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MPhil in Engineering for Sustainable Development

global challenges, engineering solutions

Holistic Mapping of the New Zealand Energy and Emissions Systems to Assess Mitigation Opportunities

New Zealand is a nation which prides itself on environmentalism but its performance on greenhouse gas emissions does not align with this identity. It has the fifth highest greenhouse gas emissions per capita in the OECD, despite an abundance of renewable energy resources and a small population. In 2019, the Government committed to net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases other than biogenic methane by 2050, and a 24% to 47% reduction in biogenic methane by 2050 compared with 2017 levels. Achieving this goal will require unprecedented changes to the way New Zealand supplies and consumes energy, but discourse is typically focussed on transitioning away from fossil fuels in the energy supply and using forestry to offset emissions. 

This study seeks to determine how final service provision might be affected by, or could support, mitigation efforts. This is achieved by mapping the energy and emissions systems of New Zealand in a Sankey diagram which links primary energy to final energy services through various conversion devices in the energy supply chain. A scenario analysis is subsequently performed by generating similar energy and emissions Sankey diagrams for a 2050 scenario which meets New Zealand’s climate ambitions without incorporating demand reduction. 

The 2050 scenario is found to have a primary energy shortfall of 270 PJ for electricity generation. As such, achieving the 2050 emissions target is impossible without demand reduction and/or massive and unprecedented investment in low emissions energy infrastructure above and beyond significant expansion of geothermal and wind energy. Demand reduction, driven by both technology and behavioural change, is expected to be more feasible technically and economically, but requires greater emphasis in policy and research literature. 


Course Overview


The need to engage in better problem definition through careful dialogue with all stakeholder groups and a proper recognition of context.


An ability to work with specialists from other disciplines and professional groups acknowledging that technical innovation and business skills also must be understood, nurtured and combined as precursors to the successful implementation of sustainable solutions.


An understanding of mechanisms for managing change in organisations so future engineers are equipped to play a leadership role.


An awareness of a range of assessment frameworks, sustainability metrics and methodologies such as Life Cycle Analysis, Systems Dynamics, Multi-Criteria Decision making and Impact Assessment.