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Opinion: New Zealand is different

But New Zealand is different right?

Well yes, and no.

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Spend enough time working in areas like household efficiency, energy supply and house design and construction and you’ll hear that catch-cry a lot. The problem seems to be that when you do hear it it’s often wrong, and when it needs shouting from the rooftops all you get is a deafening silence.

I’ll give you two examples.

Solar hot water and solar electric (or PV) are always high on the list of features environmentally-minded people want to add to their houses. Everyone is doing it overseas (some of them even get paid to do it) and plenty of people here sell them, so they must be a Good Thing, right? Well no, neither of them have significant environmental benefits here; solar PV is almost never economic here and it’s a pretty much 50/50 that any solar water-heating system sold here will be cost effective.

The reason is simple. When it comes to generating electricity, creating greenhouse gas emissions and heating water, New Zealand is different from the rest of the world. The majority of our electricity generation is from renewable sources that have a low greenhouse-emissions impact, and many people can take advantage of cheap electricity night rates for water heating.

For housing you only have to watch TV shows like Grand Designs to see the vast array of really clever (and often affordable) double- and triple-glazed windows, insulation products and building systems that are available in the UK and Europe. You’d think that it would be easy to import those products into New Zealand and sell them to a building industry that, given it’s still decades behind many other parts of the world, could use all the help it could get. Think again. If you want to import and sell products like these you need to get them tested and approved for use here. Testing is expensive, and for the relatively small quantities of these products imported into New Zealand (at least initially) that can make them too expensive to sell.

The reason we need this testing, we are told, is because New Zealand is different. Really? We have different rain and wind and hot and cold temperatures than they do in the UK or Europe? Little voices start whispering in my ear about protectionism and “jobs for the boys” about now.

As a consumer there’s no easy single rule to follow to get a good steer on this stuff. We’ve updated our info on solar water heating and plan to follow up with an article on PV. Another good place to start is to ask questions whenever you hear explanations that include that it does or doesn’t make sense to do something because they do or don’t do it overseas.

Remember, New Zealand is different, except for when it isn’t.

By Andrew Smith

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