Turning point: Al Gore’s new hope

Al Gore has written an impressive long article in Rolling Stone magazine. I read it with gratitude and wanted to recommend it to others. It’s a highly readable text packed with rich detail which reflects the wide spectrum across which Gore operates and the considerable intelligence which informs his thinking. It deserves wide readership.

The article proclaims new grounds for hope that we will yet find our way to a low-carbon global economy in time to prevent the worst effects of unchecked climate change. Gore opens with an affirmation that a powerful yet largely unnoticed shift is under way in the needed transition. Here is the surprising fact that signals hope:

“Our ability to convert sunshine into usable energy has become much cheaper far more rapidly than anyone had predicted.”

The cost of solar electricity has decreased by an average 20 percent per year since 2010. Gore sees an ongoing decline in cost to the point where by 2020 more than 80 percent of 0the world’s people will live in regions where solar will be competitive with electricity from other sources.  This is already the case in at least 79 of the world’s countries.

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TDB Today: Generation Zero’s Clean Energy campaign

My post at The Daily Blog this week ignores all the political kerfuffle surrounding milk-stained cabinet ministers taking holidays from twitter, and focusses on a new report from non-partisan young climate activist group Generation Zero: A Challenge To Our Leaders – Why New Zealand needs a Clean Energy Plan. It’s an impressive piece of work, and an admirable summary of where we are today and where New Zealand should be heading. I commend it to all Hot Topic readers – the pdf is here.

Citibanker: the age of renewables is here

Kathryn Ryan’s interview earlier this week with Michael Eckhart, Managing Director and Global Head of Environmental Finance and Sustainability at the giant investment bank Citigroup was arresting. He was in New Zealand as a keynote speaker at the Wind Energy Conference and Ryan asked him about a recent report from Citi, Energy Darwinism: The Evolution of the Energy Industry, which claimed the world is entering the age of renewable energy and explored the consequences for generators, utilities, consumers and fossil fuel exporters. There’s a good exposition of the report on this blog post.

Eckhart explained the three big costs in producing electricity – the fuel, paying off the loan for the plant, and operational maintenance. In the case of coal and natural gas generation all three costs are involved and there’s no way of knowing what the cost of the fuel will be in the future. With wind and other renewables “there is no fuel cost at all: none”. Once the loan for the plant is paid off there are no further costs other than operational.

Ryan asked why investment in renewables is dropping as the costs are coming down. Eckhart in reply spoke of an anomaly:

“We had a very successful industry emerging coming out of the United States, Europe … manufacturing these solar cells, these solar panels, and  along  came China, and China just produces things at a lower cost and China made a priority – this became a priority industry under the government of China … and they came out with panels costing half as much.”

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Generation Zero’s NZ speaking tour asks: What’s the holdup?

Youth-led climate campaigners Generation Zero have just finished the first week of their nationwide What’s The Holdup? speaking tour1 — an attempt to start a national conversation about action to reduce emissions. Here’s what the group has to say about the tour:

In between extreme weather and rising oil prices, countries around the world are making a shift towards renewable energy – but New Zealand is lagging behind. Tackling climate change for many Kiwis feels like an impossible task. But together, we can create the movement to change this and bring forth a thriving New Zealand we are proud to hand on to future generations.

The facts say that it’s 100% Possible to move beyond fossil fuels – but we need leadership at every level, from entrepreneurs and business leaders, from communities, and from the politicians we elect.

Generation Zero will initiate a conversation with the country. New Zealanders young and old are invited to hear young people and experts talk about the solutions to climate change, and what each one of us can do to make a difference.

It’s 100% possible to create a thriving New Zealand beyond fossil fuels. So what’s the holdup?

Here’s the schedule for the remainder of the tour:

  • Wellington – Monday 22nd July, Ilot Theatre, Town Hall 111 Wakefield Street
  • Palmerston North – Tuesday 23rd July, Massey Uni, Ag Hort 1 Lecture Theatre
  • Wanganui – Wednesday 24th July, Wanganui Museum, Davis Theatre
  • Havelock North – Thursday 25th July, Havelock North High School Auditorium
  • Tauranga – Tuesday 30th July, Bongard Centre, lecture theatre 104, the Bongard Centre, 200 Cameron Rd
  • Hamilton – Tuesday 30th July, Waikato University Lecture Theatre S1.04
  • Thames – Wednesday 31st July, Life Equip Church, 507 MacKay St
  • Whangarei – Thursday 1st August, Whangarei Girls High School theatre
  • Auckland – Monday August 5th, Auckland Uni Engineering building, room 401
  • Waiheke – Tuesday August 6th, venue Onetangi Community Hall

All events start at 7pm. For more information, sign up here.

  1. Apologies for not posting in time to promote this week’s South Island events. []

TDB today: Smelt a rat

In my column for The Daily Blog this week, I dig into the tangled relationship between New Zealand’s electricity system, a multinational mining company, and the New Zealand government, and argue that radical reform of the electricity market would be beneficial for the country:

If Rio Tinto Alcan pull the plug on Tiwai Point, a future government will have the perfect excuse to simplify the electricity system, cut electricity prices and deliver a low-emissions future for us all. High time our politicians faced up to the fact that market-based business as usual is no recipe for our electricity future (or any other, for that matter).