New Zealand’s a renewables paradise, addicted to coal

Part 1: New Zealand’s resources

Aotearoa is well known for its green image, helped by our inspired marketing campaign: “100% Pure New Zealand”. We have beautiful and diverse landscapes, from Northland’s beaches to Southland’s fiords. People are envious of our native forests and wildlife, and our electricity system too. For the last 5 years ~80–85% of our electricity has been produced from renewable sources including hydro (55–60%), geothermal (~20%) and wind (~5%)¹. By comparison, ~29% of the world’s electricity was renewable in 2020².

What many people don’t appreciate is New Zealand’s environmental flip side. Our net emissions have increased 34% since 1990³, and our gross emissions per capita (~17 tonnes CO2 per year) is not far off the United States (~20 tonnes CO2 per year)⁴. In 2021, New Zealand can expect record high coal imports; a shortage of water at our hydro stations means coal used for electricity generation more than doubled compared to Q1&2 of 2020⁵. In 2019, coal burning contributed to ~12% of our energy sector emissions and ~5% of total emissions³. Coal is one of the most carbon intensive fossil fuels, emitting 30–45% more carbon than refined fuels (e.g. petrol, diesel)⁶. We have a green image, but we’re actually quite dirty. Our emissions are starting to make international headlines and have caught Greta’s attention.

Earlier this year New Zealand’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) released their final recommendations for how to meet our target of net zero carbon by 2050. They’re clear about the enormous challenges ahead, a path that requires reducing our total emissions by ~50%, and energy sector emissions by 85%. Yes, an 85% reduction by 2050. They recommend phasing out of coal as soon as possible and estimate that electricity demand will increase 60% between now and 2050⁷. As policy stands, we may continue to burn coal for electricity and industrial heat until 2037⁸ in what is the critical few decades for climate change.

A New Zealand coal train (source: New Zealand Geographic)

The scandal here is that New Zealand doesn’t need to burn coal. By now, we should have eliminated coal for electricity generation and be aggressively reducing its use elsewhere. So why does New Zealand continue to exploit a fuel that’s so bad for the planet?

To understand New Zealand’s continued use of coal and other fossil fuels, it’s helpful to know a little about our country’s energy mix and outlook.

New Zealand is fortunate to have plentiful renewable energy resources (hydro, geothermal, wind, solar, woody biomass) and local non-renewable resources (coal, gas). Below is a chart mapping the final consumption of these resources in 2019.

Data source: Energy in New Zealand 2020 (MBIE)

Many people will be surprised by this energy consumption mix. Can this be true when New Zealand produces 80–85% of our electricity from renewable resources, and our primary energy supply is 40% renewable? Frustratingly, these often quoted figures don’t consider our entire fossil fuel footprint (including transport and international aviation) or that ~85% of geothermal energy is lost when converting geothermal steam to electricity. As noted by Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), “The challenge the world faces is meeting final energy demand, not meeting a primary energy figure, most of which is thermal waste”. New Zealand’s reality is that renewables contribute to less than 25% of our final energy consumption.

Shockingly, ~9% of our total energy needs were met by coal in 2019, contributing to ~5% of total emissions. By comparison, domestic transport contributes to ~20% of our total emissions. In other words, exchanging coal for renewables would have the same effect as removing a quarter of our cars, boats, trains and domestic planes.

How did this fossil-dominated energy mix come about, and what’s the outlook? Let’s start by taking a look at each of our major resources in turn. If you’re short on time, jump to the summary.

New Zealand is a pioneer in hydropower, commissioning one of the first stations in the southern hemisphere in 1885. Our first sizable station was Horahora, a 6.3 MW power plant on the Waikato River commissioned in 1913⁹. From this time until the late 1980’s, major government projects resulted in the development of most of our large scale hydro stations. If you’d like to learn more about the early history of New Zealand’s electricity system, I’d recommend these short films by Whiteboard Energy.

Many of the original hydro stations remain in operation today, contributing to ~55–60% of our electricity generation¹. We’re unlikely to see any large scale hydro in the foreseeable future due to its high environmental impact. There’s still plenty of potential for small scale hydro, but they also have high environmental barriers.

Horahora power station (source: Wikipedia)

In the 1950’s, New Zealand built one of the world’s first geothermal stations at Wairakei near Lake Taupo¹⁰. Geothermal stations use hot steam from underground to generate electricity, and modern plants return the steam back into the ground to make the process more environmentally friendly and sustainable. In the late 1990’s and 2000’s there was significant development of this resource.

From 2000 to 2020, electricity generated from geothermal has increased from 7% to 18%¹. New Zealand still has untapped geothermal resources.

Wind is another green resource our small islands have in abundance. New Zealand’s first major wind farm was built at Tararua in 1999¹¹. A flurry of onshore wind projects followed in the 2000’s, and developers jostled to secure landowner agreements and consents for future projects. After muted activity in the 2010’s, these projects are starting to be developed.

Offshore wind is a future option in New Zealand. Taranaki’s coastline shows the most promise, offering shallow waters and suitable wind speeds. Currently, offshore wind turbines are fixed to the sea floor requiring a depth of less than 50m. Recent estimates indicate Taranaki could support up to ~14GW of fixed turbine capacity. If fixed turbines aren’t suitable, development of floating turbines for deeper waters is well underway.

Between 2000 and 2020, electricity generated from onshore wind has increased from 0.3% to 5.3%¹, a trend set to continue as we exploit more of this underutilised resource.

To date, New Zealand’s uptake of solar generation has been very limited. Our largest solar farm is 2.1MW¹³ and solar only produced 0.4% of our electricity in 2020¹. In the last few years development activity has increased dramatically, driven by plummeting solar and battery costs, increasing electricity prices, and an understanding that electricity demand will rise in the coming decades.

Solar can and will play a major role in New Zealand’s renewable mix. We have plentiful sunshine and our large rooftops means it can be installed cheaply, without using large areas of land.

Most of New Zealand’s bioenergy is woody biomass, which is waste wood (e.g. branches, stumps, bark, offcuts) created by the forestry industry. New Zealand has a large forestry sector and ~8% of our land is covered with exotic production forests, mainly radiata pine¹⁴. Each year we create ~35–40 million tonnes of wood products, including 10–12 million tonnes of woody biomass¹⁵. Woody biomass can be converted into wood pellets and chips and used to generate heat for industrial processes (e.g. milk drying) and buildings.

From 2000 to 2020, consumption of woody biomass for energy has been steady. It’s a great use of waste wood and there’s potential for growth. However, it’s important we carefully manage the growth of exotic production forests which are proven to have a detrimental effect on our biodiversity¹⁷ and soil health¹⁸ compared to native plantations.

New Zealand’s gas industry developed rapidly in the 1970’s and 1980’s following the discovery of two large gas fields in the Taranaki region, Kapuni and Maui¹⁸. Our gas is only used domestically because the fields weren’t large enough to justify the cost of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export facilities. In 2019, we used 39 TWh of gas (21% of our energy needs), mainly for industrial processes (49%), electricity/cogeneration (35%) and residential/commercial heating (11%)¹.

Our first major gas-fired electricity station was commissioned in 1974 at New Plymouth in Taranaki¹⁹. Newer stations were built in the late 1990’s and 2000’s, and the gas-fired share of electricity generation peaked at 30% in 2001¹. Unlike geothermal and wind, its share of the generation mix is reducing as uneconomic plants are retired and our existing gas fields become depleted.

New Zealand should start reducing its reliance on gas by electrifying our industrial processes and heating. New ‘baseload’ (always run) gas-fired electricity plants are unlikely, unless New Zealand does the unthinkable and reverses its ban on new oil and gas exploration. In the medium term, ‘peaking’ (runs for peak demand) gas-fired generation will need to be retained for energy security.

New Zealand relies entirely on imports to meet our oil and refined fuel (e.g. petrol, diesel) needs, totalling ~100 TWh in 2019 (~48% of our energy needs). We exported ~11 TWh of oil in 2020 because it’s not suitable for processing by Marsden Point, our sole oil refinery¹.

Somewhere in the mid 1900’s, New Zealand decided to model our housing and transport systems on the United States. As a result, our cities are sprawling and we have a major dependence on roads and cars. Public transport is often inadequate and our rail network is underdeveloped. In 2020, ~65% of our oil and fuel imports were used by domestic transport (land, aviation and sea), and ~%20 by international aviation¹.

Electrifying land transport and increased use of active and public transport (e.g. cycling, walking, buses, trains) is the single biggest way for New Zealand to reduce its heavy dependence on oil and refined fuels.

New Zealand has a long history of coal mining and extensive coal resources, however much of the higher quality coal that remains is difficult to extract. Commercial mining started as early as the 1860’s. In 2020 we mined ~3 million tonnes and imported ~1 million tonnes of lower quality coal. The very fact we import low quality coal highlights our lack of action towards a green economy. In 2019, our coal was largely consumed for industrial processes (41%), electricity/cogeneration (41%) and residential/commercial heating (2%)¹.

Our first and only major coal-fired electricity station was built between 1973 and 1985 at Huntly, beside the Waikato River²¹. In the late 2000’s it was signalled the station was becoming uneconomic and 2 of 4 units would be placed in long term storage or retired. However, the station was thrown a lifeline in 2015 when two gas-fired power stations were retired, partly as a result of increased capacity from new geothermal stations²². Ironically, their retirement means New Zealand is less environmentally friendly because we’re now burning more coal. Huntly may continue to generate from coal until 2030, particularly if there are hydro water shortages²³.

New Zealand’s other large coal consumer is industrial processes, dominated by the dairy and meat sectors (~80% of industrial consumption)¹. These sectors are talking about reducing their reliance on coal. However, their timetables will be driven by carbon prices or government policy. Current policy only requires polluters to cease burning coal by 2037.

Reducing and eliminating New Zealand’s reliance on coal will dramatically cut our emissions and, like making a stand against nuclear weapons, it’s the right thing to do.

Below is a summary of New Zealand’s energy resources and their outlook. I’ve rated the outlook based on future potential and environmental impacts. It’s a positive picture for renewables, particularly geothermal, wind and solar.

Part 2: A UK perspective

My analysis of New Zealand’s energy resources (Part 1) highlights two key points: we have a heavy dependence on coal and other fossil fuels, yet an abundance of renewable energy resources. New Zealand’s been deploying renewables over the last few decades, but with nowhere near the urgency of the UK, Europe and US.

The first 5 years of my energy career (2006–2010) were based in New Zealand (NZ), working for a generator/retailer (suppliers are called ‘retailers’ in NZ). I started as an engineering graduate, then moved into a role that supported our generation development team with grid connections. I was fortunate to see two large geothermal stations connected and evaluate connection options for numerous wind farms.

The next 10 years of my career (2011–2020) were based in the UK. I worked for one of Europe’s largest generator/retailer in the areas of trading and risk management, then structured supply contracts for large industrial and commercial customers. I later moved to a technology startup hoping to disrupt the UK energy market by combining electricity supply and demand side flexibility (we failed, sadly). Demand flexibility is becoming increasingly important as fossil fuel’s inherent flexibility is removed from our electricity systems.

In 2008, soon before I arrived in the UK, Europe’s Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) came into force. This legislation impacted fossil-fuel power stations over 50MW, requiring them to limit their emissions of sulphur, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and mercury, or shut down by 2015 at the latest²⁴. Coal isn’t just bad for greenhouse gas emissions, it’s toxic for the air we breathe. Since 2008, the UK has shut down 18 out of 21 of its coal or oil fired stations, and only 1 out of 21 may remain by 2022²⁵. In June 2021, the UK government announced that all coal power stations must close by 2024²⁶ and they’re urging other countries to abandon coal for electricity generation. (You’ll recall that “100% Pure New Zealand” may keep burning coal for electricity demand until 2030.)

The UK recognised the need to replace coal generation, reduce their dependence on foreign gas, and address the climate crisis. They responded by introducing generous subsidies and other financial support for low carbon generation, including solar, onshore and offshore wind, and nuclear. Generators are offered long term price certainty and incentives in schemes financially backed by all UK electricity consumers. The results have been dramatic. Over the last decade or so, the UK has cleaned up its electricity supply faster than any major economy²⁷. In 2008, only 6% of their electricity came from renewable sources²⁸, compared to ~42% in 2020²⁹.

To help demonstrate UK’s impressive progress, below is a chart that shows UK per capita energy consumption in 2008 and 2019 alongside NZ per capita consumption in 2019.

Data source: DUKES 2020 (BEIS), Energy in New Zealand 2020 (MBIE)

This chart highlights some significant points:

  • Per capita, New Zealand uses significantly more energy and fossil fuels than the UK
  • The UK has reduced its per capita energy consumption by ~25% since 2008 while continuing to grow their economy. Reasons include renewable electricity growth displacing a disproportionate amount of coal and gas, and energy efficiency improvements (e.g. gas boiler standards, LED lighting)
  • The UK has reduced its coal consumption by over 500% in just over a decade. In 2019, NZ used 3.5 times more coal than the UK per capita

The UK’s rejection of coal hasn’t only affected consumption. UK coal production has plummeted from 18.0 million tonnes in 2008 to 1.7 million tonnes in 2020²⁸. NZ’s production has been slowly declining but we now produce more coal than the UK, mining 2.8 million tonnes in 2020¹.

The contribution of renewables to the UK energy mix may look small, however they have a large population (therefore large energy consumption to transform) and there’s much more to come. Last year the UK announced their ambition to be a “world leader in green energy”, setting a target to build offshore wind capacity sufficient to power all residential consumption. This means expanding their current offshore capacity of ~10GW to ~40GW by 2030 (by comparison, NZ’s total renewable capacity is ~7GW³⁰). They continue to run financial schemes, backed by UK electricity consumers, supporting the development of offshore wind, onshore wind and solar.

The UK’s achievements in energy consumption and renewables has significantly contributed to their emissions success over the last decade. Below is a chart that compares UK and NZ emissions compared to 1990 levels, a standard measure for climate performance.

Data source: UK National Statistics (BEIS), NZ Greenhouse Gas Inventory (MfE)

The chart shows a tale of two stories. The UK is one of the best performing industrialised economies since 1990, cutting their total net emissions by ~42% and their energy emissions by a staggering ~65%. The energy sector accounts for around half of their total reduction. Over the same period, their economy grew by 72%. On the other hand, NZ is one of the developed world’s worst performers. We’ve increased our total net emissions by ~34% and energy emissions by ~44%. In NZ, agriculture is often put in the spotlight because it contributes to around half of our total emissions. But, energy is a dominant player, responsible for around ~40% of total emissions and ~60% of our increases since 1990.

Sorry, that’s a lot of percentages. Is it fair to compare New Zealand with the UK in percentage terms? I believe so. In real terms, NZ’s 1990 gross emissions per capita (~20 tonnes CO2 per year) was already higher than the UK’s (~14 tonnes CO2 per year). Admittedly, the UK’s economy is mostly service-based, whereas NZ’s economy is heavily reliant on primary industries (agriculture, fishing and forestry). I don’t think that’s a good excuse for our high per capita energy emissions. We’ve known for decades that our country has a high dependency on fossil fuels, yet we’ve continued with the status quo: burning coal, constructing more roads, building energy inefficient houses.

In recent decades the UK has been making progress, reducing its energy consumption and emissions. New Zealand’s been caught sitting on our hands.

Part 3: Breaking the addiction

In Part 1, I highlighted New Zealand’s heavy dependence on coal and other fossil fuels, and our significant and underutilised renewable resources. In Part 2, we looked at the immense progress made by the UK over the last decade as they transition to renewable energy. So, you might ask, why isn’t New Zealand doing more? Why do we still mine and burn huge quantities of coal and what needs to change? The answers lie in New Zealand’s market-driven approach and our failure to act. Let’s look at these issues in turn.

New Zealand’s economy is largely market-driven, meaning the price of our goods and services is set by businesses and consumers in a marketplace, with relatively low levels of regulation. When there’s a market failure, the government may choose to intervene.

Climate change could be viewed as the world’s greatest market failure. The market failed to adequately price the impact of our consumption on the environment, and now we’re paying the economic, social and environmental consequences. New Zealand’s main response to the climate catastrophe and our international obligations (Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement) is the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS)³¹, launched in 2008. Our ‘cap and trade’ ETS is a market-driven approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, where carbon emitters (e.g. coal-fired power stations) must pay for ‘carbon credits’ (held by forests) to offset their emissions³². In time, the cost of carbon credits will encourage businesses and investors to switch to lower emission alternatives (e.g. renewable energy) and plant more forests.

Our market-driven approach extends to the electricity sector. Electricity is traded in an open market and long term price trends help generation developers to decide whether it’s economic to build a new power station. In recent times, large scale geothermal plants and wind farms have been the cheapest options, built when market conditions allow. There’s also a big pipeline developing for larger scale solar.

One of the key reasons New Zealand prefers a market-driven approach is that we’re frightened to make bad choices or support the wrong technologies. For example, the New Zealand government doesn’t want a repeat of their decision to build a 250MW oil-fired power station in the 1970’s that was never used³³ (but let’s not forget the government built most of our ~5GW of hydro assets, responsible for 55–60% of our renewable electricity).

There’s two key reasons why we need more than a market-driven approach to reduce our energy emissions:

  • The ETS, our main response to the climate crisis, has yet to deliver the rapid transformation required. New Zealand is way off target for the Paris Agreement, and our emissions continue to rise. Most Kiwis don’t realise that we used the ETS to meet our Kyoto Protocol obligations by purchasing international carbon credits³⁴ (instead of reducing our emissions)
  • There are evidence-based actions to reduce our energy emissions. These include: energy reduction and efficiency, electrify transport and heating, decarbonise industrial heat, harness our vast renewable resources, stop coal burning. (I haven’t mentioned hydrogen because I don’t believe it makes sense for New Zealand, yet. I’ll explore hydrogen and pump hydro in future articles.)

Ironically, the original ETS favoured certain groups. For the last decade, the winners have been polluters (paying a tiny price to continue emitting carbon) and holders of international carbon credits. After recent major reforms, the winners could be ETS speculators (e.g. hedge funds) and New Zealand landowners who are willing to plant forests. This raises another important issue. The ETS and our current environmental policies encourage the planting of permanent exotic forests. These forests threaten rural communities affected by land use change (e.g. converting farm to forest), our biodiversity and soil health. In a recent example, IKEA announced the planting of 3,000 hectares of radiata pine for carbon capture. As noted by the Climate Change Commission (CCC), we need policies to prevent permanent exotic forests and encourage native forests to provide long term carbon capture. The CCC’s advice rightly prioritises reducing emissions ahead of carbon offsetting³⁵.

There’s no doubt the NZ government’s latest ETS reforms will help us towards our Paris Agreement and net zero 2050 targets. From 2021, the pool of carbon credits available to polluters decreases each year in line with our emissions targets, resulting in higher carbon prices and fewer emissions. The idea is that by 2050, there’ll be very few energy polluters left, and any that remain will have offset their emissions. Following this change, ETS market prices have increased from ~NZ$25 per tonne of CO2 in mid 2020 to greater than NZ$70. In the case of domestic transport, our biggest consumer of refined fuels, this adds ~16 cents per litre to the price of petrol (which costs ~$2.70 per litre in early 2022)³⁶. The reforms also introduced controls so carbon prices don’t go too high or low. The aim of the upper price control is to avoid price hikes for final consumers (such as the petrol price) and ensure prices don’t exceed what’s needed to meet our emissions targets. This upper control was triggered in the September 2021 auction, meaning the government was forced to release additional carbon credits earlier than expected (7 million tonnes of CO2 credits, on top of the 19 million tonnes allocated for 2021)³⁷. The government is on the hook for these so, once again, they might be forced to buy carbon credits on international markets (potentially paying millions of dollars, like we did to meet our Kyoto obligations). Yes, it’s complicated.

It’s good news that the ETS carbon price is going up. But while we wait for market prices to bite, why not take evidence-based action to reduce emissions? We’ve already lost decades in our response to the climate crisis and we don’t need markets informing us to, for example: reduce our waste, better insulate our homes, improve appliance standards, build safe walking and cycling networks, introduce transport low emission zones, stop burning coal.

The UK and Europe also have an ETS. They didn’t wait for market signals to start phasing out coal, and neither should we.

The main reason for New Zealand’s poor emissions performance is our inaction. We’ve failed to take action to reduce emissions, afraid of people’s reactions.

In 2019, the current government took a positive step, bringing into force the Zero Carbon Act. This legislation aims for net zero emissions by 2050, a target introduced by many developed economies including the UK. We’re planning to spend an estimated $3b over the next 5 years ($0.6b per year) on climate initiatives³⁸ such as the Green Investment Bank ($400m), Clean Car Discount ($300m), Decarbonising Industry Fund ($70m) and Healthy Homes ($40m). These initiatives are helpful, but insufficient for transformational change. To put the $0.6b spend per year in perspective, the NZ government’s total budget for 2020–21 was ~$50b which included ~$1.25b on roading projects. The government has also written a series of eight energy strategy documents, covering areas such as renewable energy, industrial processes, the electricity market and green hydrogen³⁹. They continue to work towards an overall energy strategy with concrete actions to reduce emissions.

Thankfully, the CCC’s independent advice to the government could mark a turning point. Earlier this year they outlined a number of ambitious, evidence-based recommendations for how to achieve a low emissions future for Aotearoa. The government is expected to use their advice to help create an emissions reduction plan by mid 2022 (sadly not in time for COP26). Below are some of the CCC’s energy-related policy recommendations and alongside each policy I’ve proposed a few actions:

Admittedly, these actions require some long term planning which doesn’t come naturally to us Kiwis. Auckland’s harbour bridge is a notorious example. The 1950’s bridge required expansion (‘clip ons’) less than 10 years into operation and wasn’t built for pedestrians, cyclists or trains (compare our bridge to Sydney’s, constructed in the 1920’s). A proposed NZ$700m cycle bridge was recently shelved.

The decision to phase out coal by 2025 would allow businesses and the energy sector to plan ahead and have a dramatic and immediate effect on emissions. We’d reduce our energy emissions by ~12% and total emissions by ~5%³. Businesses that have excess ETS carbon credits could sell these, using the profits to help with their low carbon transition. Phasing out coal is highly likely to reduce New Zealand’s agriculture emissions too. A large proportion of our coal (~30%) is used by the diary and meat industries and increased processing costs may encourage a reduction in production and therefore herd numbers. The CCC has already recommended a 14% herd reduction to meet emissions targets⁴⁰. Most New Zealanders, including many farmers, will acknowledge that some of our farming is too intensive, threatening our natural ecosystems and biodiversity.

The energy gap left by coal can be easily replaced by our abundance of renewable energy, including greater use of woody biomass, more renewable electricity generation, and the eventual closure of Tiwai Point. New Zealand’s grid owner and operator, Transpower, has anticipated the transformation required to our electricity system and outlines their strategy and planning in Whakamana i Te Mauri Hiko — Empowering our Energy Future.

On renewables incentives, I’m particularly supportive of rooftop solar which makes up less than 0.4% of our electricity mix. New Zealand is sunny and we have large buildings with lots of roof space. Rooftop solar doesn’t have a significant visual impact and as battery prices decline, more buildings will store solar electricity for night time use. Batteries can also assist with demand flexibility, helping our national energy system. Some economists may suggest that rooftop solar doesn’t make financial sense. They should note that market economics led us into this climate mess. It’s time for an approach that goes beyond dollars and cents — a transition to a circular economy.

As a bonus, my suggested actions mean New Zealand will approach the government’s ambition of 100% renewable electricity more quickly. When Tiwai Point exits, we’ll immediately shift from 80–85% renewable to ~92–97% renewable. Most people, including the CCC, recognise the 100% renewable target isn’t realistic by 2030 because it’s extremely expensive to achieve the last few percent.

Meeting our net zero target, a path that requires reducing energy sector emissions by up to 85%, requires a lot more action. This action must be spread fairly across sectors and communities. For example, if we ask farmers to reduce herd numbers and pay more for farm vehicles, we should ask urbanites to better manage waste (like San Francisco) and introduce transport emissions zones in cities (like London). As the government recognises, we must also ensure a “just transition” to a lower emissions society, helping people and communities who are affected to find a new purpose and income.

Currently, New Zealand is one of the world’s top 5 worst climate performers out of 43 developed countries⁴¹. The OECD recently concluded: “New Zealand’s growth model, based largely on exploiting natural resources, is starting to show its environmental limits with increasing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution”⁴².

But hope isn’t lost. Unlike many countries, we have an opportunity to quickly reverse our emissions thanks to vast renewable resources. In the energy sector we can begin by phasing out coal, supporting renewable energy, transforming our electricity system, encouraging active and public transport, and building green communities.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, has described our net zero target as a “nuclear free moment”. Ardern’s referring to our decision in the 1970’s to ban nuclear-powered weapons and ships from our shores. At present, we’re letting people continue to pollute our country and planet, provided they pay us the going market price. We’ve lost decades in our fight against climate change because of our market-driven approach and, to date, our inaction.

I’d like to finish with an inspiring vision from Michael Liebreich (BNEF):

“Imagine a country or a region that has fabulous wind resources, fabulous solar resources, some pumped hydro capacity, a few batteries, and a decent grid. By 2030, you should be able to run industrial processes with 80% uptime, based purely on renewable energy… These will be the green industrial superpowers of the future.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Aotearoa has the potential to be one of the world’s green superpowers. It’s time to phase out coal by 2025 and make it happen.


  1. Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE), Energy in New Zealand
  2. International Energy Agency (IEA), Global Energy Review 2021 — Renewables
  3. Ministry for the Environment (MfE), New Zealand’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory 1990–2019
  4. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks
  5. MBIE, New Zealand Energy Quarterly
  6. Energy Information Administration, How much carbon dioxide is produced when different fuels are burned?
  7. Climate Change Commission, Ināia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa — Modelling and data
  8. MfE, Proposed national direction on industrial greenhouse gas emissions (draft)
  9. Wikipedia, Hydroelectric power in New Zealand
  10. Wikipedia, Wairakei Power Station
  11. Wikipedia, Tararua Wind Farm
  12. Venture Taranaki and Elemental Group, Offshore wind discussion paper
  13. Radio New Zealand (RNZ), New Zealand’s largest grid-connected solar power plant up and running
  14. MfE, Our Land 2021, chapter 3: Our activities and their effects
  15. Ministry for Primary Industries, Wood Fibre Futures Stage one report
  16. L. Bremer and K. Farley, Does plantation forestry restore biodiversity or create green deserts?
  17. Nature, Soil invertebrate diversity loss and functional changes in temperate forest soils replaced by exotic pine plantations
  18. Wikipedia, Kapuni gas field
  19. Wikipedia, New Plymouth Power Station
  20. New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals, Coal
  21. Wikipedia, Huntly Power Station
  22. Newshub, Contact Energy closes Otahuhu power station
  23. RNZ, Genesis Energy to end coal use ‘if we can’ by 2030
  24. ScienceDirect, Large Combustion Plant Directive — an overview
  25. iNews, EDF announces closure of West Burton A power station, leaving Britain with one coal plant
  26. UK Government, End to coal power brought forward to October 2024
  27. CarbonBrief, Interactive: How the UK transformed its electricity supply in just a decade
  28. Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Energy consumption in the UK 2020
  29. The Guardian, UK electricity from renewables outpaces gas and coal power
  30. Transpower, Whakamana i Te Mauri Hiko — Empowering our Energy Future
  31. MfE, New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme
  32. International Carbon Action Partnership, New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme
  33. Wikipedia, Marsden B Power Station
  34. C. Leining and S. Kerr, Lessons Learned from the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme
  35. Climate Change Commission, Ināia tonu nei: a low emissions future for Aotearoa — Chapter 18
  36. Stuff, Government gives Emissions Trading Scheme a longer rein in 2022
  37. RNZ, Govt’s emissions trading scheme hit by speculators eyeing up ‘easy money’
  38. Newsroom, Budget 2021: Boost To EVs And Green Finance
  39. MBIE, Energy strategies for New Zealand
  40. RNZ, Climate Change Commission report: Farmers push back against suggestion to reduce herd sizes
  41. United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Total emissions with LULUCF, All Annex 1 parties
  42. OECD, Environmental pressures rising in New Zealand




UK and NZ based energy consultant and software entrepreneur, sharing insights into the changing worlds of electricity and transport.

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Paul Coster

Paul Coster

UK and NZ based energy consultant and software entrepreneur, sharing insights into the changing worlds of electricity and transport.

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