Renewable energy is...
At Meridian, we go on a fair bit about renewable energy, and how much we love it. So we thought it was about time to dive into the nitty gritty: what it is, and why we love it for our country, for the environment, and for future generations.
What makes renewable energy ‘renewable’?
Renewable energy is generated from the environment’s natural resources: wind, water, sun and geothermal. For something to be renewable, it doesn’t get depleted when it’s used. It’s self-sustaining, something that's not going to run out any time soon.
At Meridian, we generate energy from 100% renewable sources – wind, water and sun. That means we harness these sources as they flow through our hydro stations, wind farms and solar panels. The reason renewable sources are best is that they don’t emit any greenhouse gas emissions from generating and quickly recoup any GHG emitted during construction, which harm the environment and contribute to climate change.
In New Zealand, our electricity grid is roughly 85% renewable. While it’s not 100%, for context, it’s actually pretty good. Our neighbours across the Tasman are sitting at around 25% renewable generation.
Okay, so what’s non-renewable energy?
Here at home, about 15% of our total electricity is generated by non-renewable sources: gas, coal and a bit of diesel. Why? We’re asking the same question! Really, though, it’s historic.
New Zealand’s first power generator was actually a hydro station... but there was concern about what we would do in a drought. Not enough rain means not enough power. Gas and coal (and oil at the time) were cheap and readily available. And, when they first started to be burned to create electricity, phrases like climate change and global warming weren’t all over the headlines. People couldn’t see any immediate impact or cost. Those things have only really been on the radar for scientists since the 70s, and for most of the rest of us, since the 00s.
If we just stopped generating electricity from coal and gas tomorrow, there wouldn’t be enough electrons to go around and we’d be left in the dark. But the argument against coal and gas is pretty strong, given the amount of greenhouse gas emissions they pump into our atmosphere. So how do we ditch them?
100% renewable New Zealand?
A few of our customers have asked what it’ll take to get to a 100% renewable grid. We could talk for hours about this... but here's a quickfire version to give you the gist.
Since the 1950s, there’s been a global challenge in meeting growing demand for electricity, at the lowest cost possible. And now, the newest card on the table is reducing carbon. That’s what we call the energy trilemma: trying to balance all three.
The good news is, it won’t be too long until New Zealand’s gas and coal power stations simply run out of puff. Just like an old car, they need to close or retire. And when that happens, it’s an opportunity to replace it with a renewable energy generator – like a wind farm, hydro station or geothermal plant.
Hopefully soon we’ll have loads of new technology, like batteries that'll store electricity for when the weather doesn’t play ball.
A fifty(ish) word summary:
- Renewable energy is generated from self-sustaining sources: wind, water, sun and geothermal.
- Non-renewables are gas and coal.
- NZ’s grid is about 85% renewable, which is pretty epic.
- When tech comes to the party, bring on a 100% renewable New Zealand!