21 Aug Our choice of electricity provider can make a big difference
Recently at Scarecrow we were excited to switch our power provider to Ecotricity: a NZ retailer of 100% renewable energy. Their mission is to sell kiwis electricity from sources that generate no greenhouse gas emissions, including hydropower (from the dams dotted around our North and South Islands), wind turbines, and distributed solar systems.
Power plants in Aotearoa: the clean and the dirty
Not all power generation in Aotearoa is clean nor green, despite our glowing reputation for renewable electricity. We New Zealanders pump out around 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (equivalent) to power our homes and businesses every year—amounting to about 7% of our overall greenhouse gas emissions. Although our share of climate-heating emissions that comes from electricity production is lower than in most countries, we have plenty of room (say, about 4 million tonnes’ worth) to improve.
Hydropower from dams accounts for 57% of our national power production, and wind turbines make up another 5%, but the remaining 38% comes from gas, geothermal, coal, and oil generation. But a by-product of those fuels is hurting the living world: they produce 76 to 970 grams of CO2 (equivalent) for every unit of electricity that we can use. No, it’s not a typo: even our geothermal energy, traditionally considered a renewable resource, produces 20 to 340 grams of CO2 per unit of power—which is only enough to power your air conditioner for 20 minutes.
Over 25,000 NZ homes and businesses have also installed solar panels on their properties. But electricity directly from the sun only supplies around half of one percent of our country’s total electricity usage.
With our optimal wind conditions and good sunlight hours, Aotearoa has plenty of opportunity to boost our share of renewable generation in the power system. Wind generation can meet around 40% of our overall electricity demands, without destabilising the electricity grid. And our distributed investments in solar power have reached less than 2% of their potential capacity around the country. So if we installed solar panels on every home and commercial building, we could boost the power we get from solar 50 times over. That would generate enough solar power to replace up to 4 million petrol-fuelled cars and buses with electric vehicles, whose batteries, in turn, can help stabilise the variable production of solar panels. This will help revolutionise our (currently super-polluting) transport system.
Choosing Ecotricity and 100% CarboNZero
In Aotearoa, our power market structure offers us the option to buy electricity from one of several dozen different retail providers. Ecotricity sets itself apart as the only company that provides Toitū carbonzero or 100% carboNZero-certified renewable energy. So at Scarecrow, we can be sure of the provenance of our electric power: it comes from the Monowai, Roaring Meg, Teviot hydro dams, the Flat Hill Wind Farm and the distributed Solar generators owned by Ecotricity’s customers.
Ecotricity offsets the lifecycle carbon emissions associated with the building of their wind farms, the mining of the silicon for solar panels and the carbon emissions associated with concrete used for constructing hydro generation etc. They also have to track the carbon associated with maintaining their facilities. This is audited annually by Toitū Envirocare to a United Nations approved framework to ensure that Ecotricity is able to maintain its carbonzero certification.
It speaks volumes on our clean, green reputation that even highly industrialised, wealthy countries like the UK, Germany, Singapore, Turkey, and France have lower GHG emissions levels per inhabitant than we do in New Zealand. We emit more climate pollutants per capita than almost any other economically advanced country (with some notable exceptions like Australia, the USA and Canada). Beyond population, our GHG emissions as a share of GDP are also higher than for similarly wealthy countries.
We have glaring opportunities to reduce this carbon intensity, not least by cutting down our dependence on fossil fuels for transport and electricity generation. If we want to honour our global commitments and show our living planet and Papatuanuku the respect they deserve, we need to make urgent changes to the basic infrastructures that we rely on to live.
Signing up to Ecotricity was simple and seamless. It doesn’t just soothe our conscience about how clean our lighting, fridge and steriliser are, it’s also our way of getting behind their mission that supports new renewable power plants in Aotearoa.
Author: Gabrielle Dyson
Gabrielle is a Paris-based consultant and researcher in energy, environment, agriculture and food systems.
Featured image: Monowai Hydro Dam