Greenpeace: Power prices skyrocket from coal and diesel as sun’s rays go to waste

Spot electricity prices have soared in the evenings over the last week as a cold snap hit the country. As electricity generators have fired up their dirty and expensive fossil-fueled generators Greenpeace has joined the chorus of those questioning our market structure and reliance on fossil-fueled generation to meet peak demand.

Battery storage at grid and household level can play an obvious role in reducing peak demand, and when combined with solar pv, the environmental and economic benefits are obvious. But less obvious is the role of other technologies and business models that can also reduce demand and change consumer behaviours.

Simple home energy management systems can automatically prioritise the running of appliances and heating of water in response to price and sunshine and can also play a role. As electric vehicles become more prevalent, using the energy stored in your car to power the household in the evening also becomes a reality. 

Likewise, our electricity pricing which currently offers little to nothing in the way of disincentives to use electricity sparingly at peak times. Pricing impacts technology uptake and changes behaviours, and increasing choice in this area could be a powerful motive for change. 

And finally, new business models such as a peer-to-peer electricity market also has the ability to reduce peak demand. If one household has excess electricity stored and another can use it then they should be able to sell or gift that excess locally, reducing the load on the national grid. 

These are just some of the currently available technologies and models that could make our electricity network cleaner, cheaper to run, and more resilient. It is encouraging to see Greenpeace join the call for change, so the sun's rays don't go to waste while we unnecessarily burn dirty and expensive fossil fuels. 

The full press release is copied below and available here on the Greenpeace website.    

Greenpeace media release: Power prices skyrocket from coal and diesel as sun’s rays go to waste
by Sophie Schroder 30 May 2018

Power prices have soared over the last few evenings as energy utilities fired up coal, gas and even diesel generators to fill a spike in demand for heating during this week’s cold snap.

At one point on Monday night, the wholesale price hit just under 100 cents per kilowatt hour – over ten times the average price of seven cents per kilowatt hour [1].

Greenpeace campaigner, Amanda Larsson, believes many New Zealanders will be surprised that our supposed clean grid has been relying on some incredibly dirty energy to power our homes these past few nights.

“We’ve been cranking up the most dirty and expensive fuels in our energy system, while the sun has been shining bright across large parts of the country. If we had more solar panels and batteries, we would be able to charge them up in the day to meet the evening peak with clean and cheap power,” she says.

Larsson says the situation highlights the need to fast-track the development of new renewable energy like solar, batteries and wind power, in order to deliver cleaner, more affordable power to New Zealanders.

The Coalition Government has committed to running New Zealand on 100% renewable energy by 2035 in order to meet climate change goals.

Last week, Transpower released a report, Te Mauri Hiko – Energy Futures, which concludes that a renewable future is also the most affordable future for New Zealanders.

Transpower forecasts a doubling in electricity demand as the transport and industrial sectors electrify to reduce their carbon emissions. This will require roughly 2TWh of new capacity to be built each year leading up to 2050, or the equivalent of about 4.5 new wind farms each year, including 1.5 million household solar installations.

“NZ households have seen their power bills skyrocket over the last 20 years – and this rise has happened much faster than in other countries,” says Larsson.

“Our overall electricity prices are often set by the prices offered by the fossil fuel generators, because of the high costs of the dirty fuels they burn. In contrast, renewable energy like wind, solar and hydro are much cheaper to run because they don’t rely on fuel.

“Increasing the supply of clean, renewable energy is the pathway to delivering affordable energy to New Zealanders. It’s also the best way to clean up some of our most polluting sectors, like transport and industry.”

Larsson says the Government needs to begin planning how they will support New Zealand households to install solar panels and batteries – particularly households that are more at risk of energy poverty.

Creating policy certainty and a good investment environment for both community and utility-scale renewables, such as wind farms, is another priority, she says.

“There is enormous new job potential that flows from investing in the energy transition, but in order to really grab the opportunities we need the Government to support training programmes to boost the number of skilled workers.

“We’re talking about doubling our electricity capacity in the next thirty years. That will require lots of skilled workers who are trained in construction, installation and maintenance.

“It’s time for the Government to step up to the challenge and start planning for the inevitable transition to 100% clean, renewable energy. This week’s surge in power prices is a sign that it’s well past time to build new clean energy so we no longer have to rely on dirty, expensive fossil fuels.”

The Government has commissioned two inquiries into the state of New Zealand’s electricity sector, which will both open for public consultation this winter. These include the Electricity Price Review (MBIE) and the Interim Climate Committee’s work on reaching 100% renewable electricity by 2035.


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