Thursday 15 November 2012

Green growth

There's a new 'Green Growth' report out. The Science Media Centre asked me for comment; here's what I gave them, along with a few additional comments below.
“There’s much to like in the [Green growth] report. It rightly recommends that New Zealand move toward more efficient pricing and trading of water resources. Similarly, they recognize the opportunity for New Zealand to make a global difference by directing research and development resources towards lower-emission pastoral systems – so much the more so if New Zealand were to release the developed technologies under Creative Commons license as our contribution towards reducing global warming. Streamlining regulations to let entrepreneurs take advantage of New Zealand’s natural potential comparative advantages in aquaculture also is well worthwhile.
“I worry that some of the identified opportunities may impose cost well in excess of potential benefit.
“While more energy-efficient buildings would be very nice to have, regulatory mandates in the area often have perverse effects. For example, mandates that homes undergoing renovations also be brought up to higher energy efficiency standards can encourage people to avoid renovating their homes. Financing programmes assisting those already undertaking renovations for earthquake-strengthening to improve energy efficiency at the same time would be more effective; by contrast, EQC in Canterbury has been barring homeowners from undertaking any energy-efficiency improvements while repairing earthquake damage.
“Imposing carbon dioxide emission standards on New Zealand vehicles, when we do not make vehicles, mostly shifts to other countries those used cars we would have bought. We already have seen evidence of reduced used car availability and higher prices consequent to the government’s recent regulatory measures that effectively barred Japanese imports produced prior to 2005. Further, shifting towards greater use of electric cars because of New Zealand’s low electricity emissions-intensity would only work if we were able substantially to expand our base of hydroelectric or geothermal generation.
“I was somewhat surprised to see no recommendations around allowing well-regulated hydraulic fracturing technology for natural gas extraction. Wave and tidal power are worth investigating, but remain rather too uncertain to bank on. Greater use of natural gas powered thermal electricity generation is likely New Zealand’s best bet for lower emissions intensity power generation in the absence of substantial breakthroughs in other energy sources.”
I'll add a bit here.

As best I understand things, coal is now part of our baseload generation capacity. Huntly runs all the time, their gas turbines are easier to fire up and scale down for peaking than are their coal units, and our hydroelectric stations are obviously better as peaking units. Adding electric cars adds to baseload demand, so we need more baseload capacity. That's ideally hydro, which is banned by the environmentalists / water spirits people. Wind can be part of our baseload because it can be partnered with hydro: when the wind blows, we can dial back the hydro plants and save the water there for times when the wind is calmer. But, that means they need to service the same demand points as our hydroelectric stations. And hydroelectric plus lots of wind means the Canterbury High Country. And the environmentalists / scenery people have banned our putting wind power there too because it would make a tiny percentage of that scenery look different. So that's out too.

Fracking can be done safely - from my read of the literature, whatever problems there have been in some cases with water contamination can be avoided by techniques that only slightly increase the cost of extraction. Getting more access to cheap natural gas in New Zealand can displace what coalfire generation we are running and gives us room to expand generation capacity at lowest environmental cost given the existing political constraints. But the Greens have pushed to ban that too, and have succeeded in getting a pile of Councils to ban it within their catchments.

What's left? Maybe more geothermal.  Tidal remains a bit of a pipe dream - I hope we can get there someday, but I'd sure want it on-stream and running before pushing everybody into electric cars. Solar faces some of the same constraints as wind - it's a great complement to hydroelectric and lets us store electricity in the form of lakes-not-yet-run-through-turbines when the sun shines. And maybe it'll be low enough cost sometime soon that we'll be able to use it. And I wonder whether the same "Oh but I hate everything that changes anything" people will work to ban solar plants near our hydroelectric stations in the same way that they're putting wind into the "too hard" basket.

Pushing more demand onto the grid, without getting more capacity on the grid, is a bit scary. I like the stuff in the report about getting more active demand management systems. That will help smooth out some of our peaking issues. But we need more baseload if we want electric cars sometime down the track. It's not obvious how we get there from here.

Bill Kaye-Blake also provides useful comment:

Bottom line: the report seems to be a re-tread of well-known issues with a recommendation to spend more public money to help private businesses. When it comes to really difficult issues — what trade-offs are we willing to make? how do consumers symbolise environmental values through economic transactions? — it seem to fall silent. Maybe somewhere in those 300 pages they grapple with the hard stuff. If so, Pure Advantage will have gotten its money’s worth.


  1. On the subject of energy efficient buildings, any thoughts on NZ's antipathy to double-glazing? You don't have to be ultra-Green to avoid being blue with cold.

  2. Read David Friedman on cold houses in warm climates; that drives a lot of it. Were we replacing windows at our place, we'd totally be putting them in.

    When I first got here, I thought that it was moral failing on the part of Kiwis. Kiwis simply think it good for their souls to have to wear itchy woollen sweaters indoors. And having a wooden tent for a house is a good way of making you wear your cilice. I'm rather far to the left on the hedonist / mortificationist axis.

    Newer places are putting them in though, and I'm seeing more builders advertise that their houses come with double-glazing. So things are getting better.

    A lot is legacy of the stock of housing built when electricity was heavily subsidised.

  3. How much do you actually know about integration of electric vehicles into the electricity grid? It's not as simple as hand-waving statements about electric vehicles adding to baseload demand - timing of use is key. Since EVs will tend to be charged overnight when demand is low, there is actually a huge synergy between EV uptake and expansion in wind power and other intermittent renewables.

    You should check out this report from the Centre for Advanced Engineering for some actual modelling and numbers.

    They find:

    • Additional non-schedulable generation is made economic by the use of off-peak and shoulder hour battery charging. This results in a significant amount of additional wind capacity being added to the system, with smaller amounts of hydro, marine and biomass.

    • By displacing some fossil fuelled peaking plant due to additional non-schedulable renewables becoming economic, total CO2 emissions from the power system are reduced, despite the increased load.

    • By 2025, over 390,000 electric vehicles are in use under this scenario, but total additional generation capacity has not exceeded 180 MW.

    • Assuming 15% of charging occurs randomly, including over the super peak hours, has no significant effect on the average cost of generation, but might have some effects in transmission and distribution systems.

  4. That is why I said we needed more baseload . Wind can be part of baseload as complement to hydro.