The future is Electric – reflections from a US study tour

By   /   October 19, 2015  /   56 Comments

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I’ve seen the future and it’s electric! Over the October Parliamentary recess I travelled to Oregon and California for a personal study tour and discovered we have some way to go towards clean energy, electric vehicles and a smart grid.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 8.58.17 pm

I’ve seen the future and it’s electric! Over the October Parliamentary recess I travelled to Oregon and California for a personal study tour and discovered we have some way to go towards clean energy, electric vehicles and a smart grid. I learnt that New Zealand has much the world desires, like our 80% renewable electricity percentage but when it comes to progressive policy initiatives there isn’t much reason looking to our National Government.

I designed the study tour around the themes of clean energy and internet innovation. Often they are portrayed as different areas but it’s harder to tell the two apart with energy companies finding themselves needing to be data-driven tech companies and traditional Silicon Valley companies getting involved in electricity production and storage. I wanted to meet the key players involved – the entrepreneurs, the researchers, the academics, the environmentalists, unionists and regulators to bring home new thinking and a more international perspective. I believe a richer future for New Zealand is in areas like clean tech, the Internet economy and innovation and I’m looking forward to working with members to discuss some of the policy ideas we could incorporate.

A real highlight was a meeting at Tesla, the Silicon Valley electric car and battery innovator on the day they launched their exciting new Tesla X car. Ironically this was also the day National agreed to purchase polluting diesel crown cars unlike the Tesla S Russel and I launched as an Greens-in-Government position last Election. Tesla truly is a disruptive company and is shaking up the automobile industry with their electric vehicles and the electricity industry with their lithium-ion battery, the Powerwall. It was inspiring to meet people with such an ambitious vision to change the way we drive and use power and I tried my best to encourage them to open an office and research and development facility in New Zealand! Another highlight was meeting and touring Enphase Energy, the world’s second largest solar inverter company. Two years back I had encouraged them to access research and development grants in New Zealand and I was proud to learn of the almost two dozen new R&D jobs they had created in Christchurch and their exciting new smart grid products.

The trip was a real ‘buzz’ and discussing the transformation and disruption of the energy sector with renowned experts was electrifying. Electricity isn’t the sleepy old industry of years ago and now it’s at the frontlines of the new sharing economy, the sharp edge of reducing emissions and utilities now need to think like a Google, or possibly be taken over by a Google.

As someone who has a vision to reduce the 20% of emissions and $8-9 billion we spend importing oil for transport in part through electric vehicles it was incredible to see the EV incentives in place. There are state and federal credits towards purchasing a new car up to $10,000, charging networks across California and even an EV tourist wine trail with charging stations in Oregon. If I’m honest, the study trip wasn’t all stimulating meetings, a big chunk of it was a self-drive tour of the freeways of California out of necessity, but as a bit of an old boy-racer I loved speeding past 8-lane jammed up traffic in the High Occupancy Lanes which as another incentive, were available to electric vehicles and hybrids. A question I thought we should ask, should we allow access, maybe only for the first 5000 electric cars on our roads to utilise bus lanes as part of transitioning and making more desirable zero emission vehicles?

I was repeatedly embarrassed when the people I met asked what incentives we had for EVs in New Zealand, particularly after they enviously learnt of our 80% renewables rate and all I could say was ‘Well, we don’t charge them the diesel tax (the RUC) but that’s all, and it’s no surprise we have more Russian Lada’s on our roads than EVs.’ While California is trying to electrify their transport networks to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and smog many experts I spoke to were staggered that we were looking at de-electrifying our main trunk rail line and removing Wellington’s clean electric trolley buses. I even met with the former commander of the Pacific fleet, retired US Navy Rear Admiral Len Herring, now head of the Sustainable Energy Centre who told me bluntly New Zealand would hurt when oil prices rose if we kept ignoring clean energy solutions.

EVs can save money and carbon for commuters but what I was really interested in was the electricity storage and discharge ability they bring. Meeting scientists at the University of California Los Angeles I accessed state of the art research and learnt in a few years it will be possible to store power – maybe from solar or off the grid at cheap rates – in the car (obviously to use) but also to use to power the home at a time of choice or to feed into the grid at expensive peak rates times. For a nation like New Zealand it’s our peak demand time (winter evenings 5-7pm) that drives cost and carbon usage and also least able to be assisted by solar but if we could store electricity either in a Powerwall, an EV or other form of battery it could bring huge national benefits in reducing costs, getting to 100% renewables but also increase customer control as part of the new energy sharing economy.

They say being an MP is the best education into your country and over the last two weeks I’ve also found it can be a great education into innovation in other jurisdictions. I just can’t wait until we see a progressive Government in New Zealand and we can have MPs from around the world visiting us to learn of the great policy steps we have put in place in New Zealand.

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About the author

I'm a dad and a Member of Parliament for the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand. I can't add any more friends but subscribe to my feed to find out what I'm up to. Here is my website: www.greens.org.nz/people/garethhughes Authorised by Jon Field, Level 2, 17 Garrett Street, Wellington.

56 Comments

  1. Gosman says:

    The question some people here most likely want to know is what policies you have in relation to zero growth and reducing the population to more “managable” levels.

    • e-clectic says:

      You know @Gosman it would be nice if you just spoke for yourself. Who are these “some people” you are the spokesperson for?

      Also, here is a Green MP showing initiative, being constructive, proposing some ideas for a better New Zealand. So why not engage on the topic at hand or does that conflict with your view of the Greens?

      Incidentally, what do you consider are appropriate growth levels and what is your vision for New Zealand’s future population?

    • J S Bark J S Bark says:

      Jeez… You all know my opinion of the Greens but it’s good to see a blog from Gareth Hughes and ALL of the points he raises are valid.

      Including how nothing is really going to change with a do-nothing dickheaded National Government and its supporters like Gosman.

      Climate change will have little impact on me personally (one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel) but for fuck’s sake you lot are going to have to live with the consequences of your inaction.

      Which may well include your drowning or missing out on food.

      Are you really such block heads that you can’t see what’s right in front of you?

      It would seem so…

    • Topic under discussion: electric cars.

      Gosman’s perception of topic under discussion: “reducing the population”.

      I’m sure there’s a connection there somewhere… (note sarcasm)

      By the way, Gareth, good blogpost! As always, eminently sensible stuff.

      Electric will eventually supplant fossil-fueled vehicles, though you’ll get the oil industry (and their ACT puppets) kicking back like hell.

  2. countryboy says:

    Are the same USA corporates, who’re trying to parasitise NZ via the TPP with jonky’s help, responsible for this ?

    ‘ Who killed the electric car? ‘
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_Killed_the_Electric_Car%3F

  3. e-clectic says:

    Great work Gareth, the Greens as luddites myth needs exploding.

    • e-clectic says:

      I’ve realised there’s an awful lot of ambiguity in my comment above so it’s hard to conclude what exactly a down or up vote means. And, with down/up voting really taking off recently, clarity would be a good thing.
      So I’ll split up my comment and you can up/down vote each bit and then it’ll all be clear.
      If you think splitting is a good idea up vote, or a shit idea down vote.
      (This could take a while given TDB’s superior moderation process and the fabulous moderators.)

      • Sam Sam says:

        GPS guides just aren’t at the point it can replace institutional taxi knowledge.

        The uber model that cuts 20% of external costs compared with traditionally regulated taxi companies should be looked at closely.

        Luddites wouldn’t even consider such developments.

        I’ll just give you comments two thumbs up now.

      • e-clectic says:

        OK – so upvote if you think Gareth did great work,
        Down vote if you think Gareth did shit work.

        • e-clectic says:

          Upvote if you think the Greens are Luddites
          Downvote if you think the Greens are progressive technologists

          • e-clectic says:

            Upvote – the myth of Greens as Luddites should be exploded
            Downvote – the myth of Greens as Luddites should be perpetuated as a self-evident truth

            • Rosemary McDonald says:

              Ignore the up/down votes e-clectic.

              I am pretty sure they are not an accurate reflection of the merits of a comment.

  4. Raymond says:

    Of course the banksters choose BMWs over Tesla for ministerial cars. And sell off our family silver electricity generation. Pond scum.

  5. e-clectic says:

    Gosman – his comment has one upvote.
    The next three comments all have one downvote each.

    Undoubtedly a coincidence.

    • Aaron says:

      It’s interesting watching the actions of the National Party social media team.

      Perhaps one of their aims to to hit the press releases of certain individuals and create a bit of noise. Gosman certainly got here fast on this one.

      Actually on the subject of Gosman, has anyone else noticed that the quality of his trolling has gone downhilll lately? It’s like he’s a different person.

  6. Draco T Bastard says:

    A question I thought we should ask, should we allow access, maybe only for the first 5000 electric cars on our roads to utilise bus lanes as part of transitioning and making more desirable zero emission vehicles?

    No because we should be discouraging personal cars as they’re totally uneconomic. Once you consider how much personal cars are used it’s obvious that they’re essentially useless and thus a waste of scarce resources. This huge waste has been brought about by the profit motive and the lesson is obvious – greed destroys.

    You’ll probably be interested in this:

    So what’s cheapest?

    The cost of installation means the levelised costs of wind and solar are not zero, and up until now this has put renewables above fossil fuels. But this week, for the first time, analysts calculated that onshore wind is the lowest cost energy source in the UK and Germany, and solar isn’t far behind.

    This is a watershed moment in a series of long-term trends: the cost of fossil fuels changing unpredictably, nuclear getting more expensive, and renewables getting ever cheaper. Adding in the very real costs to our health and the environment makes clean energy even more economic in comparison (see this week’s chart).

    Going full renewable electric is now cheaper than using fossil fuels at all.

  7. Matt says:

    The problem with solar energy is that the consumer has to incur upfront fixed costs of installation. Currently is it actually more economical to stay on the national grid than to install solar power. However with time and as the technology becomes more efficient it will become economical to install solar power at your house. However, solar power is actually damaging to the poorest people in our country. The high up-front costs mean that low income families will not be able to afford the panels and will remain on the grid. In the future as people convert to solar and leave the grid, power companies will have to cover their costs with much lower demand. This will inevitably result in power price rises and potentially increased power cuts. This will effect the most vulnerable in our economy. Conclusion – solar energy isn’t all that its cracked up to be.

    • Brian Smith says:

      “In the future as people convert to solar and leave the grid, power companies will have to cover their costs with much lower demand”- This should read: ‘In the future as people convert to solar and leave the grid, power companies will have to increase prices to maintain levels of returns for shareholders due to much lower demand’.

    • Draco T Bastard says:

      The answer to all of that is that the government renationalises power generation and distribution and then runs it as a government service primarily paid for through taxes. To help with the generation solar panels will be installed upon every building.

      It’s truly amazing what can happen when we cooperate rather than fighting each other as the present psychopathic capitalist paradigm requires.

      The Case Against Competition

    • millsy says:

      What about power prices as they are now? They are simply unafforable, due to the dividends and profits being stripped out of the company. Our power would only cost $100 per household per month if shareholders didnt get their cut.

  8. Dennis Merwood says:

    Tesla has no patents and is pushing a mature dead-end technology in lithium-ion batteries. He’s just stuffing more batteries into the trunk.

    The japanese are moving ahead with a potentially very viable hydrogen fuel cell which really will be a technological breakthrough if successful. Sadly, Tesla seems to be is a pyramid scheme using federal grants and state incentives to capitalize and sell pollution credits. What happens when the free money dries up? Musk is a con man selling people their dreams. The financial numbers for the companies continued existence just don’t pencil out.

    The reality is, if a company produces a product for which there is no market, it will at some point go tits up. There is a very limited market for a US$80,000 car. Tesla Motors has more red flags around it that Communist Party anniversary march.

    Sure, a good number of people will have made money on the playing the stock’s carefully managed sleigh ride -but when the thing does go down there will be an equally good number who got suckered by smoking the green fairy’s pipedream.

  9. Andrewo says:

    Fantastic Gareth

    How quiet was the electric powered aeroplane you flew over in….?

    • e-clectic says:

      Not as quiet as you @AndrewO when I asked you to outline your vision for New Zealand.

    • Sam Sam says:

      Aeroplanes are as quiet as climate change deniers.

      Andrew. If you are not aware of the acoustic values of jet turbines then there is not much we can help we can provid in answering your questions here.

      If your are interested in sound proofing jet engines then an aeronautic engineering cert at aeronautic engineering.co.nz would be a good place to develop your interests.

      Here we are talking about cars. Cars that use lithium ion batteries which contain a particularly grainy type of salt and iron that is abundantly available in Australia and New Zealand. It just so happens that it is possible to extract these resources in our countries with out turning the area into dissolute wast lands. With the proper planing that other more corrupt democracies ignore.

      • Richard Christie says:

        lithium ion batteries which contain a particularly grainy type of salt and iron that is abundantly available in Australia and New Zealand

        I’m unaware of any workable lithium deposits in NZ.

        Also, are you confusing the words iron and ion?

        • Sam Sam says:

          Anoids are made out of metal. Depending if the battery flows or or is static.

          I should point out that I am not a physicist. But I know there are several ways to make to make lithium batteries that do not contain metals.

          Metals do help to contain chemical cocktails after all 😀

        • Draco T Bastard says:

          Actually, there’s some 500 tonnes per year of lithium washed down the Waikato after it’s gone through just one of our geothermal generation plants. That will be a viable source once we learn how to catch it. And there’s probably other useful elements in the water as well.

          There’s also many other known deposits of useful elements around the country that could be exploited. Aluminium, gallium, germanium, thorium, silicon, etc, etc.

          It’s not that we don’t have the resources it’s that we’ve decided that it’s cheaper and easier to import. Of course if we had the level playing field that free-market economics demands we’d be full on exploiting those deposits and trade would minimize.

    • Really, Andrew? And pray tell, what power source did your computer use when you made your post at 4.24PM today? Diesel? Coal?

      • Andrewo says:

        Out come all the misinformed clowns!

        The point I was making further up the page was that Gareth has told us nothing that he couldn’t have found out during a quick search on the internet. But instead he chose to use the taxpayers money to burn jet fuel, spew CO2 into the atmosphere whilst flying to the USA to take part in a blatant junket.

        But of course pigs are more equal than other animals, so it’s OK for him to do it.

        He’s right at a superficial level though: Electricity certainly does have a bright future but what he didn’t mention is:

        > The Tesla he drove is so vastly expensive it won’t penetrate 1% of the market.

        > The Lithium Ion batteries the Tesla uses lose their capacity as they age and have a limited number of recharges in them.

        > New aluminium/carbon battery technology is set replace Lithium. The new batteries use cheaper more readily available materials, charge fast and have a vastly greater lifespan with no loss of capacity.

        So any Tesla you buy today will likely be obsolete in 5 years.

        He also didn’t mention:

        > New fracking technology has driven the marginal cost of oil well below US$30 per barrel

        > This same technology has opened up vast new oil reserves such that Texas now has more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia. Worldwide we have oil left for many hundreds of years because of this.

        > There is no electric option for aircraft, long distance trucking or agriculture

        > There is no zero carbon option for shipping, unless of course you want to go nuclear… 😉

        So oil is going to be with us for some time yet.

        • So any Tesla you buy today will likely be obsolete in 5 years.

          Andrew,

          You’re kidding, right? Everything is obsolete in 5 years these days. Look at the succeeding generation of smart phones, TVs, tablets, etc, they’re bringing out each year. Our economy is based on planned obsolence.

          If a Tesla car takes 5 years to be obsolete that’s pretty damned good!

          • Andrewo says:

            Frank,

            You carefully only made reference to disposable consumer electronics.

            The cars we drive as pretty much the same as they were 25 years ago because we can’t change physics & chemistry.

            • I made no such “careful” delineation. I simply rattled off the top few consumer goods that came to mind.

              The same applies to cars. New models appear every year, with massive advertising and finance-inducements to persuade the consumer to “trade in” or “trade up”.

              The same principle of mass consumerism and planned obsolescence applies.

              “The cars we drive as pretty much the same as they were 25 years ago because we can’t change physics & chemistry.”

              That is plain rubbish.

              • Andrewo says:

                And you plainly don’t know what you’re talking about.

                In the last quarter of a century the technology change in cars has been at best, superficial.

                Hybrids are the only significant change but are only a minor part of the overall automobile market.

                • Congratulations, Andrew, you are the first right wing technology-and-climate-change-denier I’ve ever encountered. You’ve managed to show your crass ignorance on the global auto-industry as well as international climate science.

                  Anything else? Evolution? Physics? Plate tectonics? The laws of gravity?

                • Priss's husband says:

                  Andrew, if you think that the last couple of decades in advancement in automotive engineering is “superficial” then you are a bigger fool than I realised.

                  I’m a motor mechanic, mate, and I can tell you that today’s state of the art cars are as different to 20 years ago, as the first Ford was to horse and buggy.

                  No way could an untrained mechanic from 1990s work on a car build today. No. Fucking. Way.

                  So keep your brainless comments to yourself. Your a joke.

                  • Andrew says:

                    Yeah, today they’re all gas turbines with hydrodynamic transmissions.

                    Pistons, cams, con-rods, shell bearings, crankshafts, clutches, gearboxes, differentials, rubber tyres, disc brakes are all things of the past….

                    not.

                    • Sam Sam says:

                      Don’t forget to include those annoying yanky alarm bells that chime off when you hit 100 or forget to put ya seat belt on are getting more sophisticated and annoying they now include parallel parking.

        • Draco T Bastard says:

          New fracking technology has driven the marginal cost of oil well below US$30 per barrel

          Amazing because I was reading the other day that fraking had come to the end of it’s useful lifespan as there just wasn’t enough oil being released any more to make it worthwhile.

          Worldwide we have oil left for many hundreds of years because of this.

          But the real question is why we would want to keep burning it when doing so:

          1. Is causing so much damage to the ecosystem and
          2. We could use those resources for much more

          Really, burning fossil fuels has always been more expensive than renewables.

        • Sam Sam says:

          Bah hahahahahahahaha. What a load of dribble. You do realise the prime minister used the same mode of transport to get to the Paris Conference.

          And WTAF is 30 dollars a barrel going to do when fraking couldn’t even turn a profit at 100 dollars a barrel.

          You are really into the conspiracy theories now Andrew. Lay off the saki. Your drunk

  10. Grant says:

    Disregarding Gosman’s uneducated grab for attention, what green policies has the Green Party put together, or would like to implement, in the next election regarding New Zealand’s shift to sustainability, charging infrastructure for EV’s and incentives for both power generation/storage and purchase of EV’s? Thanks

  11. Robert Atack says:

    Un fing believable ??? A Green party politician ???
    To promote this BS, Gareth has more or less ignored about 95% of the facts, when it comes to climate change, resource depletion, and the collapse of the global ponzie scheme that is global finance.
    I can’t even be bothered really pointing out how much of a fool this guy is !
    I give up
    http://www.guymcpherson.com
    22after.com
    ho hum

    • Sam Sam says:

      That’s fine. We’ll just keep writing with out you

    • e-clectic says:

      Robert – draw a line running from Antony Watts (up with that) through the IPCC, the 350.org crowd and on to Guy McPherson.
      On that continuum, the vast majority of people are bunched between Watts and the IPCC and a smaller bunch between IPPC and 350. There’s an extremely tiny bunch out near the Guy McPherson end.
      People I know who get CC more than the average Joe really don’t want to go anywhere near Guy. There’s definitely no votes anywhere near Guy.
      Gareth is moving people along that continuum as best he can: it’s quite probably too little too late but any faster and he’ll scare the horses.
      The Greens also have to fight the perception that they are “riddled with negativity”. It’s a tough gig.

      Best hope is that the financial collapse comes soon and is a doozy.

  12. CLEAGREEN says:

    Dear Gareth,

    You are copying what James Shaw sent to our Environment Centre last week so we sent this letter to you then.

    We oppose Corporations controlling our use of power and increasing the cost of power four times when they only cost the same to produce and just pocket the money at our collective expense.

    Just another Elitists Ponzi scheme.

    Thank you David & Gareth for sending us request for support of our rights to produce our own Solar power supplies.

    I would have thought it was our right exclusively anyway as we all share the planet don’t we & strongly oppose any attempt by global Corporate Governance to control over this public resource?

    David & Gareth you have now both asked our Environmental Centre for the following;

    FW: Want to make your own power from the Sun you asked, and we add our comments below and references attached also?

    Our Environmental Centre both firstly support solar energy private use with comments for your response please both David & Gareth,

    On medical doctor’s reports and issues surrounding future security & personal privacy reasons we reject the current “smart meter technology”.

    Our Environmental Centre both solidly reject this technology and add our voice to the personal rights of all individuals rights to own and operate their own original style “Ferraris” mechanical metering (as they did pre 1991 before power companies were privatised,)

    These simple older model meters have no electronics or electricity pollution.

    They can reverse the readings of power used automatically as the solar system feeds power back to the grid.

    We ask you to also support clean energy by using simple mechanical, reversible metering please.

    The health issues resulting from the current overuse of all electronic metering now placed on our grid systems with their “switched mode power supplies” (SMPS

    https://maisonsaine.ca/sante-et-securite/electrosmog/smart-meters-correcting-gross-misinformation.html

    Thank you David & Gareth.

  13. Kim dandy says:

    Small steps…



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