Electrifying New Zealand…

So early this year, John Key kicked off a summit to generate ideas to improve NZ. Not too much came from it, mainly a cycle-way. Its taken me a while, but heres my big idea:

Make all our cars electric.

Ok, its not a guaranteed success, but… heres some quick numbers:
2.5 million passenger vehicles in new zealand, travelling on average 12500kms/year, using (on average), 10 litres of petrol per hundred kilometres, at $1.69/litre… equals: 2.5mill*125*10*1.69=
so, every year NZ spends around $5 billion NZD in fuel.

So, the big idea is… spend it on something that has a big payback. Electrify the car fleet. All of them.
Heres a super-quick cost/benefit, based on made up numbers:
1. Remove our dependency on foreign fuel, release about $5 billion in overseas spending
2. Spend the $5 billion on upgrading our electricity network, R+D into new/better ways of generating electricity. We need to do this anyway, since our electricity demands will continue to increase. No coal plants, but green-tech.
3. Centralise pollution to the electricity generation centers, rather than the impossible to police distributed pollution centers that are cars.
4. Reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, actually achieving something re: kyoto, instead of some random “spend money to make ourselves feel better” emissions trading scheme or some other nonsense.
5. Sell our new-found expertise in green-tech, electrification, R+D to other places. Actually kick start some R+D, and niche expertise that is actually worth something.
6. Continue to save $5 billion. Per year.

So what would it take? A lot of leadership, and some capital spending. We need:
1. Infrastructure. Electricity generation would need to be increased a lot. However, we need to do this anyway to cope with increased demand. So we have to answer the question.
2. More infrastructure, electricity outlets. Probably in service stations.
3. A selection of electric vehicles.
4. Increases in petrol tax to pay for subsidies to change to electric vehicles.
5. R+D funds in the identified areas.
6. A million other things… I know.

This is the kind of big thinking I want to see from New Zealand. Not just a cycle-way (although I love the cycle-way!), but someone with the guts to have a ‘big idea’, think it through, and to do it.

What do you think? Is this crazy? Problems? Greg for Prime Minister?

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Electrifying New Zealand…

6 thoughts on “Electrifying New Zealand…

  1. Jelena says that if you can electrify all the cars in London, she will support your idea.

    “think big” Greg style… Muldoon would have been be proud.

    I think there are a few problems…

    1) Electric cars need loads of batteries and these are really expensive.

    2) Electric cars don’t go as far and as fast, typically.

    3) That’s a lot of energy to generate. How exactly? Nuclear power? Big power plants are expensive and I don’t think we have a lot of rivers and geothermal left to exploit.

    4) Kiwis love their cars… more than the environment. They don’t like to say it out loud, but when forced to decide I think they will say “screw you” to the environment.

    Ok, so what’s my big idea?

    Increase research funding by a factor of 10. Really by 10. Let there be 5 times the research head count, and let the average income double. And I’m not talking about university in general, just research funding which is a much smaller part of university funding in general.

    With all this money you can get really top people to move to New Zealand more easily by basically paying them to do it. At the moment top researchers only do it as a lifestyle choice, rather than as a career development move. New Zealand has no big name universities, and it’s a million miles from the world centres of research so you don’t get many important visitors dropping by, and the local research community is tiny. All these factors also mean that professors can’t get the top students… they all leave for big name universities overseas. Basically bribe people to see past this by doubling their income. Also with 5x the head count, there will be a lot more interesting local people to interact with.

    Ok, but how does this help New Zealand? It creates the soil for growing a real knowledge economy. I don’t expect these people to create a lot of value for the NZ economy directly. Rather they will create enough centre of mass of sufficiently talented people for commercial very high skill endeavours to take root.

    My second big idea is to move New Zealand to just off the coast of Portugal. Great climate and much better access to large markets.

  2. 1) Batteries: true. This has been pointed out, but it doesnt sound like a show stopper.
    2) Not really a problem I don’t think –
    3) A potential show stopper. This is the major thing that needs investigation. Can we generate enough *green* electricity?
    4) Yes. I would hope to sell the idea on the concept of “save 5 billion a year” rather than “save the environment”. Everyone loves the environment, until they have to change.

    The real emphasis is to develop a research niche that NZ can sell, which is to some degree self-funding. How does NZ generate enough energy to power their cars? In a green way? If we solved that problem, thats bankable cash. We’re suddenly world experts.

    Or maybe we become the world niche in battery technology?

    re: increase research… I suspect NZ needs to become a niche leader in some area, rather than a general ‘research’ center. Essentially set up some x-labs here. Maybe climate science since those guys seem like they need some… more rigor!

    In any case, I like your idea because its ‘big’. It speaks of a belief in NZ that we can be leaders. NZ has to do something big!

  3. Kerry says:

    There’s also the issue of the cost of updating the existing car fleet – that’s a big sunk cost at present which we update on the cheap via used jap imports, but there isn’t the same endless supply of cheap used jap electric cars…

    Increasing the pay of the education sector and the research sector would be a good indicator of how serious Key is about a knowledge economy – and sorting out broadband (a friend bought a house in a new subdivision in the northern suburbs and then found out that there was a waiting list for broadband as the exchange had run out of switches and they weren’t going to upgrade it in a hurry – essentially he has to wait until someone else gives up their ADSL before he can get it – not your typical first world experience?)

  4. Yes, updating the car fleet is a big cost. But I think natural attrition coupled with incentives could mostly solve that problem.

    re: increasing pay of education sector… um. Im in two minds about this. Sure, teachers are underpaid, but increasing pay doesn’t increase quality. And Im not sure whether general education is whats missing. I think we need a focussed niche (other than agriculture!) which the electrification project would encourage.

    broadband is a bit like this. Im in to having superfast broadband, but… broadband is a bit like general education. Build it, and hope something good happens. But everyone should have access to pretty fast broadband.

  5. I’m not for an increase in general education spending. See, educating guys like me is great and all… but we have a tendency to leave. That doesn’t help NZ much.

    He’s the problem. Let’s say you’re a young expert in battery research. Some place like Stanford offers a big name university for your CV, twice the pay you’d get in NZ, access to lots of other smart people including some battery people, silicon valley down the road… Same goes for many areas of research. We need to get these guys to move to NZ… by the plane load.

    How can we make this happen? Cash is technically quite easy, and I’m not sure what else we could do… It’s not even a lot of cash in terms of the overall government budget.

    Basically, places like London, New York and Silicon valley and universities like Oxford and Harvard attract the best and brightest from around the world. New Zealand, on the other hand, generally exports talented people to these places. Unless we can make that change, the foundation of the NZ economy will remain the export of primary products like meat, wool and wood.

  6. Yes, agree. I think we need to choose a niche project (ie, electrification or something similar – ie big!) with a lot of related research areas, not primary produce (to have more than one string in the bow), and… go for it.

    back ourselves to succeed. Choose the niche with a big possible and plausible payoff, and put money into it. My big problem with general education, and increasing research funding is… the only KPI is… how much cash we have spent. Sure, you might have a more educated person at the end of the day, but that hasn’t necessarily increased productivity.

    I think New Zealand is too small to pursue a ‘general education’ policy, we will never be able to compete with the big universities of the world in a general education model. But, I think we can in a specialised niche model.

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