Endorsing and Subsidising Solar Power – New Zealand Must Do More

In January of this year I wrote an article about ‘long-term plans and incentives‘ after experiencing first hand the magnitude of already installed renewable energy systems throughout Germany within the private and public sector. Stating that the dimension and the extent of what Germany has been doing in this respect is incredible in this country is certainly no exaggeration. I was talking to a local board member about solar, wind and hydro power and whether there are any (comprehensive) plans from the Auckland Council and/or the Great Barrier Island Local Board regarding a pathway toward renewable energy sustainability for this Island (you may exchange ‘Island’ with whichever city you live in).

I am not surprised that there are no plans – at least none that the local board member was informed of – other than continue the path toward realising Auckland City’s Vision: For the first time in our history, we have a shared vision – to be the world’s most liveable city – and a single plan to deliver this vision for all of Auckland and its people (this is an official statement released on Auckland Council‘s website).

Frankly, I’m appalled by this and so should be ever one else! I should mention that Great Barrier Island is part of Auckland. Accordingly, there has never (ever) existed a ‘shared vision’ for the biggest city of New Zealand, where about 1/3 of all New Zealanders reside, but the goal is now to be the best (in terms of an abstract and non-defined target), and there is allegedly only one way (one plan) to achieve this.

It’s like stating that one was never able to read or write but proudly proclaiming that the next step is to write the most influential piece of literature.

Whenever I hear the term vision, I am reminded of my ‘Doktorvater’ who says that you should consult a doctor when you have a vision. Although there is some truth to that, a vision is for me also a term that describes a long-term plan with a hint of hope.

The German government had (possibly) also a vision or two when they decided to heavily invest into solar energy and establish subsidies for the private sector. Today, Germany crushes every other country in terms of total solar capacity per capita. (http://inhabitat.com/germany-shatters-monthly-solar-power-generation-record-with-5-1-terawatt-hours-of-clean-energy/http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/08/22/2508191/germany-solar-generation-record/). The news and records go on, Germany produces a massive amount of wind energy, Germany is number one in total installed photovoltaic capacity, the largest solar roof top in Europe was recently established.

Germany’s energy transition (Energiewende) is not a result of necessity – rest assured that the Germans know how to produce enough energy, even cheaper energy than renewable solar – it has been a brave and commendable step forward, a signal if you will, toward other countries that clean, renewable energy is feasible on the large scale and now more affordable.

In the past five years (yes, only 5!) Germany has undoubtedly created a solar boom and has been largely responsible for significantly reducing the world-wide price of solar panels. Yes, thanks to the German ‘Energiewende’, solar panels are now much cheaper for us ALL!  Solar energy has been and will continue to be huge, some even state that the solar technology sector will ‘Overtake Everything‘.

Germany is now pushing toward doing the same for energy storage. By investing and subsidising heavily into private home battery storage solutions, one goal is to render battery storage more affordable.

Let’s face it, there is a lot of talk about cleaner, greener, more renewable, ecological sustainability and so forth all around the world. In some parts renewable solutions are the only way, in most others the reluctance to adopt a mutually beneficial solution is due to affordability. Like here on Great Barrier Island, for most it seems more affordable to use petrol and diesel generators every day instead of purchasing renewable and exhaust-free solutions.

The Great Barrier Island Local Board and Auckland Council (and I’m sure other governmental institutions in New Zealand) want to do good things for the people. They want to increase tourism, reduce waste, create more jobs, build better roads and infrastructure, make education more affordable and accessible, etc.

I was told basically the same by the Local Board member I was discussing with: “Ben, have you seen one of the Local Board draft plans or brochures?” Yes, I have and hardly anyone would disagree with what the Local Board wants to achieve, but there are two things missing.

i) The acknowledgement of energy being the root of our daily lives and thus also the main solution to the problems of individual societies.

ii) That we (Great Barrier Island) are mostly unique because of the small population (density). We can easily set an example for the rest of the country.

Our (future) efforts and goals toward renewable energy might not have the same effect on the world market as that of Germany, but due to our extremely small population density, we can provide private, individual self-sustainability (in terms of renewable energy) much more quickly.

As an example, to make headlines over the world and stand out internationally as a nation in terms of our achievements and not, as is often done, in terms of our climate and scenery all we have to do is provide about 1000 households on Great Barrier Island with self-sustainable and renewable energy. Perhaps I should estimate the costs at some stage, but rest assured that we are talking about 10-20 million for materials and installation. In terms of long-term benefits and advertisement for our Island this is certainly not much.

If I may, my Great Barrier Island vision is to establish the first community in New Zealand that uses more renewable than non-renewable energy. (There you go, visions can be concrete and modest.)

At the heart of our everyday lives is energy. No matter what you are concerned with, be it economy and job creation, ecological conservation, transport and infrastructure, tourism, or modern technology and innovation, accessible energy is the paramount necessity.

Unless you believe in the existence of a perpetuum mobile – a hypothetical machine which, once activated, would continue to function and produce work indefinitely with no input of energy (source Wikipedia.org) – we agree that we must create physical energy first to be able to do whatever it is that we want to do. Shall we still exist, this holds true in 50 years, 100 years, 500 years…; therefore, the sources from which we create energy are immensely important!

Today, we (New Zealanders) sit back and enjoy our beautiful beaches and scenery, some of our largest monetary wealth creating industries are still mass-scale farming, tourism, fishing and timber. We are proud of our beautiful country and at the same time implicitly proud of how we continue to destroy it and our environment.

Those were the days, when we logged all Kauri trees that were accessible, those were the days when we had a whaling industry and those were the days when we mined coinage metals using methods that were extremely harmful to the environment.

Do you catch my drift? The day will come, when our fishing practices will be forbidden, the day will come when tourists stop coming over here because we are doing hardly anything to promote renewable energy for the private sector, the day will come when our farming practices will be more than just questionable. BTW, the day will also come when our real-estate market bubble bursts, be it due to the generally inflated house prices or due to natural catastrophe that destroys highly sought after coastal properties. 

However, no one will frown upon us for investing into renewable energy. Not today and not tomorrow. We must realize that for all the beauty that we are blessed with, we practice and create (still) a lot of destruction, and the wealth that we create is only short-lived.

No individual will be worse off for being (more) sustainable in terms of renewable energy. 

For the Barrier and all of us who are actively working toward a better future for the Island, the root of most of our problems is the lack of (affordable and accessible) energy. We don’t need to lure more tourists here with dodgy pamphlets and promises of a paradise, all we need is to provide for them a means to travel and experience the island with renewable energy, and the word will spread itself. All we have to do is to accommodate them in fully self-sustainable homes, with renewable energy, organic home grown produce, self-caught fish and local meat.

Imagine an electric-‘gas’-station where you can charge your electric bike or electric quad. This is not the stuff of the future, this technology exists and is affordable now and once installed will create streams of wealth that we are not easily quantified beforehand. What would require a huge wind turbine park in Germany, could be done here on the Island with 3 wind mills!

The tragic thing is that millions of dollars are being invested here every year, to build and improve roads,  to protect our ‘unique’ environment, to reduce our waste, to subsidise life on the Island in general, blah, blah, blah… the list goes on.

But we need to step back and realize that the first thing we should have established here are sources of renewable energy that will provide each settlement!

How can we ever claim that we are protecting this environment when we drive old vehicles, run generators at night, continue to bring most produce from town and bury our waste or ship it back to the mainland?

For the local board members:

Continue doing the hard work that you are and continue being passionate about Great Barrier Island. However, – and this is NOT directed toward you – many (wo) men have created nothing but pain and destruction by the sole means of hard work and passion!

Work concertedly toward a concrete plan that subsidises, endorses, rewards and ultimately creates not only a theoretical path but tangible solutions toward making this Island a place that is ahead of its time and not constantly trying to catch up.

Since being first seems to be so important: Establish the first community in New Zealand that uses more renewable than non-renewable energy.

4 thoughts on “Endorsing and Subsidising Solar Power – New Zealand Must Do More”

  1. Hey Ben,
    that’s the right way!
    You live on the perfect place for renewable energy. As far as i remember NZ there was always wind or the sun was shining. Ok, there was more wind than sun so start with the wind mills. 😀
    Here in Germany the people see NZ as a green and eco-friendly country but most people who come back from NZ have a different view. They say it’s nice and the people are friendly but they are wasting their land. They tell you about old cars everywhere, no insulation in houses and complete deforestation to raise more cattle….
    Just think about it.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Moritz, let’s not forget the ridiculously high domestic prices for dairy, meat, fish, vegetables, communication, tertiary education and the list goes on. In a country where renewable energy sources are abundant, where you can grow pretty much any crop, where we have abundance in stock and fisheries, which is regarded by many as a beautiful country with great people and where the population density is still so small, one really has to question whether our priorities are sensible.

      NZ could be the destination for the best educated and qualified people from all over the world to start a life and a family here. Fresh minds from different places are always needed to compete in the global market in terms of innovation and technology. Further, abusing the land and sea by focusing on high quantity export, rather than focusing on the collective well-being of people actually living here by providing them with affordable, quality food, services
      and other goods is an economical model that dramatically reduces the potential of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

      The tragic fact being that a considerable amount of the financial export gains have to go back in form of subsidies into the communities and people anyway to increase their living standards, be it housing, resources for communities, education, families, health care and so forth.

      Most people work to pay off their home (shelter), to put food on the table and to be able to afford some luxuries. If a concerted effort was made to reduce the associated costs (my point being that all the good stuff is already here, instead of selling it off to maximise profit, provide the people first to maximise their potential!) people wouldn’t have to work 40 hour weeks and retire at 65 years.

      Sorry NZ, but the image and perception that people from all over the world should have about this country is not only that it is beautiful but that we are able to use our resources and create a standard and way of life that translates into a society that is admirable and worth trying to adapt.

      Others have well demonstrated how to maximise export profits, maximise domestic consumption and exploitation of resources. We won’t be winning any prizes in those areas…

  2. I so desperately want to be proved wrong over this, but my impression is that the strings of corrupt (and not so corrupt) politicians are being pulled by those with huge financial clout whose desire is to create scarcity and demand (and therefore generate themselves huge profits) out of the things that should be accessible to everybody. Energy is one of those resources, like water, that wars may very well be fought over. There is no reason renewable energy cannot succeed on a global scale, let alone a small island in the Pacific. There is also more than enough money in existence (in theory anyway) to end poverty many times over. Will we see it happen?

    Ben you have a wonderful voice on these issues and are doing a great service to the community and world at large by raising them. I hope you receive some support locally and also that those in a position to do better things will actually do so. A change for the better has to start somewhere, and it is everyone’s responsibility to see that they are involved somewhere along the line. Good luck!

    Paul xxxxx

    1. Hi Paul and thanks for your support and comments. I believe there to be a force toward creating business opportunities in areas that should actually not be a profit based business. Then again, the entire idea of starting a company or business is (perhaps) along the same lines of logic a bad thing. So yeah, I have mixed emotions about any business.

      However, I’m starting to believe that there are also ‘evil’ forces out there. In simple terms, when a person does a ‘good’ thing, like volunteer time and resources, donate money or just help others out, that person feels a sense of accomplishment and a sense of positive reward.

      Perhaps the opposite (a reciprocal force) exists where a person does a ‘bad’ thing and receives personally the same sense of accomplishment and reward…
      A ‘bad’ thing might actually be a good thing in the greater picture.

      But in saying that, these are personal opinions and I’m afraid – or I’m sure – that most will see this differently. We can talk about free energy for everyone, but where do you draw the line? Free water, food, energy, education, transport, etc… So yeah, I doubt that any consensus can be found.

      So yeah, I’m starting to move away from thinking that people try to always create more personal wealth, therefore creating huge barriers for the not wealthy. Perhaps, the fact that we live the way we live nowadays is basically so because most jobs are not jobs anymore.
      You know, these days a 14 year old youth can write a piece of code that is then sold for billions of dollars to multinationals, (thinking of shit like Twitter, Instagram and the sorts), now you will have to start a few wars and kill many people to make those numbers. So yeah, if financial domination is the agenda for the corrupt politicians, then more efficient ways exist.

      Employers are tiny cogs in large machineries and their careers are entirely (and also their financial existence) based on how well this tiny cog operates. They have no say in other related areas of the machinery, they don’t really know what cog number 127Ax does, but it certainly is a part of the machinery and the people behind 127Ax will ensure that it is well lubricated and functioning. Even if they were ever given a tour through the entire machinery, it will
      be futile because of it being rendered so complex that ordinary people simply cannot understand.

      So why bother to understand? Focus on what you can do, as the tiny cog and keep lubricating it, keep making it look nice, keep repeating its importance and
      keep being busy on it even if nothing needs to be done.

      This is the mentality and way of life that many have chosen and will continue to chose. Who will stand up and say, I’m only 40 years old but I’ve done all I could in my job, please give me a new role now, I’m just wasting resources.

      For me, it is always easy to point things out, to raise something like awareness and this is – albeit important – certainly nothing that requires credit. Anyone can do this. It is in the hands of those who are influential, who are in the position to make changes; as long as these people only see themselves as these tiny cogs, nothing extraordinary will result. But, no question, a lot of hard work will be involved, a lot of credit will be received and the next person in line will be trained to do exactly the same thing.

      Cheers, Ben

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