1. PEOPLE AND ENERGY – WHERE ARE WE GOING?
Energy is a big topic. Recently, the power companies’ profit forecast of $500 million for 2004 hit the headlines. Despite these profits, energy costs in New Zealand are still ridiculously low by international standards. We have problems: Maui gas supplies running down, emissions leading to climate change, increased reliance on imported oil and ongoing arguments about transmission problems and supply security.
There is plenty of discussion about our supply and demand problems, but we also need to talk about solutions. The Royal Society’s conference last Thursday on ‘People and Energy: How do we use it?’ complemented other recent fora, and a recently-released government document on sustainable energy (available at http://www.med.govt.nz/ers/environment/sustainable-energy/discussion/index.html). This is the first Government document to start using terms like ‘peak oil’and ‘demand-side management’. In the next few weeks we will look at these discussions in more detail.
This morning, the Hon Pete Hodgson, Minister of Energy, stated that the place to begin is not with supply but with demand. While only 16% of the Foundation of Research, Science and Technology’s funding for energy research is spent on energy efficiency and conservation, this research is providing interesting answers. The greatest savings are made through technological changes, rather than behavioural. For example, refrigerator efficiency has increased by 70% since 1986. The Household Energy End-use Project, run by BRANZ, analysed where our energy goes at home. The study found there is room for demand reduction in several areas: repair or replacement of refrigerators; hot water cylinder wraps; using a low-flow shower head or low-pressure water systems; and household insulation. These solutions are cost effective and many require minimal household investment.
While only 12% of our national energy consumption is residential, such research still offers valuable information for demand-side management. Such ‘demand’ research should be encouraged in transport and industrial sectors too.