Transitioning to cleaner energy in New Zealand

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We are at a turning point when it comes to the environment. There are global indicators such as the rising temperature of the Earth itself, but New Zealanders can see the effects of climate change right in their own backyard. From extreme levels of rainfall across the country to prolonged periods of drought, global warming has already begun taking its toll on our home country.

As a whole, New Zealand has been making some pointed changes to combat the effects of climate change. Namely, turning towards more sustainable practices across major industries and creating more proactive government initiatives.

One of the most notable areas of change has been in the electricity sector. While oil is still the leading source of New Zealand’s Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES), according to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s 2016 Energy Report, 40.1 per cent of the country’s TPES came from renewable sources – the most ever recorded for New Zealand.

The current landscape: New Zealand’s steps towards clean energy

So, what are we doing and what have we done that has led us to this point of smarter, more sustainable electricity?

One of the biggest pushes began in 2011, when the New Zealand government laid out a framework for energy’s role in the national economy. The plan, which extends to 2021, prioritised the areas of diverse resource development, environmental responsibility, efficient energy use and secure, affordable energy.

New Zealand has been making some pointed changes to combat the effects of climate change – including transitioning to cleaner energy.

During this rollout, The New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy released a partner plan, that set out goals through to 2016. The efforts involved the creation of a smart heating initiative called Warm Up New Zealand to which the government granted a $340 million investment. A Green Growth Advisory Group was created to help SMEs transition to smarter electricity sources while maintaining business growth and national targets were set for renewable generation across the country.

Today, New Zealand has some considerable wins under its belt. Renewable generation on the power grid reached 90 per cent and remained at those levels for eight straight months, according to owners and operators of the national grid Transpower. This level of renewable generation meets the government target of 90 per cent renewable by 2025 (and well ahead of schedule).

In addition to this win, the MBIE report was full of promising statistics regarding renewable electricity progress. For starters, in 2015 renewable energy made up over 80 per cent of electricity generated, and 40.1 per cent of TPES was a result of renewable sources. Over 33 GHh of electricity was generated by solar energy alone, and geothermal electricity generation became the second largest producer of electricity for the country with 7411 GWh produced.

The continued push towards more sustainable energy sources will mean a shift in the electricity sector as a whole.

Looking forward: What’s next for New Zealand’s transition to clean energy?

That leaves one final question: Where are we going?

The moves that have been, and continue to be, made by New Zealand are impressive but there is always room for improvement. Moving forward, the goals set out by the government in 2011 will function as a roadmap for future improvements in the electricity sector.

The continued push towards more sustainable energy sources will mean a shift in the electricity sector as a whole. Leading companies will need to start offering consumers more environmentally-friendly options, like solar programmes and renewable offerings. This will, more likely than not, require new qualifications and professional training.

These major shifts towards smart electricity will also involve wider areas of infrastructure. As laid out in the Thirty Year New Zealand Infrastructure Plan, the government has mapped out plans to invest in smart electricity options to decrease current energy consumption. New transportation and construction projects as well as construction will also be rolled out with smart electricity in mind.