In the latest of Newsroom’s series on what influential New Zealanders are wishing for in 2023, Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie shares his aspirations for the energy sector – including a new ministry to lead the move to zero carbon

1. Wise heads with one focus 

The transition to zero carbon requires the dedicated leadership and resources of a new Ministry of Energy to drive the change.

The energy sector is one of the most critical pieces of this country’s infrastructure and it’s been estimated that New Zealand will need to spend $22 billion in distribution infrastructure alone to manage both the growth of energy and the rapid electrification of transport and industry. 

* Tory Whanau: I want people to be proud of their city again
* Simon Mackenzie: I am the lineman for the county – let’s work together
* Selah Hart: Don’t be too weak and hōhā to make a difference
* Gretchen Robertson: Dreaming of team, wishing for fish, liking our bikes
* Simon Draper: Let’s rediscover our ambition, Aotearoa
* Dame Therese Walsh: To look into the soul of the universe, wink, and smile

At the moment, responsibility for the sector is shared between MBIE, the Electricity Authority and the Commerce Commission.

A Ministry of Energy would bring together experts to ensure the energy transition and associated challenges are enabled through timely and well-considered policies and regulatory settings. 

2. An affordable future 

We know the struggle many people are having with the rising cost of living and their focus is less on the challenges of climate change and more on paying their bills.

Instead, it’s the role of everyone within the energy sector to focus on my second wish, which is ensuring an affordable transition to a zero- carbon future. It is very much at the front of my mind and needs to be addressed. 

A major step change is required across the energy system, which was established in a way that was relevant in the 1990s but is not going to work now and in the future.

We need to find ways to utilise new technology and solutions to make our systems smarter and cost-effective, rather than pouring investment into more poles and lines

3. Be smarter 

Charging electric vehicles, whether that’s private cars, public transport, or commercial vehicles, will put a huge load on the electricity system if they all charge at the same time.

As the number of EVs grows, the electricity network could easily become like an Auckland motorway in peak hour, with huge demand and the need to build more and more infrastructure to accommodate it.  

That’s why my wish list has a mandate for smart home EV chargers. This would enable us to manage the demand by connecting to a control system where the rate of charge can be dialled up and down overnight, according to network needs.

We’ve done a trial that showed this can be achieved without impacting the way people use their vehicles, while still having plenty of charge ready when they need it. 

The crucial next step is for the Government to mandate the type of charging devices that are installed, so we, can take advantage of off-peak periods to reduce strain on the networks. In turn, this will help to keep costs down for customers. 
4. Peace, understanding and a little less red tape 

Our field crews are critical service providers, who often work in really difficult conditions to restore power when there’s an unplanned outage.

Much of the time these are caused by things outside our control, including terrible weather, with trees and branches falling onto the lines, or cars crashing into poles.

Our number one priority is to keep the crews and the people of Auckland safe, then we focus on restoring the power.

Unfortunately, we’ve noticed an increase in and aggressive behaviour towards our crews over the past year, as they do their absolute best to help people. 

Part of the problem is the time it takes to get through Auckland traffic and then organise the extensive, and costly, traffic management obligations we have to meet, before repair work can begin.

One solution on my wish list, to speed up our response and help to calm fraying nerves, is a change to the rules.

We spend $30m a year on traffic management and we believe it could be done better and less onerously. So, we’d love to work with Auckland Council/Auckland Transport on some changes, which would be better for Aucklanders and for our crews. 
5. A ticket abroad 

I look forward to a year when we can travel and engage with our international partners a lot more.

We’re working with global organisations like Amazon Web Services and X (formerly Google X) on the development of new energy solutions that are needed not only in New Zealand but around the world. 

The disruption of lockdowns and the ongoing presence of Covid has made it harder to work together.

We see a huge benefit to our staff, the New Zealand tech sector, and wider benefits for energy systems in New Zealand and globally, from the world opening up, so it is easier for us to travel and collaborate.  

As Vector group chief executive, Simon Mackenzie is passionate about the power of technology to transform the energy industry and consumers' lives.

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