In our blog ‘Talkin’ about our generation’, we took a good look at the electricity generators here in NZ.

We learned that our sustainable generators, hydro and wind, produce zero carbon emissions, compared with coal, gas and diesel generators which produce the highest carbon emissions.  Clearly some generators are far better for our environment than others.

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According to MBIE, the electricity industry makes up 18.3 per cent of New Zealand’s total carbon emissions (following national transport at 44.5 per cent and the manufacturing industry at 18.8 per cent). The highest contributing forms of generation are our natural gas power stations at 10.8 per cent, followed by coal at 5.1 per cent.  That means we have some serious room for improvement when it comes to reducing our carbon emissions.

And so it’s here, dear electricity-users, that we all come in (cue spotlight!).

Am I part of the problem…

You might be well aware that throughout the year (during the different seasons), and on any given day, there are times when New Zealand’s overall electricity use is lower or higher.  It mostly boils down to supply and demand.

When demand for electricity is lower, it means collectively we’re using less.  You might hear those times referred to as ‘off peak’, because they tend to be times throughout the day or night when most people are at work or asleep, and we often use less power during the summer months when it’s warmer. When demand is low, our sustainable generators (like wind and hydro) are more likely to be able to supply what is needed.  Remember, wind and hydro create no carbon emissions, so when they’re used to generate our electricity, the mix is nice and clean.

But demand for electricity is usually higher at certain times of the year, like during those dark and chilly winter months, and at certain times of the day, when we’re all at home with the lights on, having showers, watching tv, blow drying our hair and making splendour with our Automatic Mini Donut Factories. The increase in use naturally means that the supply of electricity is under more pressure than it would be if less people were using it.

During periods of high demand, sometimes those clean forms of generation – like wind and hydro – reach their maximum capacity.  That basically means that they can’t produce enough energy to meet demand (or they fall short, in instances like a Dry Winter), and on those occasions, to ensure that we don’t run out of power, the reserve generators kick in.  Our reserve generators are all powered by fossil fuels (coal or gas) or diesel, and as we all now know, these forms of generation create loads of carbon emissions.  When we reach the stage where we have to use back-up generation, we’re effectively adding more carbon emissions to the atmosphere, and doing more damage to our environment.

… or part of the solution?

Did you know that simply by changing the times of day you use appliances, you can influence carbon emission levels produced by the electricity sector?  How cool is that?!  It’s pretty empowering to realise that we all have the ability to influence big change.  Because when individual changes become collective changes, soon enough we’re all making choices that help tackle problems that once seemed so overwhelming.

Carbon emissions are one of those big problems. And that’s why, here at Flick, we knew we needed to start the change.  We knew we needed to give Kiwis the tools to be able to see when carbon levels are higher or lower in order for you to make good choices about when to use power.  Because, as we’ve just learned, we have a direct influence on electricity supply, and this in turn influences the kind of generation we use: the clean stuff, or the not-so-clean stuff.

I’ve got Choice

So we created the CHOICE app, a neat little tool that lets users see the carbon emission levels that energy generators are producing at any given time.  It shows exactly which forms of generation are creating carbon emissions, and how much, thanks to some clever information from Energy Market Services by Transpower.  In a nutshell, CHOICE lets us all make educated, informed decisions about when is an environmentally better, or worse, time to use our electricity.

For Flicksters, it also shows the real-time price of your electricity, including the spot price for your area from WITS (run by NZX), as well as all other variable charges –  generation, distribution, Flick retailer fee and the EA levy. For people who aren’t Flick customers (you’re missing out!), CHOICE shows an indication of where the current average spot market price is sitting.  The wholesale price ties in pretty closely with demand and supply, so the app makes it easy to see how the wholesale price of electricity interacts with the type of generation we’re using.  Typically, as demand for electricity increases and those backup generators kick in, the cost of electricity tends to increase too.

So, what can I do?

Plenty!  Download CHOICE, turn on notifications and keep an eye on the needle to determine the best time of day to do those jobs that can easily be shifted.  Turn on the dishwasher just before you go to bed, schedule the washing machine to run during the middle of the day, and put dinner in the slow cooker to avoid the 6 o’clock rush.  Use timers to switch on appliances at low demand times of the day or night, or check out WEMO for switches and devices that can be controlled from your mobile.

It’s pretty simple really.  By individually taking a few steps to change the way we do things, we collectively have the power to reduce the carbon emissions we generate through our electricity.  And that’s flickin’ choice.

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