All about power

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Ute tax? While the government can get punitive, tradespeople can get creative — this solar-panelled tonneau cover is sure to have the regulators scratching their collective balding pates.

Ross Middleton says you can hardly produce a column called ‘Roof Irony’, continue ad-libbing about how hot it is up there, and not get around to discussing solar energy, its features and benefits, along with other more general energy issues.

Discussing solar energy can’t happen without looking at the bigger pictures of energy supply, energy use and the rapidly incoming effects of climate change.

The irony here is the lack of investigation and application (that this writer can see) to the pressing issues soon to be attendant on all business operators in the construction sector.

If power corrupts (confirmed by the increasingly belligerent approach the Commerce Commission is taking to power generation, and the retailing thereof to our communities) then absolute power (business leaders and legislators looking the other way) seems to be paddling in the same waka, ever more intent on reaching the far shore of profiteering, while able.

Interestingly, Utility Disputes, an organisation that manages consumer grievances with big utilities, said it’s seen a 43% increase in cases since the pandemic reared its pimply head.

Electricity and gas complaints comprised 89% of the 11,161 complaints the service received in the year to June.

Anyone who has their door knocked knows the scurrilous lengths to which power retailers will go to grow their patch.

Despite all that big green flag waving from our environment minister Big Davy Parker and his henchman Wee Jimmy Shaw, New Zealand is set to import record high levels of coal this year to burn as electricity; carbon emissions be damned.

As one commentator said, it effectively represents a massive policy failure, given the emissions intensity of coal compared to other electricity sources.

The imports have (apparently) been necessary in the short term because hydropower lake levels are low (meaning it’s more difficult to generate the cleaner form of electricity), and natural gas levels are unexpectedly low, sometimes blamed on our government’s exploration ban and the wells expectantly running dry.

Any cursory trawling of the web sites of the major players in the housing market shows a shoulder-shrugging blank when it comes to front-footing discussions, options … whatever, regarding techniques, technology, tactics and tools new home buyers can use to combat the effects of climate change.

Worryingly, it appears to be up to the consumer and individual market contractors to do the hard mahi to build a future for their kids.

The web sites of our residential construction companies are palatial places, full of beautiful imagery, happy faces and comforting wording; little more than online brochures, despite the ability the web has for detail, breadth and depth.

Most don’t bother talking about construction techniques, materials usage and certainly not utilities. “Future proofing” was important to one.

Passive housing principles appear to be a given, and not a selling point. I found one with a useful article on the benefits of solar power; this particular one also had literally dozens of other useful articles for new home buyers.

Another had an informative page on energy-efficient homes that stuck to relevant facts before resorting to the inevitable sales pitch. Showing your knowledge and empathy works as a sales tactic too.

As we move into our rapidly changing, uncertain future, I believe incorporating issues around utilities — water, waste, power and that ubiquitous fibre cable — are going to be of mounting interest and relevance to new home buyers in particular.

Tap water? Who wants to take out a third mortgage to pay for it when you can get it out of your gutters? Waste? Save the world and take care of it onsite, it may even have added value. Power? Avoid the bottom trawlers from your local retailer, scorn the door knockers, deflect the phone callers, and let your roof make your kilowatts.

Home builders may put solar power in the too hard basket, but it will contribute more to alleviating record electricity prices than they expect.

And if you’re after point-of-difference, this presents a viable and useful option. Nothing signals the need for new power options like wholesale power prices at 300% of historic levels, a politically-sensitive issue for government.

Emissions are rising rather than falling, as we rely on an increased supply from the coal-fired Huntly power station.

People able to buy new homes these days are very astute. They have to be — they’re staking their futures on their domiciliary investment like never before.

No wonder the world is currently going crazy on “alternative” energy sources. Climate change and attendant emissions controls are rapidly altering the fabric of infrastructure.

Solar, wind and hydrogen resources are the future. The fast-closing door won’t even hit fossil fuel on the bum.

Solar and wind farms are being constructed so fast that management at Shell and BP are also using up more than their share of the global Panadol market.

Despite having a face covered in soot, Australia is building solar farms at an impressive rate, with more coming on line almost monthly.

A recent report on offshore wind farms around Australia looks like a massive catalyst for change, despite the federal government’s unbridled hostility to non-polluting energy sources.

More than 10 offshore wind farms are currently proposed for Australia. If built, their combined capacity would be greater than all coal-fired power plants in that country.

In New Zealand, solar farms are also de rigueur, with our smiling leader “turning the sod” on a 32 hectare farm in Northland recently that will utilise some 32,000 panels, capable of serving around 3000 homes.

Todd Corporation’s recently-opened Kapuni solar plant shows how afraid the fossil fuel-burning incumbents are of the wells drying up.

A lines company down in Wanaka is feeling the cold to the extent it is cuddling up to the warm blanket of a solar power provider.

But it is in the private sector where solar is really taking off, as businesses and communities look at their rapidly-increasing line charges and take the power back for themselves.

How long before every home in New Zealand has an independent source of power (wind turbines are also increasingly viable)?

And how long before home builders realise how much sense it makes to include comprehensive utilities options into their offerings, and not leave it to the plethora of Stetson-wearing contractors?

The technology in solar and wind energy, including their conversion and storage systems, is advancing at eye-watering pace, and costs are dropping — going in the opposite direction of grid costs.

Off-grid-designed hybrid home systems that can cover every household contingency are being developed that offer several advantages over single-source systems.

I recently spoke to someone about Maxeon Solar Technologies in Singapore which has come up with a new way to install their frameless, thin and lightweight photovoltaic panels directly to a roof, reducing the costs of transport and installation.

The price of batteries is also falling as their sustainability and durability increases.

As the fire and flood of climate change fan a frustrating furore for all businesses, rapid change is incumbent. The businesses that survive will be those that start making the changes now — better late than never.

I love the sayings of those old Chinese philosophers. My favourite is Lao Tzu, a disciple of personal control who apparently said: “Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step”.

And my personal favourite: “The further one goes, the less one knows”. That’s me, right there.

I have sourced enough material to write a book about this subject, but the boss has given me this space.

If I was managing or owning a construction business in New Zealand I would be doing everything in my power to get a handle on these issues.

We are deep into the upper reaches of shit creek here, and some mutant crocodile has snatched our paddle.

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