A recent Ministry for the Environment report, ‘Our Atmosphere and Climate’, highlights just how far New Zealand has to go in turning sustainability ambitions into reality, and demonstrates that increasing emissions are already impacting New Zealand.
Amongst other findings, the report notes carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased 23% since 1972, New Zealand gross greenhouse gas emissions have risen 24% from 1990 to 2015, New Zealand has experienced a 1°C temperature increase since 1909 and sea levels have risen 14–22cm at four New Zealand ports since 1916.
Vector is not immune. Auckland’s energy network and everyone who relies on them is already directly exposed to the effects of climate change, through the increase in extreme weather events.
And I’m not saying the energy sector is carbon or emission free. But we know we – and all other businesses – must play a role in accelerating towards a low carbon economy. We cannot assume that our good fortune as a nation in having a relatively high proportion of renewable energy means we can pat ourselves on the back and think, we’re okay.
A clean energy future is no more just a ‘have to have’, it’s also becoming a competitive advantage for our country. That’s because the same technologies taking the world by storm are also dramatically boosting the potential of clean energy by making it much cheaper, smarter, and more convenient.
Vector is committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2030 and we will be reporting on our progress towards this. This is not the just ‘the right thing to do’. From a business perspective, it’s a way of minimising the future impacts of climate change which will make our jobs a lot harder, add enormous cost and disrupt the power we all depend on.
At Vector, we believe the biggest action New Zealand can take is to wholeheartedly embrace new technology and disruption which will accelerate the decarbonising of our economy. Vector is already seeing a significant shift to distributed energy, which incentivises home solar energy generation and storage, and helps enable the growing popularity of EV’s.
We are actively trialling peer-to-peer technology that will enable energy trading and significant efficiency improvements in energy use. We’re investing in ‘internet of energy’ capability to allow us to manage complex networks in a much more sophisticated way, allowing customers to easily access low cost energy and automate their assets to optimise energy use and cost.
We have also installed over a million smart meters in New Zealand homes to help consumers understand and adapt their energy use to improve efficiency, and the more we can use data analytics to understand energy consumption patterns, the more we can spread network load and optimise energy networks and platforms for customers.
In the EV space, we’ve been expanding our rapid charger network, and pioneering new ‘Vehicle to Grid’ and ‘Vehicle to Home’ solutions to assess what role EVs can play as mobile energy sources. This is on top of efforts to introduce more large battery storage to our network, and exploring carbon capture technology to reduce emissions from gas processing.
Of course, climate change knows no borders, so we are also taking the energy tech revolution offshore, installing clean energy solutions and thousands of smart meters in Australia, and supporting a transition to renewable energy in the Pacific Islands, with solar and battery.
From Vector’s perspective, all these technologies deliver the sorts of win-win scenarios which I believe is central to transitioning New Zealand to a zero-carbon economy. They incentivise smarter and more efficient use of resources by making the end user’s life easier, cheaper, or both. They allow businesses to get more out of their assets, and ultimately, they put more power in the hands of consumers.
Adopting energy technology also addresses the need for a more resilient economy as the effects of emissions from years past continue to make their presence felt. A distributed energy network, for instance, doesn’t just put more choice in the hands of individual consumers, it helps them be less reliant on a national grid susceptible to what were once seen as 1-in-100 year events.
Every industry is facing climate change. And every industry is working to a greater or lesser degree on technology-driven solutions to address it. The pressing need for action on carbon, and the disruption we are facing as an industry, should push us to think smarter about the way we use and distribute energy. As part of the energy supply chain, we know we’ve got to find solutions that tick several boxes, a crucial one being ‘clean and green’.
To do that we can’t be afraid of trialing new technologies. New Zealand’s size, urban population, and emissions profile provides a perfect test bed for innovative solutions. In fact, we see Vector as a welcoming host for disruption. We are looking to attract partnerships with innovative start-ups trialling technologies that can transform what we do. We know not every trial will be successful but by engaging, collaborating and partnering with agile disruptors, we can develop a range of smart solutions that also support our transition to a Net Zero economy.
The transition to a net zero New Zealand does not come without challenges and we recognise we all have to play a part – as individuals, communities, businesses and governments. On our side is technology disruption, which is providing us with more tools than ever to reduce our impact on the environment.
If embracing technological disruption is the most important thing we can do for a clean energy future, it’s crucial we have a supportive environment for it.