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.