New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world where renewable energy is thriving. A majority of the country’s energy needs (more than 80 percent) are provided by renewable energy from hydroelectric and geothermal plants. However, the country is aiming higher, striving to rely purely on renewable energy by 2035.
Green and renewable energy sources produce most of New Zealand’s electricity. Geothermal, wind, solar, and hydropower all contribute to keeping the country energized. Wind and solar power produce no emissions whatsoever. However, they aren’t as reliable energy sources. Combined, they make up for the deficiency of the other, solar power only producing energy during the day and wind-powered plants producing more energy during the night. Geothermal and hydropower are not entirely emission-free. Geothermal plants produce low levels of greenhouse gases. These plants don’t burn fossil fuels. However, greenhouse gases trapped inside the earth can sometimes escape to the surface. Hydropower plants emit significantly more emissions (though substantially less than fossil-burning power plants) in the form of methane. Increasing the electricity produced by wind and solar power should further reduce the production of greenhouse gases.
Electric cars are booming in New Zealand, almost tripling in number in just two years. Electric vehicles (EVs) are especially popular with residents of solar-powered homes. Most solar-powered homes produce excess electricity that goes to the grid and can maintain a negative consumption even when charging an electric vehicle. Car manufacturers are taking note, putting up hybrids and EVs for sale in their dealerships. You can find electric cars of all make and models, from the humble Nissan Leaf to the large Audi SUVs. The government is supporting the use of electric vehicles, allocating $4.5 million to fund EV infrastructure. The public sector is similarly supportive, allocating an additional $12 million towards the projects. The funding will expand charging networks all-over the country, adding 140 charging systems on New Zealand roads and three of its ferries. Research on the viability of powering heavier vehicles (construction vehicles and trucks) is also ongoing.
Protecting the Land
While the country has been prosperous in limiting its production of greenhouse gases and air pollutants, its protection of the environment and its inhabitants has not been as successful. Non-native pests and contaminants are consistently threatening indigenous wildlife, damaging lakes, rivers, streams, and other bodies of water. However, the government has recently tightened regulations regarding wildlife preservation and pollution in waterways. Laws regarding agricultural land use have also been enacted, seeking to reduce water pollution further. The government seems earnest in its efforts in cleaning the waterways, passing a policy that aims to make 90 percent of the rivers and lakes in the country swimmable by 2040. Government policy primarily reflects the sentiments of the public, and the public has become more vocal with their environmental demands.
In the end, New Zealand’s success is driven by an environmentally conscious public that is influencing an open government. Once the citizens of New Zealand demanded environmental change, it happened.