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Guest Editorial

Sunlit Hope: Renewable Revolution Pierces Climate Gloom

The devastating impacts of Cyclone Gabrielle and climate change remain fresh in our minds, rightly acting as a warning of much worse yet to come. But amidst the gloom, an astounding revolution is underway with cause for some genuine climate optimism.
 |  Denis Tegg  | 
Solar and Wind Power New Zealand

Solar, wind, and battery technologies are growing exponentially, their prices tumbling like dominoes with further cost declines yet to come.  Forget magic bullets like exorbitantly expensive nuclear plants which take 40 years to commission in the USA and must remain off limits in our earthquake-prone islands.   Entire countries are already powered by 100% renewables, and cloudy Scotland just achieved 113%, proving it’s not a future dream, but a present reality.

Globally renewables increased by 50% in 2023 with all-time highs in Europe, USA and Brazil.  China commissioned more solar PV than the entire world in 2022.  Renewables eclipsing coal by 2025, nuclear in 2026 –a clean energy sweep. (Source: IEA)

But even with the world investing three times more this still creates a very narrow window to keep global heating below 1.5 degrees and avoid the worst climate impacts.   New Zealand has a lot of catching up to do.  Our animal-agriculture-dominated economy faces growing consumer resistance overseas and likely trade barriers because of high animal methane pollution.

Wind and solar provide steady baseload, and existing hydro and geothermal plus a myriad of exciting new battery technologies can step in for peak demand and storage.  All our economy can be electrified and powered by wind, water, and sun.  It’s a job-creation bonanza, and is already the cheapest energy source, with even steeper cost declines ahead

Forget slow and steady

Renowned futurist Tony Seba, envisions a “superpower” future where we crank solar and wind past peak demand by 20%. This surplus acts like a mega-battery, smoothing dips, and slashing storage needs. Think bulk discounts – the more you generate, the cheaper it gets. This near-zero cost energy could power countless new enterprises presently considered ‘nice to haves’.  Storage still plays a role, but overproduction is the key: a self-feeding loop of abundant, dirt-cheap clean energy. (Source: Rethink X)

Meanwhile, industrial heat processes, responsible for 15%-20% of global emissions, are about to be tackled by the humble brick. Thousands of iron-wire-infused bricks soak up solar and wind energy, acting as a battery and releasing heat on demand 24/7 like a giant industrial toaster. With bricks essentially made from dirt, this technology can power everything from cement kilns to Fonterra drying milk powder, slashing emissions, and costs, and making clean industrial heat energy supremely cost-effective. (Source: Rondo)

We are on the cusp of a clean energy revolution rapidly transforming industries like energy, transport, and food, not just curbing emissions. Forget slow and steady.  Remember when the internet and smartphones arrived? They dominated markets in less than eight years and transformed society.  Clean energy will come even faster and be vastly more transformative.

Imagine by decade-end, electric robo-taxis of any vehicle type (yes including utes) available on demand, slashing car ownership and emissions in cities, with greatly lower cost and convenience.   Up to 30% of central city land presently reserved for parking, could be freed up for green space, public transport, walking and cycling, easing congestion.

Precision fermentation, like how we brew beer in a vat, promises identical, tasty, affordable food proteins, free from animal agriculture’s climate and environmental footprint. This renewable-powered food revolution can be produced anywhere and could secure food for all while slashing emissions.

This new technology will soon disrupt global food systems, with NZ’s dairy the first to face its economic and social shocks, with meat to follow.  Denial of this imminent threat grips our politicians and farming leaders, leaving our dairy industry woefully unprepared for the potentially industry-wrecking vortex this disruptive technology unleashes later this decade.

This is a fundamental and disruptive shift, reshaping systems with ripple effects across society.   It’s not just about saving us from the worst excesses of climate change – it’s about building smarter systems and low-emission food products that overseas markets are demanding.

Renewable power is bright, but uptake is being stalled by oil companies.   Our political leaders must resist their insidious influence, unleash the economic and climate might of renewables, and prioritise a just transition for all.

We need our politicians to walk and chew gum at the same time.   They must get serious about slashing our agriculture and other emissions.   But also, urgently set the policy/legal framework to allow this renewable energy blueprint for a sustainable future to grow and flourish.

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About the Author: Denis, former Waikato Regional Councillor and Thames lawyer, will be our Guest Editor for a stint and Ross Liggins will return after that. We are most appreciative of the grateful of the contributions of our Guest Editors.