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International Expert Urges New Government To Encourage Green Energy

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
International Expert Urges New Government To Encourage Green Energy

11 December 2008 - New Zealand could easily generate all its electricity from renewable sources within twenty years with the right support from government, a leading overseas expert in green energy said today.

"I know the target is 90 per cent, but New Zealand could easily get to 100 per cent renewables by 2025 and have a more reliable configuration of renewable plants," said Dr Benjamin Sovacool. "There is certainly the potential for New Zealand to be a world leader."

Dr Sovacool was speaking at the annual conference of Sustainable Electricity Association New Zealand at Te Papa, Wellington this morning. He is a Singapore-based academic and author of The Dirty Energy Dilemma: What's Blocking Clean Power in the United States (2008). He is a leading researcher on how countries can overcome the barriers to faster uptake of small scale renewable energy such as solar power and micro wind turbines Dr Sovacool said the most effective support mechanism common in all countries is the feed-in tariff - a regulated renewable energy payment requiring electricity retailers to buy power from households and businesses which generate their own renewable electricity at a rate several times the normal retail rate. This provides a quicker pay back on the capital costs of the technology, with the cost spread over all customers. They all pay a little bit extra. It costs the government nothing. "Even more compelling, FITs save both customers and power companies money because they displace the need to rely on coal or natural gas generators. In 2007, for instance, Germany's FIT cost customers about 3 billion euros, but saved them about 9 billion euros in displaced fuel costs, lower levels of imported fuel, and cleaner air. "FITs are also less onerous than other mechanisms - they don't tell people where to put their generation, that's left up to individuals because they know best.

"It's a win-win situation for customers, utilities, governments and the environment. For example, Germany is on track to be one of the lowest emitters of CO2 in Europe per capita."

Germany has used FITs for the past 17 years. Now the renewable energy industry employs over 250,000 workers, has significantly reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 115m tonnes a year, and earns billions each year by exporting the technology. "By 2015 there are expected to be 700,000 jobs making it bigger than the automobile industry." He said in Canada the introduction of a FIT in 2006 increased the amount of solar power by nearly twenty fold in just one year.

"FITs are very effective at deploying renewables quickly." He said the key to their success was that customers which generated their own power had long term contracts for twenty or thirty years so that they had a predictable revenue stream to give them the confidence to invest.

Energy security was also a big advantage he said. "By diversifying the types of fuel you have you insulate yourself from any fuel that may be less reliable."

The evidence around the world was compelling. "International experience suggests a FIT is a free lunch you get paid to eat."

Earlier, in opening the conference SEANZ Chairman Brendan Winitana called on the government to kick-start the fledgling industry with direct support in line with many countries around the world.

He said the economic benefits were obvious from jobs, innovation, skills training, exports as well as the energy and environmental spin-offs from greater security and lower emissions.

"Germany, Italy, Japan, France, Austria, Spain, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Australia, Luxembourg, Belgium, Greece, Portugal, Israel, Netherlands, Slovenia and the USA are countries that bear witness to this as they all have flourishing renewable generation industries."

Germany and France are providing real leadership he said. "Closer to home, last month the New South Wales government announced it would introduce a feed-in tariff in 2009 to encourage people to fit their homes with solar PV. Any leftover energy could be exported back to the grid, earning the homeowners a fistful of green dollars."

It was time New Zealand made up the lost ground he said. "The more power companies buy from those generating power (in a micro generation environment) the less they will earn in dividends. That may be a downside for state owned power companies, but the bigger net effect on the economy has got to be weighed up."

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