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One of New Zealand’s major problems with dealing with climate change is our emissions profile. Unlike most countries, New Zealand gets a large portion of its energy from renewable sources—predominately hydro and geothermal. The bulk of our emissions come from agriculture and transport which are particularly difficult to mitigate.
However, as far as transport is concerned, technology is starting to allow for change. Tesla motors was founded by Elon Musk in 2003 in order to catalyse the shift towards electric vehicles. Tesla’s newest car, the Model Three, will retail for $35,000 USD before incentives and already has over 400,000 pre-orders. To satisfy this demand before 2020 Tesla needs to massively increase their production.
At the heart of this is the so called “Gigafactory.” Once completed (expected to be in 2020) this factory will be the world’s largest building and will produce about as much battery power as was produced globally in 2014. The quality of batteries is measured by their
“energy density,” or how much energy you can store per unit of volume. On the back of research from companies like Tesla, the energy density we are capable of storing in batteries has been increasing by 5–8% every year. This is what is allowing the revolution in electric vehicles.
This private sector scientific progress is being bolstered by policy makers. In Norway large tax breaks have led to over one in five cars that are purchased being electric. Just last month the lower house of the Netherlands’ parliament voted through a motion banning sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2025. Our government has recently announced a series of initiatives with the goal of increasing the number of electric cars on our roads from 1000 at the moment to 64,000 in 2021. These includes reduced road user charges and allowing electric cars in bus lanes. But, as Green MP James Shaw identified, these initiatives do not offer the financial incentives required to realise this increased uptake.
Electric vehicles provide a nice example of the way that science, commerce, and law can all work together to help mitigate massive global problems like climate change.