Transpower CEO Alison Andrew points to a future where technology will continue to play an ever more significant role in New Zealand's transformation.
"Our electrified future means electric vehicles — whether that's our own personal cars, corporate fleets or ride share," says Andrew. "Many of us will have solar panels and batteries in our homes, to meet some of our own demand, and the ability to trade via the interconnected grid. We'll have energy efficient, smart homes using intelligent energy management systems that optimise the use of devices, electric vehicle charging, battery use and grid supply, all without us having to worry about it.
Andrew says that will also play over into the work environments which will be similarly efficient and smart. "It's an exciting and empowering energy future."
The Herald asked Andrew: Has 2020 halted sustainability progress, or has it brought it front of mind for business?
Despite the disruption brought by 2020, I believe New Zealand businesses remains as committed to progressing sustainability as before. Stakeholders and investors are demanding that we all commit to action and make greater progress toward delivering on sustainable outcomes. We have a responsibility to our customers, communities and employees that we consider the social and environmental impacts of all that we do — and take steps to ensure positive outcomes.
Economically, it already makes sense. The price of wind generation is one quarter of what it was 10 years ago, down from $140/MWh in 2010 to $35/MWh now. The price of solar generation has dropped by more than 90 per cent in the last 10 years from $400/MWh to $30/MWh today in many parts of the world. Depending on your retailer, charging an electric vehicle off peak is already the equivalent of paying 40c per litre for your fuel.
As a nation, we have the opportunity to build sustainability into the very fabric of our economy as we adjust to life post-Covid. We cannot afford to bake yet more carbon into our economy through the decisions we make today but should instead see this as a turning point in our commitment to a net-zero carbon future.
What will be the agenda for business in 2021 in terms of sustainability, including new priorities in this regard?
Covid-19 has reminded us sharply that the welfare of our people is the most critical element of our success. Having highly engaged, skilled and capable people is central to all that we do and for Transpower and has enabled us to continue delivering our service despite the disruptions. We recognise that it is essential we make the most of the strengths inherent in having a diverse and inclusive workforce and culture. We are committed to the ongoing development of our people and our organisation.
To achieve the county's net-zero carbon emissions, we need to electrify our economy. It starts by shifting the transport sector off oil and on to electric vehicles, trucks and buses. We also need to shift heat used in industry processes or for heating our large commercial and public buildings, from coal and gas, and on to electricity. Renewable electricity will power this transformation and will be the main part of the energy puzzle although biomass, direct geothermal heat, hydrogen, biogas and biofuels also have a role to play. At Transpower we have a key role to enable this energy transformation.
What role does Transpower have in helping New Zealand realise its ambition to be a low carbon economy?
As owner and operator of New Zealand's national transmission assets, and operator of the national electricity market system, Transpower is a critical enabler of this change. We take a whole-of-industry view of the sector and a long-term view of what needs to change across our asset base and within the market system, to ensure New Zealand can meet its ambitions while continuing to power communities securely, safely and reliably.
Of course, transforming an economy needs a very good plan and Transpower has a significant role to play in supporting this to happen. We need a roadmap for how we can develop our energy resources and when; what technology and infrastructure is required; what policy and regulatory settings are needed. This is the work we have outlined in our paper Whakamana i Te Mauri Hiko — Empowering our energy future. The benefits of this transformation are significant and an opportunity to:
1. Create thousands of new jobs.
2. Meet our emissions reduction targets.
3. Reduce average household energy bills by around 25 per cent by 2035.
4. Improve our air quality with health benefits.
5. Reduce our reliance on imported fuels thereby improving security of supply and our trade balance.
6. And finally, to carve out a competitive advantage — improving our international brand and attracting international investors seeking green places to do business.
What challenges are Transpower facing (internal or external) over the coming year in making this happen and what approaches are needed to overcome them?
We have identified nine key areas of focus that will require collaboration across industry if we wish to achieve a net-zero carbon future. These include policy changes to remove barriers to low-carbon infrastructure and incentivise electrification and renewables, including RMA reform.
An immediate focus for Transpower is to streamline our connections process so new generation can be connected into the grid more effectively.
We are also focused on improved grid planning so we can be proactive in making this transition happen. We need to do this alongside industry and drawing from the collective knowledge that exists across the sector. The benefit for everyone is that we can all plan for the future, more effectively.
A more challenging nut to crack is ensuring we have access to the skilled workforce needed to deliver on this future. We need improved vocational training, greater workforce diversity and a stronger sector brand that attracts young people motivated by our goal of decarbonisation.