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Planned and Prepared for the Networks of the Future

Jaun Park, Unison Chief Operations Officer

As Aotearoa rallies to reduce its carbon footprint and mitigate the risks of climate change Unison’s Chief Operations Officer, Jaun Park, shines a light on challenges facing the energy sector and Unison’s role in supporting customers on their journey towards electrification.

“New Zealand is working towards a goal of net zero emissions by 2050. But what does that mean, how will we get there and what is the energy sector doing to help?

Let’s start with the basics. The elusive goal of ‘net zero’ describes a moment in time when the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere (whether by cars, coal, agriculture, or industry) does not exceed the amount of carbon removed from the atmosphere.  Excess carbon leads to global warming and a ‘net zero’ state will, we hope, mitigate climate change.

Simple. Or is it? Electricity will do much of the heavy lifting to get us to ‘net zero’ by 2050.  With more than 84% of our energy generated by renewables, electrification of key industries, including transport and industrial manufacturing and processing, is seen as the panacea for meeting international climate change commitments.

So, what does that mean for us in ‘real life’?  As consumers and communities, we have choices. Over time we’ll be ‘encouraged’ to make more choices that favour electricity over high emitters.  A great and obvious example of this is the Government’s ‘clean car discount’ scheme, incentivising consumers who purchase an electric vehicle (EV) or hybrid. By 2035 the Government aims to have 36% of all vehicles on our roads powered by electricity, with close to 100% by 2050.  Unison was an early adopter of EV fast chargers giving us visibility of the impact of EVs on our network, and an understanding of how our network will need to be reinforced to service this additional demand.  

Unison and other parts of the energy sector are working together behind the scenes to ensure Aotearoa has the network and energy infrastructure in place to support a net-zero economy. A strong network needs more than sufficient capacity. It also needs to be flexible enough to allow multidirectional flows of electricity as an increasing number of small-scale solar installations on homes become common placed - a story for another day. 

It may sound complex, but as network engineers and asset managers these are the challenges that keep our spark alive - pun fully intended. Aotearoa’s electrification goals come as no surprise. As a dynamic organisation, our processes encourage regular forecasting to ensure we are nimble and continue to respond to the changing landscape.  Constant tweaking and finetuning of our asset management plans is how we ensure and deliver a secure and resilient network.

The big focus of our industry over the coming years will be on collaboration with communities, customers, partners and the wider energy sector.  Sector-wide collaboration will accelerate the pace of innovation and shared solutions that support our transition to an ‘electric economy’.  Understanding the vision and direction of our large industrial customers will ensure we have adequate resources and infrastructure to support their electrification goals.  And partnering with territorial authorities and electricity generators to better forecast work and future demand will only increase the accuracy of asset management plans in the future.

Unison’s vision is to lead a sustainable energy future that supports consumers’ changing energy needs, while enabling our communities to prosperThe work we do today will ensure Unison is well-equipped to continue powering thriving regions of tomorrow.”

To learn more about the Networks for our Future, head here.

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