, buildings and transport. Strong standards and policies will guide technology innovation and growth. New Zealand is a world-class success story for renewables and has excellent opportunities for using even more renewable energy in heat, but also in power supply and for the electrification of transport.”
Three cities in New Zealand already rank in world’s most renewable
New Zealand currently ranks #4 on the list of countries that generate the most renewable electricity, but this isn’t the country’s only noteworthy mention. According to a recent CDP report, three cities in New Zealand rank among the world’s most renewable: Auckland, Wellington and Kapiti.
The list, which includes more than 100 cities, mentions only those where electricity was at least 70% sourced from renewable energy. New Zealand outranked Aspen (US), Nakuru (Kenya) and Zurich (Switzerland), but it failed to surpass Brasilia (Brazil), Basel (Switzerland), Reykjavik (Iceland), Winnipeg (Canada), Burlington (US) and Medellin (Colombia), which source 100% of their electricity from clean energy. Nevertheless, officials are committed to becoming a country of green cities and promoting the eco-friendly mentality across all sectors. At a domestic level, homeowners are encouraged to invest in solar panels. During a visit in the United States, Energy Minister Judith Collins said that "solar generation could become cost competitive with grid-based generation across the board within a decade, and batteries could help improve network utilization”.
At a commercial level, local businesses in New Zealand have an even stronger motivation to go green. Adopting an eco-friendly corporate policy is not only good for employee morale, but also for the business’ reputation. Energy efficient baling machines and on-site recycling bins are now the norm for all innovation-driven NZ businesses, as is the participation in local environmental programs.
Thanks to its climate and geothermal resources, New Zealand is leading the way in the renewables field and the speed at which it incorporates new technologies into its energy infrastructure make it one of the up-and-coming players on the renewables market.