In a three-part series on transport, efficiency and policy, we take a look at some of this country's trailblazers.
Juicing up electric cars
Electric vehicle power installation company JuicePoint has been behind 95 per cent of plug-in installations for recharging cars in New Zealand.
That's a total of 70 units, many of which can be used by the public.
EVs are currently able to be charged in three or four hours, but Mark Yates, director of JuicePoint, says the new ranges of EVs coming into the country will be able to uptake energy at twice the speed, and charge in half the time.
EVs which have already entered the New Zealand market include the Nissan Leaf, the Holden Volt, and the Mistubishi Outlander PHEV (plug-in electric hybrid), which sold an impressive 41 units in its first month of availability.
The BMW i3 extended range PHEV is also being launched this week, and numerous other car models are currently in testing.
Meanwhile, new research from Victoria University of Wellington suggests if electric vehicles were widely available, New Zealanders would buy enough of them to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector by one-fifth over the
next 18 years.
PhD researcher Doug Clover says there are currently only a couple of hundred electric vehicles on the road in New Zealand, but his study into the preferences of potential car
buyers shows people are keen to purchase them.
"I surveyed people intending to buy a car in the next five years and found that if electric vehicles were easy to buy now, 20 percent of those surveyed would choose them."
Building up biofuels
"For most companies success means selling more product. If we sell more of our products, the world is a worse place." So says Mike Bennetts, chief executive of Z Energy, who recently announced the development of New Zealand's biggest biofuels plant.
Investing $21m into the plant, Bennetts has firmly stamped his organisation's colours to the mast in terms of its future sustainability.
"I acknowledge climate change is real, and it is caused mostly by humans, and that the products we sell are part of the problem. We have decided that we should be part of the solution," he says.
"When we produced our sustainability policy at the end of 2010, we had 20 goals, half of which we had no idea of how we were going to achieve. To be New Zealand's biggest biofuel provider was among them."
Another of the company's goals is to develop second generation biofuels from waste wood (the Wiri plant will be first generation - made from tallow or animal fat.
Currently Z Energy has a feasibility study running with Norske Skog. "There are risks," says Bennetts, "but it's good for the brand, good economically. If companies don't generate a path to a better future then nothing will ever change."
Grass to fuel
Professor Stephen Wratten from Lincoln University's Bio-Protection Research Centre is working on quantifying the benefits of growing the giant Japanese grass Miscanthus x giganteus.
Miscanthus forms a shelter belt to replace the trees that have been stripped off dairy farms to make way for cost-effective irrigation systems. Because it's a sterile hybrid grown from cuttings or rizomes, there is low biosecurity risk.
"On dairy farms where we are growing 7m wide strips, the irrigation boom passes through and it flips up again. You can't do that with bamboo or willow," he says.
The 3.5-4m stems are harvested in August, and can be processed with catalytic converters and turned into a renewable diesel that can be poured straight into a generator or tractor.
Each hectare will produce 30 to 40 tonnes of dry matter a year, with each tonne producing 300 litres of fuel for $1.10 a litre.
It's also a supplemental feed, and in Europe, is popular as bedding for cattle kept indoors. The shelter it provides for neighbouring paddocks results in a 15 per cent increase in production of ryegrass, which is sensitive to strong wind.
Wratten can list 14 ecological services, including providing higher occupancy of bumblebee nests, which are needed for clover pollination. There are more earthworms, and microbial action around the roots seems to fix nitrogen in the soil.
Micro cars for Auckland
More acceleration than a Ferrari, the same roll bars as a Nascar racing car, as heavy as a Subaru Outback but less than a metre wide. Meet the Tango T600.
Manurewa-based IT engineer Toa Greening has brought the car to Auckland to garner support for a pilot scheme to test what market demand he can generate for assembling them here. He estimates mass-produced Tangos would cost $29,000 each, which a central transport authority could lease to commuters at a breakeven weekly fee of about $55. It would cost commuters another $15 a week to keep their cars charged.
Mr Greening says using 15,000 of them on Auckland's motorways to displace cars at peak times would free up enough space to allow all traffic to fl ow freely.
He estimates the cost of building 15,000 cars at $435 million - but says that figure is nowhere near as scary as the $68 billion of spending on transport projects and operating costs deemed necessary to cope with up to a million more Aucklanders by 2041.
Timing it right at traffic lights
James McCann is a software engineer with drive. During his final year of study at Victoria University of Wellington, he helped to develop a more cost-effective model for New Zealand's traffic lights.
McCann has created a model called the Priority Based Traffic Control system (PBTC), which proactively 'looks' ahead to cars approaching traffic lights to gauge the time they should remain green and the best time for them to turn red.
The Victoria graduate says there is a cost of waiting at an intersection, whether that's a loss of productivity from being late for work or even just additional petrol costs.
PBTC helps to minimise that cost through a wireless GPS connection to vehicles which controls traffic lights to make traffic flows more efficient.
The Climate Change Solutions series is a joint project between Element and Lincoln University, which is intended to illuminate a pathway for a sustainable future.