Driving towards carbon solutions

17:00, Aug 19 2013

According to a new global study and Prime Minister's Chief Science Adviser Sir Peter Gluckman (Why fluctuating weather patterns will have a massive impact, August 13) the effects of climate change are already upon us.

Extreme weather events, like the severe storm that battered the capital recently, are an uncomfortable reminder of what lies ahead.

For many of us, the significant impact of agriculture, which produces around half of our greenhouse gas emissions, is well understood.

What is less well known is that energy use accounts for most of the remainder of our national greenhouse gas emissions.

Despite the best efforts of our world-leading agricultural scientists, it could be years before they come up with a solution for farmers.

In stark contrast, changing the way we use energy offers several, immediate opportunities to reduce emissions, while providing many other benefits.


In New Zealand we are fortunate to have abundant renewable electricity resources, such as hydro and wind, and these don't contribute directly to carbon emissions. But electricity is only one part of the energy mix.

Transport is the biggest energy user, and because it consumes fossil fuels almost exclusively, it contributes by far the most to total greenhouse gas emissions.

We have one of the world's highest levels of personal vehicle ownership and as such it is not surprising that the cars we drive are the biggest users of transport energy.

One of the best opportunities to reduce carbon emissions today is through more fuel efficient driving.

For each litre of petrol we use, more than 2 kilograms of greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, so fuel efficiency is a great way for individuals to reduce their carbon footprint.

Fuel savings of up to 10 per cent are possible through simple actions like driving smoothly and maintaining the right tyre pressure.

An average household spends about $3500 each year on fuel so a 10 per cent saving is worth having – it certainly beats the best supermarket discount coupon.

Obviously your choice of car makes a difference and an SUV is always going to burn through more fuel than a 3-door hatchback. But even within a class of cars, fuel consumption varies greatly.

Also, New Zealand's 120,000-strong heavy vehicle fleet travels around 2.5 billion kilometres and uses one billion litres of diesel each year.

Fuel-efficient driver training, vehicle selection and using a system to monitor and measure fuel use can save up to 20 per cent in fuel costs.

If this potential could be realised, it would mean trucking fleets would collectively save $300 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 540,000 tonnes every year.

When the 730,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions that could be saved through improved fuel efficiency in cars are taken into account, it is clear that fuel efficiency can make a significant contribution.

Heavy vehicle fuel efficiency can also mean fewer accidents, better driver safety, lower maintenance costs and cheaper insurance premiums.

Fuel efficiency is also good for the economy because when we use less fuel, it helps reduce our reliance on foreign fuel imports, which can contribute to an improvement in our balance of payments.

Right now fuel efficiency offers the best opportunity for many New Zealanders to help reduce New Zealand's carbon emissions.

Fuel-efficient driving not only brings us savings at the pump and helps boost business productivity – it also means improved safety.

And isn't this something we all want on our roads?

Mike Underhill is the Chief Executive of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority.

The Dominion Post