A view from New York

Industry Perspectives Innovation
“What’s going to happen in the next few years is a change of momentous opportunity.” 

Rory Christian, Director New York Clean Energy, Environmental Defense Fund

The energy sector is ready for disruption. Utilities, consumers and regulators will all play a part in unlocking the benefits of innovation.

Rory Christian is the Director of New York Clean Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the world’s largest environmental organisations, with more than two million members and a staff of 550 scientists, economists and policy experts. 

On a visit to New Zealand as a guest of Vector, Rory shared his insights into how forward-thinking reforms of the energy sector in New York – broadly known as ‘Reforming the Energy Vision’ – have accelerated the adoption of new technology and helped bring clean, efficient and reliable power to more people in one of the world’s largest cities.

Industry perspectives: A view from New York from Vector Limited on Vimeo.

Rory was joined at our offices in Auckland by Dr Stephen Batstone, Director Sapere Research Group, and Brendan Winitana, Independent Director Sustainable Electricity Association NZ, to discuss the opportunities for greater consumer choice and control within the energy sector, how to help New Zealand meet its Paris climate agreement commitments, and the impact on electricity prices from emerging technology. 
Carbon is going to play such a big role in the next five to fifteen years.

Dr Stephen Batstone, Director Sapere Research Group

Part of the problem facing the electricity industry is that traditional networks – the wires and poles – must be scaled to meet peak demand which may only be for five per cent of the day. But there are alternative approaches. 

Electricity distribution companies like ourselves, have an incentive to enable more efficient use of existing infrastructure by balancing out the gap between peaks and troughs in demand – what is known in the industry as “shaving the peak”.

We're already taking steps into the future, installing a Tesla Powerpack battery system in Glen Innes. Equivalent to powering 450 homes for 2.3 hours, it stores power and helps ensure provision of reliable power by shaving the peaks. It also saves Aucklanders from paying for more costly traditional upgrades.

In this period of transition, it is important that there is a level playing field for utilities with the right incentives to encourage the sector’s natural evolution and ability to innovate. The more adaptive energy regulation is to innovation, the more likely it is for new technology and innovation to help achieve:
  • downward pressure on electricity prices through more cost-effective technology solutions and new opportunities for consumers to participate in the market
  • reduced environmental impact through better use of existing resources 
  • increased reliability through greater network flexibility and resilience

Ultimately, consumers will be the arbiters of the future of the electricity system and the relative benefits it offers to the status quo. It is more important than ever that all options are on the table.   
The case for the energy sector to head in a new direction is being driven by consumers and new technology

Brendan Winitana, Independent Director, SEANZ

From New York to Auckland

From New York to Auckland

Rory explained how a New York electric utility faced a $1 billion bill to upgrade its network to meet a peak in demand that occurred roughly 40 hours per year. 

Spending this money, and passing the cost on to customers, would essentially kick the can down the road by not taking into account changing customer usage patterns and expectations. And by 2024, the network would require a further $10 billion investment. 

Instead, they found a better way. Energy efficiency measures for the city, combined with solar and battery storage provided the required resilience. This non “poles and wires” alternative cost only $200 million, compared with the $1 billion traditional solution. 

We're looking at new ways to invest beyond “poles and wires” so money is invested more wisely, and to ensure the lights stay on as Auckland city experiences rapid growth. 

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