Recent international reports have revealed graphic images of extreme heatwaves, flooding, inundation, storms, coastal erosion, ice-sheet melting, and so on. All of these are the consequences of climate change, which is predicted to progressively intensify over the coming century. A child born this year will live its entire life under the shadow of climate impacts caused by increasing carbon emissions generated over the past two centuries. Our chances of limiting current carbon emissions and then eliminating historical atmospheric emissions seem almost impossible – especially if we do nothing.
However, humanity can give itself a stronger chance of survival if it understands the scale of change that is needed and then has the courage to adopt new approaches. What present and future technologies exist that could give a young child a real chance for a long and secure life? The good news is that renewable energy technologies are emerging rapidly around the world.
The New Zealand electricity grid is already 84% renewable, and the national aim is to make that 100% before too long. For comparison, this is far better than the current Australian electricity grid figure, which is 24% renewable. The NZ government target for zero emission electric cars is 50% of the national fleet by 2029, which will be powered by our renewable national grid (including residential solar). NZ will ban fossil fuel internal combustion cars by 2035-2040.
Important new developments in solar and wind energy involve massive scale-up projects. Large scale solar (photovoltaic, PV) farms involving hundreds and even thousands of panels are now being established overseas. Some of these massive international PV projects, such as one in Thailand, exist as floating “floatovoltaic” farms on inland lakes. Perhaps Lake Taupo or Te Anau in the South Island might prove to be suitable locations for floatovoltaic farms. The presence of water cooling makes the floating PV farm significantly more efficient. Lodestone Energy already has 5 PV land-based farms in the North Island. The Kaitaia Solar Project includes 80,000 panels over 7 hectares, which produces 62 GWh. Large wind farms are also appearing in NZ, with the largest being in the Tararua Ranges, near Palmerston North, which includes 130 turbines generating 620 KWh.
There are other renewable projects that collectively could make NZ a future world leader in renewable energy. Replacing the obsolete Huntly coal power station by a few Small Modular Reactors would be one important move. While NZ has over the past 40 years defined itself to be anti-nuclear, the time may have come to reconsider the choice between coal with its emissions and these small, safer nuclear power units, which have no carbon emissions. These small preconstructed reactors are being developed by Rolls-Royce and Westinghouse. Such small reactors are the size of a service station and seem certain to play a key future role in the UK, USA and EU.
Another option involves tapping the continuous renewable energy from constant coastal currents by using large, submerged turbines that are being developed in Japan. Locating a series of such subsea turbines in Cook Strait could potentially supply a substantial fraction of the NZ national energy demand.
As former US President Franklin Roosevelt said during an earlier global crisis: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” The NZ community needs to be courageous and adaptable to play its part in resolving the threat of a looming global climate crisis.