Last year, the National Energy Research Institute (NERI) kindly gave us a free ticket to attend the NERI Energy Conference 2014. There were plenty of relevant topics to what we discuss here on the blog, including a great presentation from Mike Underhill, the head of EECA (that’s the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, a government agency).

What were the key points? NZ has vast renewable resources. We’ve got “the highest renewable energy potential per capita of anywhere in the world”. Put another way, “we have all the energy we need in New Zealand for centuries ahead”, putting us in a rather better position than most other countries.

Energy resources

New Zealand currently gets 35% of its energy from renewable sources, and Mike thinks we should be targeting above 50%. Long term, we should be aiming for even higher than that, but you’ve got to start somewhere, and at the moment there’s very little discussion about how we’re going to improve these figures.

Over the years, and in many different forums, Mike has said many times that the best opportunities for NZ to use energy more efficiently are in transport. Why is that? A unit of energy saved in transport is going to be much more valuable to the country than a unit saved in electricity. Oil is our biggest import, so cutting down on petrol use is good for our current account deficit. Plus, our electricity is 80% renewable, so it has quite low greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing our oil consumption will have a bigger impact on the environment.

GHG issue

For electricity, there’s already 3,500 MW of extra capacity with resource consent in place, which is a lot. But we’re faced with flat or falling demand, and different expansion opportunities are competing with each other – he’s probably talking about solar here, as PV panels are potentially just crowding out the renewable electricity we’re already getting from the grid.

Mike’s presentation emphasised the role that electric vehicles could play in making our transport sector more energy efficient. That’s fair enough at a NZ-wide level. However, at TransportBlog we’ve argued for years that public (and active) transport can also make a big difference here, especially for Auckland and our other cities, and it can have an effect now, not in the decades to come. This is something that New Zealand researchers – and policymakers – should place more focus on.

Energy efficiency isn’t just good for the environment, though – it could also save New Zealand $2.4 billion a year. More than 25% of that saving could come from private vehicles, i.e. cars and similar.

Wrapping up, Mike argues that we need to focus on getting more efficiency out of our transport system (and our heat system, but that’s a bit off topic for TransportBlog), rather than our “fetish” with electricity. Sounds good to me; thinking about it, the government has goals in place for increasing our renewable electricity share to 90% (although they’re not doing anything to move towards that goal), but there aren’t any targets for our transport system that I’m aware of. In 2015, it’s time to put targets in place, and policies to achieve them. These should include public and active transport programmes.

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22 comments

  1. I’d like to see firm targets for decarbonisation of the transport sector. You could do this by mandating strong efficiency and emissions standards for imported vehicles (both new and used, commercial and private), putting in requirements for sale of zero emissions vehicles, and promoting greatly low and zero emissions non-car transport options. This would include a special focus on walking and cycling.

    But as you note, it’s not a priority for this government.

    1. Transport is a hard win in my opinion as we are dependent on technology developments in the area which are all gong to come from overseas (who can make easier wins in their electricity sector).

      While electric vehicles are getting better, they are still too expensive and the (perceived) range issues mean they will mainly be the second car in a household.

      I think more can be done to get old cars off the road. The trucking fleet should also needs to be looked at. Maybe registration etc needs to be based off Euro rating and mileage.

      Personally I think the biggest gains in transportation will be getting more people onto public transport. Reduce private vehicle trips and increase PT (on electric trains or new Euro 6 buses).

  2. I reckon the Government is hoping for a major breakthrough in Aluminium and Air batteries, so that they can keep Bluff smelter open and Manupouri’s power off the market, then “burn” the aluminium Bluff makes, in driverless vehicles with Aluminium/Air batteries.

    Thus decarbonising our transport fleet, saving Bluff smelter, and the NZ electricity market such as it is from a meltdown and also reducing oil imports drastically.

    Of course, this is all pie in the sky right now, maybe in 30 years time we might be some way there to that goal.

  3. I would have thought that the potential energy in marine was a lot higher than wind. The amount of energy moving through harbour mouths like the Kaipara is huge. Or are they taking into account the ease of implementing the tech? I’m no engineer but I’m sure throwing up wind turbines is easier than sea turbines (leaving aside the obvious resource consent issues).

    1. Underwater turbines have a habit of expiring very quickly. Wind turbines are existing proven tech that balance very well with our large hydro and growing geo stock, and are cost competitive.

      See here for Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia which has a huge tidal range with massive potential energy, but also has a habit of eating kit sent down to harness it:

      ‘“Our forecast is that we beat the cost of offshore wind. Are we there today? No,” he says. But he predicts it will happen within a decade.’

      Note that’s offshore wind, they are way off cost competitiveness with onshore wind.

      http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/project-seeks-to-harness-and-harvest-the-force-of-fundy/article21609715/

      Additionally as JP observes the major challenge and economic vulnerability for NZ is in transport. And, there is a major opportunity in land transport that the government is simply ignoring. They are preferring to leave that to their successors. The reason for this is because important ministers seem to be joined at the hip with the road transport and sprawl lobbies. Which is a huge shame, leading to years of potential competitive advantage slipping away.

      Looks like we will have to wait for a post-Joyce government before we will have rational and pro-active policy settings in this sector. Urban Transit and Active mode prioritised, rail freight facilitated and electrified, a national ports strategy…. History will be the judge.

  4. Electrifying from Papakura-Pukekohe and on to Hamilton (to connect with the electrified main trunk there) along with electrifying out to Tauranga and connecting the main trunk in the gap to Wellington would provide a huge boost to the efficiency of rail in NZ. It would allow freight to travel non-stop between Auckland and Wellington saving a lot of time. It would boost the Auckland rail network and allow commuter trains to Pokeno/Hamilton/Tauranga. All of these would take up about 1% of NZ electricity generation (so not huge) but would reduce oil imports considerably.

    1. Apart from the three bits of electrification all being different technologies, it’s a great plan.

      I think that electrification to Pukekohe will happen, but I’m not certain when it will sequence compared to CRL itself and the fleet expansion for CRL and increased patronage on the rail network.

      Hopefully capacity to run the service will be included in the second tranche EMU purchase, but you can never be certain.

      I think the expansion of rail services to Hamilton will happen, but will probably be in the roads model of piece by piece.

      1. I thought the AKL electrification was the same type as the Palmerston North to Frankton Junction – 50kV AC. Only Wellington different on 25kV DC? Is that right?

        1. Auckland is 25kV AC, NIMT is also 25kV AC but with centre-tapped 50kV auto-transformers (so you’re partly correct). The problem is fault level; NIMT is much lower than Auckland so the rolling stock is incompatible. Wellington is 1500V DC.

        2. There was a blog post a while ago explaining the difference, in essence it said that you could run the NIMT locomotives on the Auckland network, but only really at the edges, unless you wanted to fry the internals.

          During last year (while sitting in a hotel room with little else to do) I read all of the blog posts tag with trains so that I could understand what had been said previously and where things had come form and gone to in terms of editorial content. I’d recommend it as a way to get up to speed with the historical aspects of issues that are currently being discussed.

          In reality the issues haven’t changed much in the last couple of years and i don’t see them changing drastically until CRL is finished.

  5. Mandating just about anything regarding the vehicle fleet is a problem. The govt can put standards on emissions of used cars coming in based on the age of the car or how it is equipped. Or it can mandate testing to assure that it meets certain standards before reaching our shores, but that will raise a cry of “Higher prices for cars! OMG!” For NZ to unilaterally set emissions standards or mandate a certain level – one that makes a difference – of electric vehicles just won’t work. Companies like Toyota, Nissan, Ford, etc. won’t build a car to meet NZ specs for the sake of a couple hundred thousand vehicles a year (if that). We don’t have the market power required to force them to create NZ versions of their cars like California has. Probably not even a NZ/Australia spec.

    An easy first step is getting older cars off the road and making sure those that remain are in compliance with emissions limits. (Does NZ have mandatory emissions inspections for cars? Is it part of Wof?) And those limits should apply to light trucks as well as cars. In the meantime, electric cars won’t make a dot of difference because the range issue isn’t perceived, it is real. (Range is based on flat roads, and we don’ have a lot of them.) I could use an electric car for about 98% of my driving but I also want to occasionally go to Hamilton or Bay of Islands and that requires a second car, or spending a night each way to let the car charge up. Very few people are willing to give up that flexibility. Maybe in a two car household, one can be electric, but then something needs to be done about price.

    1. Getting in new cars to replace old sounds great, but most folks just can’t afford to buy a new car. So it can’t happen. I also agree that we can’t have a unique emissions scheme just for ourselves, but what we could do is prohibit the import of vehicles with diesel engines or engines larger than say 2.5 litres. The need to reduce carbon emissions is greater than the need to drive large SUVs.

      1. We already have pretty strict import regulations when it comes to emissions. Everything coming in must be Euro IV compliant unless it’s over 20 years old. It’s not as simple just limiting engine capacity – the new Mustang, for instance, has the same engine as the new Ford Focus RS 5 door hatch.

  6. Reducing carbon emissions is a very real need. The sooner we stop choking our air for money and convenience the better off we’ll all be.

  7. China and the US recently agreed to reduce emissions, the climate change talks in December (Paris) could see a global agreement.

    The smart investment for Auckland’s transport network would be on a low emission options.

    Complete the cycling network, finish the roll out of electric trains and look into light rail!

    1. Agreed and put buses into free flow. Then soon cars will be free flow also and no wasted petrol or emissions from idling.

  8. My understanding is the the new EMU can run on either the AKL or NIMT. The older electric locos will be up for replacement soon enough as they’re 20 years old. Even the Wellington lines aren’t a problem for new trains as most are designed to run on multiple systems. Eventually you would probably upgrade the transformers etc in Wellington to match the rest of the network which operates on international standard 25kV AC.

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