Coal getting us out of a hole

It seems like an amazing admission in these times — that we still need coal to keep the lights on.

A high percentage of New Zealand’s electricity — about 80% — comes from renewable hydro or geothermal sources, should anyone need reminding of the fact. We have built a proud reputation for generating power from largely clean sources.

Yet the minute any extra pressure is placed on our creaking national grid, by constraints on generating plant, particularly when South Island hydro-electric lakes are low, or when there is high demand caused by a cold snap, we still have to reach for coal as our saviour.

Figures released this week by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment provide a shocking example of this. In the first half of this year, more than 1 million tonnes of coal was burnt in New Zealand, a greater amount than used in any full-year since 2012.

Between April and June, 12% of the nation’s electricity came from burning coal, and in that quarter coal imports were the highest on record, at 632,000 tonnes.

The upshot of this is that renewable energy generation in the quarter dropped to 75%, the lowest since 2013 and more than 10 percentage points down on the highest recorded, in December 2019.

This amount of coal burning is an inconvenient truth for the Government and Energy Minister Megan Woods.

It is also embarrassing for a government which has expressly stated its desire to have 100% renewable electricity by 2030.

Unfortunately, the options to avoid coal when the hydro-lakes are low have been limited. While hydro and geothermal generation dropped 5% each in the June quarter, generation from gas was down 13%, due to what MBIE said was a ‘‘tightened gas supply’’ from the Pohokura gas field.

Gas has been acknowledged as a vital cog in the machine for New Zealand’s transition to a low-carbon economy and there are currently concerns that proposed legislation around it may affect the security of electricity supply.

One hundred percent renewable electricity is certainly the way to go.

But the recent bind is a reminder that we are a long way off it yet.

And that largely relying on water, wind and sun in a place with such changeable weather as New Zealand still leaves us at the mercy of coal if anything goes wrong.

And another thing . . .

What on earth is wrong with people these days?

Less than a week after the terrifying terror attack in the New Lynn supermarket, which left seven people injured and others traumatised, Countdown staff in a number of stores are reporting an increase in abuse from customers.

RNZ says the abuse has been both verbal and physical. Countdown spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin says it has resorted to body cameras to try to prevent violence and record any that does happen.

Sure, people have a lot on their minds at the moment, particularly those in Auckland where the Covid-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown continues. It is a very stressful time and the world seems like a pretty dark place some days.

But this kind of violence is appalling and totally unacceptable. Lowly-paid supermarket staff on the front line — many of them young people still at school or studying — should not have to deal with such repugnant behaviour.

It really makes a mockery of our ‘‘team of 5 million’’. Perhaps it is really only a team of, say, 4.95 million or so, with the remainder a morass of self-absorbed morons, just out for themselves.

The most charitable conclusion is we should feel sorry for these people because they are clearly lacking in the brains department and/or when it comes to empathy.

The alternative conclusion is they are simply nasty and inadequate, and do little themselves to contribute to a better, more understanding society.

Comments

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What percentage of national electricity generation does Tiwai Point use? Around 13%. Once it is finally closed our reliance on coal may be drastically reduced.

There is not enough transmission capacity to take the power north, let alone across the strait
The cost of building it is in the billions of $, taking years to do so, not to mention the emission created in doing so
Wishful thinking doesn't solve problems

A peer-reviewed study, published in the scientific journal Nature on Wednesday, found that 90% of coal must remain unextracted and nearly 60% of oil and fossil methane gas must stay underground to have even a 50% chance of keeping global temperatures from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
The findings of this report and the continued consumption of fossil fuels here and elsewhere reaffirm the yawning gap between meaningful climate action and the rhetoric of policymakers and business leaders touting their commitment to a so-called "climate emergency".

It's not the only inconvenient truth that results from endless 'good intentions' acted out as policy, within an economy so contorted and controlled as ours.
It's easy to make laws, ban things and destroy societies when you believe in a utopia. There are no total solutions to any problems, only compromises, a concept our greenies don't understand.
If the Waitaki power scheme was built we could easily be at 100%. If we used the Carbon Tax money to build wind turbines instead of giving it to the Ukraine, same result. If we didn't electrify beyond generation capacity, again same result.
Instead government likes to signal how virtuous they are and we keep falling for it because we like to be nice too.
Consider how the goal was to reduce rental and housing costs. Again, niceness = opposite result.
The carbon farming (tree planting) is taking us down the same path. Keith Woodford, a Prof of Farm Magnt & Agribus says that a carbon price of $100/t would wipe out all sheep and beef farming, locking up the land forever. Bang goes another $10b pa.
You complain about an 'increase of abuse' and why people can't just be nice. I wonder how long the 'niceness' can continue, given the madness!

Re.... Sustainability, Rio Tinto and OUR NZ Power.

There used to be a Professor in NZ. Susan Krumdieck. (sadly not listened to...and left for Greener pastures)

I ALSO don't see so called "Green" Hydrogen...as any answer.

Rail. Electrified. Makes sense.

Another thought provoking editorial from the ODT. Keep it up.
In relation to our electricity production and supply levels there is one important element that I feel you have missed. That is: the propensity of the ill-considered commercial industry model/structure that was put in place by Max Bradford back in the late 1990s to create electricity supply shortages deliberately to manipulate retail prices. How much of the need for coal is artificially created by profit driven motives.
In regard to your observations on the "self absorbed morons out there". I think your estimate of the size of that group is about right, but the problem is that they are noisy, they make their grievances heard whereas the rest of us just get on with life and make the best of what can be trying times.
This is not helped by your industry who seem only too pleased to offer them a platform to be heard. Indeed some of your confederates, (although not so much the ODT itself), present this noxious minority's grievances as though it is a majority point of view. Perhaps the media should put a little more effort into your industry standards about reporting such nonsense as news.

If all vehicles were electric it has been estimated that electricity consumption will increase by 25%. Given the current power management strategy in New Zealand there would be few options other than burning coal especially when the wind wasn’t blowing or the rain falling. Given that the majority of people living on the planet have few “green” options because of extreme poverty and populations will continue to grow; whatever we decide to do will not make the slightest difference. While trying to fight the change is noble, managing the change will be the pragmatic and inevitable alternative.

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