It seems like the mainstream media stories are missing most of the good news about solar, wind and batteries ( renewables) dramatically improving the electricity generation future for NZ and many other countries.

Because I am working on some futures type projects I often spot stories in the wild but forget where they come from. This list is an attempt to consolidate some of those stories from the past year or so in NZ specifically although at the end I mention Australia and other countries.

Note: The hosting company did a server migration and due to timezones I missed a backup so this version may be different to the earlier one. The numbered headings are all links and I have linked to source reports too.

1. Geothermal, solar and wind drive electricity generation growth

A report commissioned by the Electricity Authority Te Mana Hiko shows once built, there will be 5000 gigawatt (GWh) hours of new electricity generation committed – mainly in geothermal, solar or wind projects. This is up from 2600 GWh from the previous survey in July 2022.”

This gives us a bit of an overview. They make a point that some of the projects in progress are not in the public domain and obviously planning changes will happen so not all will be built but the scale is definitely growing faster than most realise. I don’t know much about Geo-Thermal or wind so will have to revisit but this story is recent Turbine milestone reached at Taupō’s Tauhara power station. “Once up to its full capacity, it will generate 3.5 per cent of New Zealand’s electricity, or enough to power 200,000 households.”

2. Solar ‘virtual power plant’ helps get NZ through cold snaps

It is the concept of virtual solar farms that is important. During the cold snap last week the shortfall was very small and so even a small amount of excess electricity flowing back into the grid can be very helpful.

“While the virtual power plant was never used in an emergency scenario, it was tested four times and managed to supply up to 26.5 megawatts to the grid – one 30th of the power generated by the Manapouri hydro scheme.

This wasn’t a large amount but it was deemed by the Electricity Authority and Transpower to be significant. For reference, the electricity deficit on August 9, 2021 that led to 34,000 homes losing power was 31 megawatts.”

3. Green light for Canterbury solar farm despite opposition

“Managing director Campbell McMath said the solar array would produce enough electricity to power about 11,000 of the district’s 29,900 homes.
It will have about 140,000 tracking solar panels, which follow the sun as it moves across the sky, capable of generating up to 50 megawatts of AC power and 75 megawatts of DC power. Excess electricity would be fed back into the grid via the Brookside substation.”

What is astounding to me about this project are the objections which are cloaked in reasonableness but not really. (See next point)

4. The sky’s the limit to solar farming

“Holden says it’s important to realise that farming isn’t a big part of the overall economics of a solar plant but it was about creating a scenario where the farm can be retained as a productive unit. Stocking numbers can be maintained at 80-85% of what they might have been without the panels, while studies have shown that the shade can actually be beneficial, he said.”

As you might imagine there are many landowners and farmers out there working on the best ways to have solar panels as well as sheep and / or crops in between the rows. It is an entire discipline now. The raised panels means there is still space between the rows that can be farmed and productive.

5. Northland solar farm now the largest solar installation in NZ

“Lodestone Energy held an official opening ceremony on the 29th of February, which brought together local iwi, Te Rarawa, construction partners and energy partners who worked on the project.” “Lodestone’s Kohirā solar farm with with 33 MW capacity is now operational.”
More importantly there are either 12 or 19 farm projects planned by Lodestone. The 3rd one is in the Bay of Plenty and will also go live in 2024 along with the Edgecumbe one. |Other Lodestone related stories about Kaitaia and other projects

6. Electrify Everything Aotearoa

This is the NZ version of the projects championed by Saul Griffith called Electrify Australia and the US versions. As they say despite NZ electricity generation being very renewable when it comes to the home and transport we are still only around 30%.

The way to improve that is by replacing gas cooktops in the home, using heat pumps for water heating and switching to EV’s for transport including trucks and other commercial vehicles.

“Decisions made by households – “dinner table decisions” – account for 31% of the emissions in our domestic economy. This is more than conventionally thought and it means household electrification is an under-appreciated opportunity for rapid emissions reduction at scale.”

In my opinion the Rewiring Aotearoa website is one of the best designed community resources available anywhere. Websites have been my business for 30 years give or take and besides the messaging the execution and comms is outstanding.

7. Genesis announces plans for three new solar energy farms

“The announcement follows Genesis’ plans in Canterbury for a 52 MW solar farm. The combined generation of the four sites – 452 MW – puts the company on track to achieve the target it set in 2021 of securing up to 500 MW of solar within five years. FRV Australia is one of the largest solar developers, asset owners and renewable energy platforms in Australia.”

Some analysts think that various of the large gentailers in NZ are sandbagging development of renewables because adding new generation too soon reduces their profits. They have a business model where “spilling water over the dam” when there is a surplus is in their business interests.

It is hard not to be cynical about the incumbents in the NZ market but the Genesis story is encouraging. However we have to note that power consumer interests and the gentailers interests are not aligned. See also Building begins on NZ’s largest solar farm in Canterbury for an update on the Canterbury project.

8. $5.4 billion in ‘excess profits’ for generators

“A new report by a University of Auckland economist has found that in the seven years from 2010 to 2016, power generators pocketed an extra $5.4 billion in profits over and above what they would have if the wholesale electricity market was truly competitive – equating to 36 percent of revenue.”

I found the link in this story on Spinoff. How the New Zealand electricity market works – and what needs to be fixed. Ben Fahy now works for Electrify Aotearoa – see above.

9. Integrated solar and agricultural farm planned for Rangitīkei

“It was the company’s fifth solar farm development with resource consents granted nationwide…. It was building a solar farm in Pukenui in the Far North, another one at Edgecumbe in Bay of Plenty, and had for two more approved in Waiotahe and Foxton – while three applications were pending, including a large 420 mega-watt-peak farm in the Mackenzie Basin.”

10 – Lightyears Solar raises $6 million for new solar farms in Canterbury, Wairarapa

“One of the reasons we’re developing at that scale is because they fit in nicely into the existing power networks, and also they’re fairly low impact to the communities they’re in.” …Once the Canterbury and Wairarapa farms were operational, Lightyears would have 20MW of solar farms in its portfolio, and would begin construction of 60MW of projects in 2025. The capital raise was led by commercial and industrial retailer Prime Energy and investor Rowan Simpson’s Hoku Group.

I like this story because it shows that smaller groups see an opportunity. I’m guessing that the NZ Climate VC fund and others are co-investing in some of these projects like the Lodestone and Lightyears Solar one.

I tried to keep the list to 10 main points but in the tradition of Spinal Tap here is are a couple of extras.

11. Kiwi company leads the charge in home energy technology

“That low-daytime, high-evening price structure is the opportunity for economic storage.” In Australia, a good lithium battery system costs $17,500 to install, he says, saving homeowners about $1,500 a year in energy bills….“So at the end of 10 years, at the end of the economic life of the battery, people still have not paid off the battery….“Our battery system is $7,000 installed, saving the same $1,500 a year for the same 10 years. So, at the end of [the battery’s] life, they’ve halved their electricity cost over that 10-year period.”

See the earlier action plans on the Electrify Aotearoa website. Battery technology is still expensive and so are heat pumps for water heating so these NZ batteries make the tipping point / payback point much more achievable.

I worked for a few years on projects related to innovation using graphene and I suspect that the Arc Active battery is using some related materials. There are many battery projects out there and it makes sense to try and leverage old style lead batteries with newer tech.

‘Graphene will change the world’: the boss using the ‘supermaterial’ in the global microchip war This is just a more recent headline on what has happened to graphene. As a super material it seemed like there was no end to product use scenarios but that is also a challenge.

12. A Guide to Solar Farms in Australia

“the Clean Energy Council found in its annual report that large-scale solar managed to generate more than 11 million megawatt hours (MWh) of power in 2022. For reference, solar farm sizes can start anywhere from 500 kilowatts (kW) in size.

Below, we have listed some of the top solar farms in each state and territory in Australia. We’ve also listed some of the farms under construction and their expected sizes.”

13. Data scientist Hannah Ritchie on reasons for climate optimism

“Ritchie is a researcher at Oxford University and deputy editor of the online publication Our World in Data and says she is cautiously optimistic this generation will leave the environment better than it found it.”

To my delight after I had written my list I found someone else had also come to similar conclusions and has been seeing the much of the same data.

This blog post stories list is focussed on New Zealand but there are many more stories around the world of renewable energy success. Notable stories from Uruquay, Chile and even California are easily found on sites like Progress Playbook.

This declaration is where I hope NZ is headed. Joint Declaration of the Global 100% RE Strategy Group RethinkX makes many strong arguments in favour of new renewable electricity generation.

If you need more hopeful vibes watch almost any of the videos by Saul Griffith. He deserves a separate blog post as a champion of renewables and the transition.

Last but not least – Tony Seba of ReThinkX and others mention that many of the renewables projects are coming off a low base so they don’t get noticed by economic forecasters. Innovation growth is more of an S shaped curve than a linear one which is why governments and official bodies seem to miss the significance of what is happening. We all need to do our part but it is much more achievable than it seems.

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