Investing in the future (or not?)

Whilst oil and gas prices have risen a bit over the past year, it is still cheaper than the USD 100/barrel plus days. In spite of that cheapness, the shift towards renewable energy is continuing unabated in many parts of the world. That shift is happening in often small discreet ways, as the examples that follow illustrate.

Moving 100% away from fossil fuels

Ta’u is a small island in America Samoa. It has a population of around a 1,000 people. It has relied on diesel generators to supply almost all its power needs for many years. They asked for expressions of interest for commercial groups to submit proposals that would enable the island to move to an almost 100% renewable electricity future. SolarCity (part of the Tesla group) put up a combined solar cell/battery storage microgrid proposal that has been constructed and now supplies 99% of the islands power needs. It has sufficient battery storage to cover 3 days without sun and recharges in just 7 hours of sunshine. The solution saves the island nearly 420,000 litres diesel a year as well as eliminating around 1.1 million kg of CO2 emissions annually.

Increasing regional resiliency

The Far North of New Zealand is at the ‘end’ of the national power supply grid. Whilst much of New Zealand’s electricity is generated from renewable sources (over 80% on average), this region has traditionally largely relied on power supplied through the national grid from places as far away as the lower South Island. That grid link is also highly vulnerable (as demonstrated recently when much of the region lost power for much of a day) and the grid operator, Transpower, intends to change the pricing model for transmission of power so that those living furthest from the generation source pay the highest costs. The Far North is one of the poorest socio-economic regions in the country and so the proposed increases in cost will hit many hard. As a result, the local power company, Top Energy, is expanding a small geothermal plant at Ngawha so that it will supply all the Far North’s electricity needs. Once online the region will have greater resilience in terms of security of supply and also potentially not be adversely impacted by the proposed Transpower pricing model changes.

In contrast….

In Trinidad and Tobago, the completion of a large oil and gas production platform, Juniper Topside, was celebrated by a senior political figure. That country’s economy has been hit hard by global oil and gas price fluctuations. And yet there seems to be little will at the political level to develop and implement a national plan to reduce the economic reliance on fossil fuels. Rather it appears that it is easier to take the ‘easy option’ and continue relying on a commodity sector which faces an increasingly uncertain future.

What’s the point?

The point is the quality of decision making that is taking place when it comes to regional and community energy security and resiliency. Both the island of Ta’u and the Far North of New Zealand are shifting away from fossil fuels towards more resilient and sustainable futures. In contrast, Trinidad and Tobago is maintaining its dependency upon a sector that is vulnerable and is not enhancing national economic resiliency. It is all a matter of stewardship and good governance. In the first two examples both are of a high standard. In the latter, that is questionable.