New Zealand likes to boast that it derives much of its energy from renewables: hydro, geothermal and wind power. Yet fossil fuels account for 60 per cent of our annual energy use and agriculture is a major methane emitter.

It doesn't have to be this way. We can change and make money doing so. If the country embraced renewables, claims Investment NZ, we could have a $150 billion export industry by 2025.

In 2009, PricewaterhouseCoopers offered a more modest bonanza: $7.5 billion to $22 billion annually, growing by 4.5 per cent each year. Some local start-ups - LanzaTech is the poster child - have already shown Kiwi ingenuity in clean tech.

In July, the Government's Green Growth Advisory Group floated a discussion paper, asking for feedback by this week on questions such as how New Zealand can assist the growth of clean technologies.


Critics say the Government is tardy with R&D investment and is missing the chance to diversify our narrow economy by supporting renewables at home and in developing economies.

The International Energy Agency predicts that tackling climate change will generate US$27 trillion in renewables demand by 2050 in developing economies alone. Local lobby group Pure Advantage, which advocates a low-carbon future for New Zealand, reckons the global market is worth $1 trillion a year.

Yet, in a nation blessed with renewable energy sources, the Government's Energy Strategy favours marine oil and gas reserves.

"I don't think it's logical that we can increase investment in fossil fuel extraction and not damage our clean, green brand," says Pure Advantage's chairman Rob Morrison. "And there will be economic consequences if we do damage the brand. We can only be a bit player in terms of fossil fuel extraction. We can be an absolute leader in terms of clean and green solutions."

Take geothermal, an area where New Zealand seems well-placed to export know-how. China has earmarked $15.4 billion for geothermal energy, and SinOpec Group, the Chinese energy giant, has signed a five-year deal with Iceland to develop Inner Mongolian resources.

"We need to export clean and green solutions," Morrison says.