Is a bright green energy future possible? Is it, indeed, achievable?
In New Zealand's case, a recent scenario exercise suggests that the answer may in fact be yes. That's what Morgan Williams, New Zealand's Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (PCE), is telling us here at the Balaton meeting.
The PCE is an independent watchdog/ ombudsman in the New Zealand government. His job, and the job of his staff of 19, is to independently scrutinize the government's environmental performance.
As part of that work, they last year released a major report Future Currents: Electricity Scenarios for New Zealand, 2005 - 2050. Unlike other scenario planning efforts, Future Currents came up with findings clear enough that they could be digested into just two stories, titled Fueling the Future and Sparking New Designs. The work was based both on traditional scenario planning involving a variety of experts and on sophisticated technical modeling of New Zealand's energy systems and the impacts of potential changes to them.
Both scenarios count as fundamental certain facts:
global influences are out of New Zealands control, but we continue to actively work with other countries to address major issues such as climate change
social values, identities, and lifestyles continue to shift and change but there is no major transformation in New Zealand society
New Zealands population rises from about 4 million people today to 4.6 million people by 2050
the demand for energy services keeps rising at 2 percent each year, mostly due to economic growth... with the potential to achieve Factor Four improvements in the way people use energy ... we could get four times as many benefits out of the resources we use today.
Both peak oil and revolutionary advances in technology were both left out the exercise, as -- while both offer potentially profound impacts -- neither is sufficiently understood to model effectively.
Fueling the Future, however assumes conservative decision making and favors proven technologies with incremental improvements and established approaches. It is, explicitly, a business-as-usual scenario. Not surprisingly, the results unfold more or less as expected, and fairly describe the future as seen by many in the energy industries: electricity prices rise, but new investments in generation capacity keep up more or less with demand, and issues of sustainability remain sideline concerns at best.
Sparking New Designs, on the other hand, flows from the presumption that a flashpoint could spark a desire for major change in the kind of energy New Zealanders get, how they use it and what impacts it has on the natural world and their fellow countrymen. Further, it posits that if such an attitudinal change were to occur, a variety of tools, models and ideas exist for realistically transforming New Zealand's energy system into something much more sustainable.
Specifically, Sparking New Designs imagines a government committed to change. Because it is committed to change, it begins first by changing the way it sees energy: from a commodity (electricity) they should deliver as much of as possible, to "energy services" which help people do things, and which can often be provided while using less electricity.
Specific initiatives in the scenario include a nationwide social marketing campaign educating the public on the benefits of energy efficiency; investments in education and research to spur new technologies and approaches; regulations, code changes, agreements and incentive programs designed to radically increase the efficiency of appliances and buildings (leading to the adoption of zero-energy standards); the promotion of "smart designs, innovation, and locally derived solutions"; and the evolution of "a strong energy management industry emerges that prospers by helping people to use energy wisely," for instance by selling comprehensive energy audits and pointing out ways companies could save money be reimagining their energy usage; even a "DG is easy" program promotes distributed energy generation and smart grids.
What's more, the scenario looks at a variety of extremely specific small-scale actions, for instance:
"Various carrot and stick measures were used to manage the problematic peak electricity periods of the day in Auckland.65 Households and businesses were offered incentives to alter their electricity use at certain times of day. Combined with higher tariffs at peak times, many found that they could save money by making small changes. For example, they could have their hot water temperature turned down slightly, use heat pumps to heat their living rooms, and set their dishwashers to run late at night. More direct use of gas was also encouraged. Many households took advantage of attractive hire purchase deals and tax deductions for solar hot water heaters. Some industries were offered rebates if they agreed to curb their electricity use at short notice."
In addition, major investments in clean energy are pursued, with a few new hydro dams, a sprinkling of wave energy projects and large numbers of new wind turbines. By the end of the time frame, New Zealand's expertise in energy would be sought through out the world.
A key insight: models show very clearly that strong early investments in rapidly increasing energy efficiency can actually save New Zealand as a nation enough money to both absorb higher energy costs and to fund economic transitions. It wouldn't be easy, but it would be affordable.
The result is that New Zealand would end up using essentially the same amount of energy per capita, but have a much stronger economy. In addition, by 2050, rather than using almost 100,000 GWh of electrical power (including about 20,000 GWh of coal-generated electricity), New Zealand would use only about 45,000 GWh, and all of that could be provided through renewable sources.
The reception in New Zealand has been mixed, of course, but reports suggest that the mere presence of a credible, documented path to becoming a nation powered by renewable electricity (in the form of a report underpinned by rigorous research) is beginning to change the debate.
Well, as the pollution rises, i dont think it is possible but what new zealand is doing should be followed with the entier world.
It will be a long time before a nation is powered soley by renewable sources, but this is an encouraging move by New Zealand. Taking the first steps towards a big idea is always the hardest part.
Morgan Williams is a visionary guy but his word is by no means law. Based on past experience it would be wise to wait for the results on the Governments energy review, which is currently in progress, before declaring NZ's attitudes in this area to be worldchanging.
Unfortunately New Zealand has been going backwards in the last few years - we're now burning more coal than at any time in the past.
But with a flat out denialist as one of the coalition partners, it's unlikely we'll see change before 2008...
That's exciting news from my own country.
One exceptional thing about NZ is that such a small population for a sovereign state means that a remarkably small number of people (perhaps even just one, Morgan Williams) can effect big changes relatively quickly. NZ's history is replete with examples of this.
Mo Riddiford (from Berlin)
It takes only one person's ideas to spark a revolution. One person attempting to be resourceful and showing others how important the environment really is can lead others to do the same. The world needs more people that truly care about the environment to convince other people it's a matter worth caring about.
Dr Morgan Williams is a great guy, and his office, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (independent office funded by Parliament) has produced some excellent reports - see www.pce.govt.nz
Auckland City, Aotearoa's largest city, is NZ's worst city in terms of planning. The council culture aims for the dumb and dumber paradigm - which means bad decisions get made constantly. If you are a reasonably bright and thoughtful person, you won't be hired by the council, and are more likely to be booted out of council. The result is that Auckland as a city is easily the worlds worst city for sustainability.
Morgan Williams at the recent Digital Earth conference held here in Auckland suggested that sustainability is, above all, about culture. That is very true. One only has to look at Auckland closely to realise this.