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.
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.
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.