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Many roads, no fuel?

3 February 2020

The government has announced a huge level of planned infrastructure spending.

They are going to throw some $12 billion at core services and assets in a spend of gargantuan scale. So big in fact that we haven't seen this level of public spending for many decades.

The tragic thing is that, in my honest opinion, they've really screwed up their priorities.

A huge chunk of the spend is going on roading.

Okay, fair enough, it's clear that the government believes personal transport is going to be a priority as we move forward and that requires more roads, better roads and better maintenance of those roads.

Of course environmentalists are not best-pleased with this perspective -- but they should be somewhat appeased by the allocation of a fairly healthy sum to improving both rail and public transport.

However, if we go back to that roading spend again, there's a problem... a huge problem.

It seems to have totally escaped the government's attention that there's a massive shift about to happen in terms of our personal transport fleet.

Within a decade, EVs will make up a very significant proportion of that fleet so, if we're going to be encouraging even more personal transport and providing the infrastructure to support it -- why is there no mention at all of suring up our electricity infrastructure?

All these flash new roads will be far less useful if we find ourselves with electricity shortages brought about by a lack of forward planning.

And those environmentalists will be livid if, when faced with massive shortages of generation capability, the government of the day is forced to commission a raft of new fossil-fueled power stations to take up the slack.

I seriously can not believe that neither the government nor its advisors can see the massive change that is about to sweep through the whole personal transport sector.

China is already gearing up to manufacture EVs on a massive scale and, according to reports, many of their offerings are already very good in terms of range, performanc and quality. In fact, quite a few commentators are already picking that in the 2020s, China's EVs will do for motoring what cheap Japanese cars did in the 1970s.

By the end of this decade, a surprising number of Kiwis will be driving EVs, either budget cars out of China or a variante of the VW platform that is almost ready to roll out under a wide number of badges.

We'll have the roads... but we won't have the electricity.

From this perspective, our reliance (over 85%) on renewables could become a real problem also.

With hydro as the backbone of our power generation capabilities, we become extremely vulnerable to climatic variations, of the type that produce protracted droughts. And guess what?

Yep, we're facing unprecedented climate change so such dramatic changes in rainfall might well become a common feature and effectively cripple our hydro schemes from time to time.

If we haven't thought far enough ahead (and we're only talking a few short years) then New Zealand may have little option but to rely increasingly on petrol and diesel imports -- adversely impacting our promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and making an even greater mockery of our "100% pure" and "clean green" tourism slogans.

Come February 2030, if I'm still alive, I'll republish today's column and we'll see whether I was right or if I was just unreasonably pessimistic. Hopefully the answer will be neither. With luck (and good management), the government will wake up to the looming disaster they're creating and we'll see some significant work done on boosting our electricity generation capabilities -- just in time to service the demand from an increasingl electrified transport fleet.

Place your bets now ladies and gentlemen... what will 2030 look like from a personal transport and electricity generation perspective?

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