Unstoppable waves of innovation in the Waikato?

A pleasant surprise this morning to see across the front page of the Waikato Times the headline “Waikato’s plan to harvest sunlight”.  The article reports that lines company WEL Networks has been evaluating photovoltaic cells and is now investigating the feasibility of solar power production in the Waikato region.

Commercial viability is the determining factor. It’s the dramatic fall in the cost of photovoltaic cells which has caused WEL Network’s investigation. CEO Julian Elder said that the low price of the cells, compared with where they were a few months ago, made solar power stations affordable in New Zealand. He said that in the space of a few months the return on investment had gone from about half a century to under 10 years.

We are looking at the whole range, from 1-2 kilowatt units on a house, up to the thousands of kilowatts for a large-scale pilot,” Dr Elder said.

He said it was not a case of if they built such power stations but a matter of when.

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Reinventing Fire

Is there movement already under way in the world of industry which will outstrip the painfully slow progress of the political world in facing up to the challenge of climate change?  Amory Lovins certainly thinks so and his recent book, Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era, explains why. Lovins is the co-founder, chairman and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute(RMI), a well-staffed non-profit organisation established thirty years ago and active in research and consultation on issues relating to energy and the efficient use of resources. The book is the product of some years of work by many RMI staff. It focuses the Institute’s current initiative to map and drive the transition from coal and oil to efficiency and renewables.

Can the US realistically stop using coal and oil by 2050? And can such a vast transition toward efficient use and renewable energy be led by business?  The answer the book gives to both questions is yes, based on painstaking exploration of existing renewable technologies and an assessment that they are already competitive with fossil-fuel-based industry for those who have eyes to see. The book is directed to the business world. It presents the energy transition as a major shift for a civilisation which has benefited greatly from fossil fuels but must now move from the old fire dug from below to the new fire which flows from above and works without combustion (save for a small amount of sustainable biofuel). It is a time of exceptional business opportunity for those prepared to recognise it and take it. The costs of oil and coal are rising as the price of renewables keeps on dropping. “The curves are already crossing. The endgames of oil and coal have already begun.” Lovins reminds readers that inattentive whalers in the 19th century were astounded to find they had run out of whale-oil customers before they ran out of whales.

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