23 January 2010
The seventy percent fossil fooled country
Quite often I hear politicians or journalists say that New Zealand can't really be expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels as 70% of our energy is renewable, due mainly to our hydro power schemes.
A typical recent example was business journalist Fran O'Sullivan, writing in the New Zealand Herald on December 9, 2009.
O'Sullivan wrote this about NZ's positioning on climate change prior to the UNFCCC summit at Copenhagen.
"Where the Government negotiators will focus is on getting across New Zealand's position...the fact that 70 per cent of energy is renewable leaves little room for gains on that score"
The trouble is this 'truism' is not only a bad reason for not reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it is also factually incorrect. As the barchart above shows, renewable energy including Hydro power supplies 30% of New Zealand's energy supply. Fossil fuels supply 70%.
So, I sent Fran an email.
"Fran, You state; "Where the Government negotiators will focus is [in respect of climate change negotiations] on getting across New Zealand's position...the fact that 70 per cent of energy is renewable leaves little room for gains on that score, and that agriculture makes up 50 per cent of emissions." I think you are confusing electricity generation with NZ's gross energy supply. Only 30 percent of NZ's gross energy supply is renewable. Refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_New_Zealand and the Ministry of Economic Development 2009 energy figures. Kind regards"
Fran replied the same morning "Yes you are right. Real oversight on my behalf will get it corrected on website".
As I write this, six weeks later, the '70%-renewable' statement is still on the NZ Herald website. We seem doomed to be seventy percent fossil fooled for a while longer.
The source of the data for the barplot is the Ministry of Economic Development 2009 Energy File. I created the barplot with the R programme.
The commands were:
engy<-c(83.1, 280.8,159.9,80.3,113.2,47.4, 1.2)
names(engy)<-c('Coal','Oil','Gas','Hydro', 'Geothermal', 'Other renewable', 'Waste')
cols <-c("brown4","green","green","brown4", "green", "brown4", "brown4")
png(file="NZ_Energy4.png",pointsize=14, width=650, height=550)
barplot(sort(engy),horiz=T,las=1,xlim=c(0,300), border=1, space=0.8, col=cols)
legend(165,4,c("Non-renewable 69%","Renewable 31%"),lty =1,lwd=4, col= c("brown4", "green"))
title(main="New Zealand Primary Energy Supply 2008", xlab= "Gross Petajoules")
mtext(side=3,line=0.25,"Source: Ministry of Economic Development")
I have uploaded two versions to the Wikimedia Commons website; an SVG chart and a PNG chart.