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Farming Energy: Opportunities to Help New Zealand Reach Net Zero Carbon 2050

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Executive Summary

The New Zealand Net Zero Carbon Act’s main objective is that New Zealand contributes no further to global warming by 2050, a target commonly known as ‘Net Zero Carbon 2050’. To reach this vision, targets have been set for all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in New Zealand. Agriculture, as New Zealand’s largest GHG emitting sector, will face pressure on productivity and profitability as it works towards Net Zero carbon. Other sectors will also face pressure, particularly the energy sector which is New Zealand’s second largest GHG emitting sector. Forecasts show that not only will the energy sector need to transition to low emission alternatives, but the mix of energy types (electricity, gas, oil etc.) will need to shift to meet new technological innovations and increasing energy demand.

Given this challenge, I believe there are opportunities for the sectors to work together for mutual benefit. My travels and report seek to answer the question:

What energy farming opportunities could New Zealand farmers pursue to help our country reach Net Zero Carbon 2050?

Energy farming is where farms generate a form of energy (electricity, gas, fuel or heat) on farm that can be exported for use elsewhere in the economy. To be successful in helping achieve Net Zero Carbon 2050, the farmed energy must have lower GHG emissions that the fossil fuel alternative it is often replacing, and be technically and economically viable for the farmer.

Energy farming may become vital to future energy generation as forecasts show New Zealand’s current energy path, particularly our perceived reliance on hydroelectric power and electric vehicles, will not move the industry far towards Net Zero Carbon 2050.

I set out on my travels to visit a range of energy farming operations in Ireland and California. Both Ireland and California, like New Zealand, have a large and successful agricultural sector and face similar pressure to reduce GHG emissions from all sectors.

Technologically, the range of energy farming options is diverse. Some are already common in New Zealand, like solar and wind power. Others are rare, but innovating rapidly using such technology as Agrovoltaics and anaerobic digestor biogas with refining. Each operation aims to take advantage of local weather conditions or available feedstocks to create a usable energy product. Every energy farming operation in this report could technically work here in New Zealand.

Environmentally, the GHG emissions from each operation was more favourable that the fossil fuel alternative with some even sequestering more carbon than they emit. Consequently, each option would help lower energy GHG emissions in New Zealand.

Economically however, each energy farming operation I examined was influenced heavily by local policy and incentives to make them competitive with cheaper fossil fuel alternatives. The policy and incentives in both California and Ireland were imbedded in their respective government’s energy strategies.

To make these technically and environmentally feasible energy farming opportunities profitable to New Zealand farmers, New Zealand needs an energy strategy that is similarly supportive of energy farming. It turns out, we are in the early stages of developing such a strategy in New Zealand, but the agricultural voice is absent.

To resolve this economic roadblock, I recommend three actions:

  1. Create a Farming Energy Working Group (FEWG), by pulling in expert knowledge from across the agricultural sector in advocacy, science and development. In addition to agricultural experts, include some external energy advice to create a group uniquely skilled in leading energy farming to New Zealand.
  2. The FEWG should enter the New Zealand energy strategy conversation and work alongside the energy sector and government to advocate for, and implement, policy to economically support energy farming. Such polices could include low interest funding of energy farming investments, standards to replace liquid fossil fuel with biofuel alternatives and long term price guarantees for farmed energy.
  3. The FEWG should collate local and international knowledge on energy farming to create case studies and systems that can be demonstrated on farm, both to policy makers and farmers, to build confidence in the future of energy farming.

By implementing these recommendations, every energy farming option outlined in the report, could successfully be pursued by farmers in New Zealand to help the country achieve Net Zero Carbon 2050.

 Read the full report here:
 Farming Energy: Opportunities to help New Zealand reach net zero carbon 2050. 
-Cameron Henderson, 2019