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NZ govt needs to step up support for innovation to hit renewable energy target

Friday 2nd March 2018

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New Zealand's government needs to step up support for innovation if it wants to hit the 100 percent renewable energy target, says Australian renewable energy advocate Simon Corbell.

The former Australian Capital Territory environment minister, who is now renewable energy advocate for the state of Victoria, underscored the need for policy settings that incentivise more innovation and distribution of relevant technologies in order to hit that goal. "We need leadership from national government but we also need a policy environment that permits and supports innovation at a local level," he said.

New Zealand has the third-highest rate of renewable energy as a portion of primary supply in the OECD, behind Norway and Iceland, with around 85 percent of electricity currently sourced from renewable energy. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said her government is committed to getting to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

"The solutions lie in the technology" but businesses need to be given the licence and the support to show what is possible as "nothing is more powerful for success than demonstration on the ground," he told BusinessDesk in an interview. 

Corbell noted technology is becoming more widespread and affordable so "it's a case of focusing on using policy to drive that transformation rather than simply accepting business as usual."

New Zealand has an abundance of hydropower but any move toward 100 percent renewable energy will have to involve things such as wind, solar, distributable storage and other forms of renewable generation and storage capacity like hydrogen, he said. That will require innovation and investment. 

Corbell noted the country may also be "resting on the laurels of success" because there is such a powerful hydro-system. "However, you can't be comfortable with just that. There are vulnerabilities with just that and it's not delivering you cheap electricity."

Recent corporate results from the electricity sector underscore the vulnerabilities as dry South Island conditions sapped first-half earnings for Contact Energy and Meridian Energy, forcing them to lean on backstop Genesis Energy, while Mercury NZ's North Island hydro schemes were inundated with rain.

Corbell said similar challenges had been faced in Australia where the Tasmanian hydro-scheme was subject to a very significant period of vulnerability due to protracted drought.

"We know that climate variability, change in the climate associated with global warming, is going to create greater unreliability," he said. 

Against that backdrop, it is imperative to at least have a "diversity of generation sources that provide you with the resilience you need and flowing from that you should make sure those generation sources are the lowest cost and least polluting." 


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