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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Why EVs will wreck the environment

14 June 2021

Over the weekend the government made an announcement.

Apparently they're going to be subsidising the cost of electric vehicles under $80K to the extent that buyers could end up with a pretty impressive discount on the sticker price.

This is great news for those planning to buy an EV and probably a bit of a disappointment to those who just have, given that the rebate doesn't appear to be retroactive.

The government clearly intends this announcement to signal its commitment to reducing NZ's carbon emissions however, an unfortunate fact that also appeared recently in the news might derail that message.

Indeed, there is sharp irony in the fact that despite our claims to have a very low-carbon electricity generation industry, it was revealed that we're now actually burning *more* coal to service the needs of the national grid.

Whilst it might be comforting to think that NZ's electricity is almost entirely generated by rivers flowing through turbines and breezes gently turning the huge blades of wind-farms, well that's not quite the case any more.

This RNZ report clearly shows that we're dramatically increasing our use of coal to power the grid and that "In the first three months of this year, the same amount of coal was used to generate electricity as in all of 2016 and 2017 combined".

Of course these things need to be put into perspective and we must realise that coal-powered generation is still only a relatively small component of our energy generation sector so whilst the claims being made by Greenpeace are alarming, they're not quite as bad as first appear.

The far bigger problem however, is the fact that we have to burn any coal at all.

It appears that we simply don't have enough renewable energy generation to service the needs of the country right now... so what about when we have hundreds of thousands of EVs all sucking up juice on overnight charge?

Might it be that this will force us to ramp up coal-fired generators even more, thus totally negating the alleged climate benefits of going EV in the first place?

Of course the government has a plan -- energy storage in the form of a pumped water "battery".

They're investigating the prospect of using daytime renewable energy to pump water into lakes were it will then be used to generate power during periods of low wind -- such as overnight.

There is a problem with this idea though... and a very big problem, much of it of the government's own making.

The timeframes and red tape hurdles associated with creating these pumped water energy storage systems are quite large. Timeframes are large because there's a lot of work involved in their creation. Red tape is a massive barrier because of all the environmental concerns that such a system will itself create. You can bet that someone will find some kind of endangered microbe or crawling life-form that will be placed in danger at each and every proposed site.

Meanwhile, the sales of EVs will be soaring, spurred on partly by the subsidies but mostly by falling prices and much lower running costs when compared to ICE options. That's if the government's own planned ban on imported ICE vehicles doesn't hit first.

I really worry that we're going to find our selves facing power rationing and worse in the not too distant future -- if the government doesn't also do some sensible stuff such as mandate a minimum infeed tariff for home solar systems and perhaps even provide some kind of subsidy for the installation of such gear.

Instead of spending *huge* sums and wasting inordinate amounts of time building energy storage systems based on inefficient technologies such as pumping water, why not simply use that money to incentivise consumers to become more energy-self-sufficient?

The massive spin-offs of that would be the creation of thousands of new jobs in the PVA installation industry and a significantly reduction in the need to invest more to shore up a national grid to carring all the extra power needed to charge EVs.

Even better, by making homes more energy self-sufficient through solar, there will be plenty of demand for those worn-out EV battery packs once they start entering the market. Every home will want one to use as an energy store in conjunction with their solar arrays. When your EV wears out or needs replacing, its tired but still useful batteries will power your home overnight.

Will government do the sensible thing and adopt a strategy that will not only provide more certainty of supply but also truly reduce carbon emissions?

Of course not. Remember, 50% of our energy generation sector is owned by the government and they receive huge sums by way of dividends every year from those companies. That does rather bias them away from the best solution (environmentally) towards the one that keeps the trough full, doesn't it?

Hey Cindy, throw another tyre on the barbie and pass me another low-carbon beer will ya?

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