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Solar power = disruptive technology?

28 April 2021

Most people have heard of the term "disruptive technology".

It usually refers to a new technology that has the potential to damage, erode or completely destroy existing business models -- and guess what?

Photo-voltaic arrays (PVAs) or "solar power" seems to be rapidly becoming one of the latest forms of disruptive technology, especially in Australia.

It's starting to look as if Australia is going to really gazzump New Zealand in terms of its commitment to renewable energy if we're not very careful. Believe it or not, some 20 percent of Australian houses now have some form of PVA on their roofs, contributing significantly to the total energy requirements of the nation.

Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, solar remains very much a rarity rather than commonplace.

Should we be worried?

Well I believe we should be very worried.

With an incredibly rapid transition from fossil-fueled vehicles to EVs already on the horizon, New Zealand seems to be making little or no preparation for the impact this change will have on the demands for electricity in this country.

So why would this be?

What sane government would ignore the catastrophe that would become us if we found ourselves forced to ration electricity in the same way petrol was rationed back in the 1970s? And why would a government not jump at the opportunity to embrace a form of electricity generation that was decentralised, free from carbon emissions and effectively zero-maintenance/cost once installed?

Well, if you've been reading recent columns here, you'll already have an answer to that question.

Yes, the fact that our government earns significant revenues (by way of dividends paid by SOEs in the power industry) from centralised generation and grid-type distribution is the obvious answer.

If our government, like that of Australia, Germany and a host of others, was to incentivise the installation of PVAs on domestic and commercial dwellings, it would reduce revenues to the politician's trough. The trough from which they drink so freely.

Is this a case of "to hell with the planet, won't someone think of the perks and boozy lunches?"

Let's also not forget that despite the rise of the tech giants, petrochemical companies are still some of the largest, wealthiest and post politically active entities on the planet. Their lobbying power is immense and who knows what kind of "behind the scenes" activities are going on that might be working contrary to the goal of electrifying our fleets.

Sure, the government goes through the motions by stating that where possible, all future fleet purchases for government should be EVs -- but where are they going to get all the extra GW/H of energy needed to charge NZ's EVs when the transition gets underway?

Can't build dams because the greenies will burst a blood-vessel complaining that some endangered worm or spider might drown. Can't build wind-turbines because that might upset those living within visual or listening distance. Can't build tidal generators because fish might get disoriented.

But.. most of all here in New Zealand I suspect that government fears most of all, the kind of personally owned, distributed generation that is rooftop solar. Imagine the loss of all those huge SOE dividends, should the public become more self-sufficient in terms of electricity. How could those losses be clawed back?

If you want to see just how behind Australia we are, take a look at this ABC video and marvel at how different their suburban rooftop panorama is to our own.

Of course the current over-generation that Australia (and parts of Germany) have during peak-solar is something that will soon be mitigated by the recruitment of used EV battery packs which will act as local energy storage, at a domestic/commercial level as well.

Will New Zealand find itself forced into building more gas and coal-powered generation capability in a few short years, simply to keep pace with the growing demand from EV use? How will we honour our carbon commitments then?

We really do appear to be sleep-walking into the future.

And a big thanks to regular reader Ian who sent a link to this article from The Guardian. It kind of further illustrates the disruptive effect of (almost) free energy from the sun.

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