Nirmal Nair on Tesla, smart cities & rates, a city's size & livability, ranking councils, NZ universities & penguins, cyber security, blackouts, Dilbert & more

Nirmal Nair on Tesla, smart cities & rates, a city's size & livability, ranking councils, NZ universities & penguins, cyber security, blackouts, Dilbert & more

Today's Top 10 is a guest post from Nirmal-Kumar Nair, an associate professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Auckland.

As always, we welcome your additions in the comments below or via email to And if you're interested in contributing the occasional Top 10 yourself, contact

See all previous Top 10s here.

For this issue of Top 10, I highlight energy storage, nuclear reactors, cyber security and blackout news, smart urban infrastructure provisions, local management & benchmarking; public perception around multi-retailers, and university advertising.

1. Elon Musk in news with home storage batteries.
In my Sept 2014 Guest Top 10 contribution, I had flagged through item 8 the news release by Tesla CEO, Elon Musk regarding all the electric vehicle patents becoming opened up. This has evolved now into their latest news in the space of residential battery packs. Has he taken a big risk or pursued a great opportunity to add value to customer’s demand for control and independence?  

Tesla’s Powerwall is primarily a “UPS” (uninterrupted power supply) for home electricity needs during power outages. Like their Tesla Electric Vehicle, the initial consumer uptake is likely to be early adopters who are interested in new technologies, getting more value from existing solar photovoltaic generation and requiring very high security of supply. Tesla’s Powerpack, the company’s utility scale storage option, will accelerate global trials by utilities who having been looking for reasonably sized and competitive battery products.

Previously Google had trialled another technology in similar industry space Google’s smart Meter (item 6 of my Sept 2014 column). Tesla’s vision is that battery technology will pervade similar to the Photovoltaic panel that flooded global markets in the first decade of the 21st century. 

2. Energy storage technologies and market in the US.

Speaking about Tesla’s residential small scale storage options emerging, this site gives you a very conservation estimate of the opportunities that electric utilities and regulators in the US have for storage in their systems.

3. Can “smart cities” bring down rates ?

The “rate increase” news to support Auckland’s future growth brings to the fore the international dilemma surrounding increased urbanisation and growth of cities. The World Health Organization estimates that 70 percent of the global population will live in cities and towns by 2050, up from just about 54% percent today.

The growth of cities fuelled by inter-dependence of infrastructures raises the need for a vision of a “Smart City” that attempts to holistically capture the services and needs of urban living. It also provides a way to understand better how to resource and finance these needs. Governments are coming up with vision statements like the UK and also private-public consortiums are emerging in this direction. Efficiencies are from the viewpoint of public infrastructure spends and efficient/attractive option offerings for consumers.

4. Top 10 liveable cities in the world: Does the size of a city matter ?

The approximate population (in millions) for the top 10 liveable global cities, as per Mercer’s 2015 survey (conducted annually to help multinational organizations compensate employees fairly) are:

Vienna (1.731); Zurich (0.37); Auckland (1.413); Munich (1.378); Vancouver (0.603); Dusseldorf (0.586); Frankfurt (0.671); Geneva (0.5); Copenhagen (0.58); Sydney (4.84).

Is there an optimum size that dictates global livability indices?  I wonder…  Can Greater Auckland grow to 50% of the current Greater Sydney population and still retain the high livability statistics?

5. Top 20 UK Councils ... Yes there is a ranking for councils.
In recent years I have been very interested both as a city dweller and as an energy researcher in the comprehensive operational efficiencies of interdependent infrastructure elements. This also aligns with my recent research endeavours on Smart city frameworks. The Telegraph had a piece on the UK’s 20 top councils.

Is there one for New Zealand’s 78 odd council bodies, anyone?

6. Is there a consumer preference for multi-utility retailers?
Consumers will see more of multi-utility retailers offering bundled offers, like the recent one from Trustpower for New Zealand. This will span telecommunications, energy, internet service providers, streaming entertainment products, home-security etc.

The challenge for the retailers and companies offering these services will be to provide the same level of privacy that customers expect from their traditional utility services along with their other products that requires more transparency, outreach and engagement amongst their entire customer base.

Traditional services like advertising, publishing, entertainment, retail shopping etc. have been in the past 15 years challenged by digital and IT options.  Will those same approaches by companies like Google, Apple and Tesla serve their desire to incubate new products and services that require physical infrastructure control and practice?

These new options will need to incorporate health, safety, insurance and privacy preferences of individual consumers which the current monopoly providers offer. Technical, commercial, pricing and business models will have to be experimented and evolved in this changing world of providing utility services to consumers.

7. State of affairs of new nuclear power reactor installation globally.
15 countries are currently awaiting the deployment of varying capacities of nuclear power generation into their installation mix. A technology company by the name of Terrapower seeded by funds from the IT business is looking to develop next generation safe reactor design.

8. New Zealand/Australia universities and international students.
My Feb 2015 Top 10 highlighted the cost of tuition fees in top US and UK universities. One thing that caught my recent attention was the different ways countries are advertising to attract students.

The Australia and New Zealand sub-section is promoted by the following.

Indeed, who could turn down the sun and sand of Australia, or the rugged natural beauty (and penguins!) of New Zealand?

In contrast the US and Canada have the following blurb:

Not only do US universities dominate the world rankings, the country also offers a huge range of exciting and iconic study locations. Meanwhile, northerly neighbor Canada has its own broad selection of internationally renowned universities and top student cities.

9. Cyber security of critical energy infrastructure.
Cyber security incidents are emerging as one possible reason for large scale blackout investigations. The US is revisiting its utility threat perception and hardening its cyber-security framework in the context of next generation utility infrastructure. Other nations are likely to follow suit.

10. Blackout watch.
In follow up to my Feb 2015 Top 10 item #9 on blackouts, Turkey witnessed a 10 hour country wide complete shutdown on March 31st.  The initial cause cited in the media, including by their Prime-Minister, was attributed to cyber security issues but was quickly retracted.  Speaking of inter-dependent infrastructures, during power outage if your home-communication relies on fibre infrastructure one needs backup power supply.

We welcome your help to improve our coverage of this issue. Any examples or experiences to relate? Any links to other news, data or research to shed more light on this? Any insight or views on what might happen next or what should happen next? Any errors to correct?

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


Comment Filter

Highlight new comments in the last hr(s).

Always laught at auckland being considered a livable city. Most likely the LEAST livable in New Zealand with costs of everthing, nightmere traffic, and spawled unattractive 'cbd'.

You might be mistaking the North Shore for Auckland City...

Said by someone who doesn't live here and has no idea; take today for example, sun in shining, I might go for a surf out west; I'll have the trouble of deciding which of the dozens of beaches I'll choose. Or take the yacht out on the gulf... Or play golf at one of the 6 courses within easy drive of my house... Or enjoy complete serenity hiking up in the Waitakere's. Why aren't I working you ask... no need to work as our houses are going up 100k a year each.

Where does your home city rank on the list... or are you too embarrassed to say?

Serious question, Are you Mike Hosking?

Maybe, I immediately believe that you are simple simon.

Name calling, a classic Hosking M.O.

Is it name calling to call you by your own alias...

I never thought I'd say this, but you sound smarter on TV.

Let's hear it then, what 'amazing city' do you live in....

What if I said Murupara?

Murupara... lovely spot in great region, I can see why your happy living there, not for me though.

Not sure why Muruparaians, and others, feel the need to regularly spew hatred at Auckland and Aucklanders, can you elaborate on why there's so much negativity... why you all can't just say "Auckland's not for you"...

I dunno? Do you think it's the audacity of some of the occupants to suggest that someone is embarrassed to come from somewhere other than Auckland?

It is not though usually Aucklanders who initiate such conversations. In this case it was your not simple namesake (or at least he doesn't proudly claim to be simple) who started with the insults.

Stating that Auckland has high costs, traffic congestion, and poor urban planning is not an insult, it's an opinion.

.....written from the Ryman sun room perhaps? For a dose or reality, Brian Rudman nails it with this opinion piece...

Yawn.. more left wing propaganda from the Herald; you may as well just read Labour and Green party political broadcasts.

What was it you found unreasonable, seems to be have some good points?

I have yet to see anything enlightened, non traditional, lateral, creative etc come from the current mob that has a hope in hell in tackling the Auck housing and transport problems. Or do you really think Nick Smith has it in hand? How many years in office have they had to get stuck in and sort it then?

Progress of a snail...and a slow one at that..

Didn't read it, you lost me at NZ Herald; in my opinion their coverage is so left leaning it has lost all balance and credibility.

Regarding Auckland housing, I was an investor during the Labour naughties boom years and nothing was done to stop house price rises. Labour was a strong supporter of property investors and prices just went up and up. Under National there is the housing accord, pressure on Auckland Council, recent law changes and now a foreign buyers register. In short Labour did nothing to stop a massive property boom and National isn't doing a lot, just a bit more than Labour did.

The only way to stop Auckland prices going up is to halt immigration.

More houses were built under Labour, especially in the years 2002, 2003 and 2004 than under National despite National's so called housing initiatives -housing accord, pressure on Council, law changes etc.

Check out building stats it is all there in black and white.

That was when finance companies were around. The rug was swiftly pulled out from under them by the RBNZ. Now Wheeler and co have a much larger problem.

I agree with Happy. Apart from the golf. All golf courses should be converted into public space

So you like beaches, hiking and sailing? I wish other parts of NZ had those...

Some incredible sites in Auckland with golf courses on them; the Bucklands Beach golf club for one... Formosa...

Be careful what you wish for. Most golf courses are privately owned, and those that are being converted, are being converted into housing.

Most people are too busy working to pay the rent. So only a good city if you are a landlord or property speculator. For me, I prefer to live somewhere the people have a better class of character.

Anything but watching the rugby ay. I understand.

# 3 Smart Cities
Some time back i posted this on this site

Overpopulation and the Corporate Solution

Throughout history there have been mass migrations. I believe we are about to embark on the final journey. A journey that will revolutionise how we live.

The Journey so far has taken us from the land to the cities. Now we will mass migrate from the cities to the towers.

Welcome to the corporate housing estates.

In the not to distant future the big corporates are going to wake up to the big potential in housing. When that happens the revolution, in housing, will begin in earnest.

So what is it?

Massive, very high tech, multi story complexes that will be like small villages with apartments, supermarkets and other shops, entertainment, medical centres, schools, and so on. They will even have a crematorium and a wall cemetery. It will be such that a person could live their whole life in a complex without ever having to leave.

These multi story, very high tech, complexes will house fifty thousand (50k) people. Note that it will take twenty of these to house one million people..

Home ownership will disappear as these apartments will be leased. People will be able to buy and sell their leases. So trading in leases will replace trading in houses.

Access throughout the complex will be controlled by your cell phone. There will be zones for the various classes of people.

Food will be farmed inside the complex using vertical layered farming. Protiens will come from farmed insects, and some from stem cell farms inside each complex.

Monorail will move people from complex to complex.

There will be no need for Councils as all waste will be recycled within the complex, there will be no roads, no building permits and so on. There will be minimal government as the corporations will take care of most of the external necessities.

People living outside these complexes will be smug at first. But they will become more and more isolated, as more people move into these complexes. Eventually their houses will be worthless and become abandoned.

So what is in it for the big corporations?

They will have complete control over your life and your money. They will control the complex and all the power, water, internet (ISP), cell phone coverage, cable TV. They will even be your bank. When you enter a complex you will be set-up with an account and be given a special bank card. As everyone in the complex earns and spends their money in the complex its just a simple electronic transaction in a computer. Even if you go to work in another complex they will own that as well.

So you will
Pay your rent to them
Pay your power bill to them
Pay your internet connection (ISP) to them
Pay your cable television to them
Pay your water bill to them
Pat your cell phone bill to them
Your bank loans and interest to them
And so on

As the complex is high tech they will know everything about you and can sell this info to advertisers. Just like the internet, people don't mind sacrificing their privacy, so long as they get something back. In exchange for all this the people will get low rent for a modern apartment supplied will all the latest technology.

Finally there will be a clause in all leases that you are not allowed to hold any form of protest inside the complex.

A bit like a future retirement village for young people ??

...when I compare what one family member lives in Auckland (drafty cold old villa shared by 7) to the likes of another in a major US city shared with one other, swanky low level apartment, complete with bars, lounges, pools, bbq areas and gyms, ensuite, cable etc, for about the same can only wonder when someone like Rymans sees the very large gap in the NZ housing market.

Exactly, apartment living can be superior to the old 1/4 acre house, there are a few buildings in Auckland that are already there but there's no reason we can't throw up a 100 more.

Look at getting retrained in the modern world, for the 40yr+ crowd. We are already well into this cycle.

You cell phone will eventually just be a chip, and you'll get it just after birth or when you are enrolled in your first preschool. You will get "discounts" on the purchases made by the corporation that owns your building complex (translation everything will be priced higher so you can get your discount). Councils will be a redundant thing of the past (and just a sinecure), being replaced by corporate social managers. The monorail will be by authorisation only, and resemble that system in Hunger Games more than the futuristic rides for the rich, This is because travel will only be necessary for corporate sponsored events and other provided entertainment and hobbies.

Very very sad world and I can't imagine the type of person that would want a world like that but that's where we're going

# 6 - Multi-Utility Retailors

In other words "Corporations" taking over everything.

Now consider this

Money Simplified

Part 1 - Money as a means of exchange

In the beggining people exchanged their skils with each other
The Butcher, Baker, Tailor, Shoemaker and so on.

To avoid the hasstle of exchanging meat for shoes, or suits for bread, and so on, money was used as a "Means of Exchange". That is people exchanging their goods for money.

In this world of lone and small traders, money "As a means of exchange" worked exceptionally well

Part 2 - Money changing its roll as a means of exchange

Today, we are hearing more and more calls for such things as a "Big Kahunda" or a "Universal Basic Income"

What has happened to money, such that it no longer circulates "as a means of exchange" but needs to be distributed on a massive scale? How can this be?

Money, as a means of exchange has shifted. Instead of money moving from person to person in a comunity it is moving, en mass from people to corporations.

The "means of exchange" is now people to corporations.

Further, Money as ameans of exchange, only applies in the corporated world where companies are bought and sold.

I believe it will take a few years yet before people realise what i am saying.

Nope, figured that already, busy planning how to appear asset free in retirement.

This, for example:

"The judges might also be bemused by the Kiwi version of a public-private partnership, such as the latest move which involve Housing Minister Nick Smith ordering the bureaucrats to go through their Auckland land inventories and offer up for sale to private developers, any waste Crown land, the private house market might consider they could make a buck or two from. Then sit back, cross fingers and hope some houses might be built."

What is so "bemusing" about that? Why is it so fantastically quixotic to assume that more houses would be built, if developers could get their hands on the land and the permits that enable them to build houses?

Many people seem to think that only Government intervention is able to ensure that the market provides goods and services that people want and are willing to pay good money for. In fact the opposite is the case - Only Government intervention will prevent a market from providing goods and services that people want and are willing to pay good money for.

PS: apologies, this was supposed to be a reply to Rastus above

The ideal might of course be somewhere in the middle. A developer might be able to maximise his profit by building 10 $2 million houses, where the optimum for the City may be 40 $500,000 houses, or potentially more complex still, with say 3-4 $2 mills, 15 $1 mills, 15 $500ks, and 15 $250k apartments. (The UK applies something like this latter regulation in some boroughs at least, so as to ensure there is affordable housing, but not to have ghettos).
I personally agree with your sentiment that private developers are likely the best developers, but within relatively tight regulations and guidelines to ensure a good mix of housing that adds to the city.

Just a couple of points:

The Mercer survey is for determining remuneration for relocating overseas executives, which is far removed from what the average permanent Auckland might deem liveable. I know it’s a crazy idea, but how about a liveable survey that asks the people that live there permanently.

A city, or anyone, does not become smart by just calling its self that. What would be smart is a survey that asked the locals what they thought of living here; having housing that was truly affordable, have healthy homes etc.

And the evidence already shows that the high house prices that smart growth ideology causes has no bearing on rates, after all, Auckland, the third most ‘liveable’ city in the world has high house prices, and rate increases that are going through the roof.

Your access to our unique content is free - always has been. But ad revenues are diving so we need your direct support.

Become a supporter

Thanks, I'm already a supporter.