Sustainable Energy NZ #6 – our place in the sun – doing the math on solar power

Welcome to the sixth post in the Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air – A New Zealand Perspective series. Today we’re crunching the numbers on solar potential in New Zealand. For the background to the work please our introductory post here. Also check out our earlier posts on the potential of hydro power,  geothermal and wind, and yesterday’s summary. Note: the units are in kWh/day/person – ie. if you ran a 40W lightbulb for 24 hours, it’d take ~1 kWh over the space of a day. We then divide it by person to give you a sense of the scale of the resource proportionate to the size of the population. Be sure to check out the methodology. For reference – we’re looking to replace around 55 kWh/d/p of energy currently generated by fossil fuels. 

So, solar! We’ve got a lot of it, or do we? Our lower latitude means that New Zealand’s solar potential is certainly rather better than that of the UK and the current world leaders Germany. A roof inclined at the optimal angle in NZ gets on average 181W/m2 in Northland, 178 in Auckland, 195 in central Otago, 185 in Canterbury. (This is based on averaging all available NIWA hourly radiation data at suitable measurement sites). This is impressive compared to the UK average of 110W/m2 and 130W/m in Germany.

There are 4 ways to harness solar energy:

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Can I do that again? Dramatic demonstration of the power of the sun

Powerful stuff, sunshine. Two square metres of mirror can generate 3,500ºC temperatures — enough to burn/melt anything. Let no-one tell you that solar power hasn’t got the potential to be a game-changer. Video from the BBC series Bang Goes The Theory a couple of years ago. Mirrors at the Solar Furnace Research Facility in France. Hat tip to Bill Ramsay. Can I try?

Going renewable doable by 2050, new analysis suggests

A new study published in Energy Strategy Reviews this month affirms that sourcing 95 percent of our energy from sustainable sources by 2050 is possible, using already available technologies. The authors are from the Dutch renewable energy consultancy Ecofys. Their paper includes technical detail, but the general salient points are well identified and clear to the non-expert reader. Familiar themes are sounded and buttressed with careful and sensible analysis.

Efficiency and electrification are two key requisites on the way to the 2050 goal.  The scenario proposed by the study envisages a slightly lower power demand in 2050 than in 2000, even allowing for established forecasts of population growth and GDP growth. It surveys demand under three sectors – industry, buildings and transport – indicating in each case the prospects of much lower demand from the application of efficiency measures as compared with current business as usual (BAU) practices. The electrification which plays an important part in lowered demand occurs primarily in the buildings and transport sectors.

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Still time for the energy revolution

The International Energy Agency (IEA) continues to plug the energy transformation necessary if we are to have any hope of staying within a 2oC rise in global temperature.  This month has seen the publication of Energy Technology Perspectives 2012 (ETP 2012) in which they explain the technologies and behaviours that according to the press release “will revolutionise the entire energy system and unlock tremendous economic benefits between now and 2050”.  My references to the book’s content in what follows are derived from the executive summary. (The book is priced.)

ETP 2012 argues that the technologies we already possess are adequate to the task of cutting emissions drastically if used in an integrated way. The resultant overhaul of the world’s energy system by 2050 will not come cheap. Considerable extra investment money will be needed, $36 trillion by their calculation. But that is genuine investment, not cost, and moreover investment with an excellent return of $100 trillion in savings through the reduced use of fossil fuel. Investing in clean energy makes excellent economic sense at the same time as assisting in the mitigation of climate change.

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The Climate Show #26: All the news that fits

Aafter a busy month of harvesting (Gareth) and breakfast broadcasting (Glenn), the Climate Show returns with all the latest climate news: from the thinning of Antarctic ice shelves and the intensification of hydrological cycle (floods and drought, that is) to satellites capturing solar energy and beaming it down to earth, we’ve got it all. And if that weren’t enough, John Cook looks at a new paper that explains the apparent lag between warming and CO2 increase at the end of the last ice age, and tips us off about an excellent outtake from ABC’s recent I Can Change Your Mind about Climate documentary, featuring Naomi Oreskes.

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.

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