Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Japan's nuclear crisis lends weight to wind power

The New Zealand wind power industry sees a spinoff from the disaster in Japan which has cast doubt about nuclear power and raised questions about all potentially harmful generation.

Workers are still struggling to regain control of the Fukushima Dai- ichi nuclear power station but the NZ Wind Energy Association says wind farms in Japan continue to generate, including one in the sea that was struck by a 5m high tsunami.

Chief executive Fraser Clark said the disaster in Japan had put the spotlight on renewable energy sources.

Solar energy was expanding around the world as technology improves and gets cheaper, but wind was the fastest growing renewable electricity source, he said."With gas it has been the leading new generation build in the past few years.

"We're building more wind than coal and nuclear anyway. We think that will continue," Clark said.

The world's biggest maker of wind turbines, Vestas Wind Systems, has said demand for wind projects may increase after Japan's nuclear crisis.

While there hadn't been a rush of orders since the earthquake, the possibilities were there, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Wind energy provides just 1 per cent of Japan's total electricity use but the country's reconstruction boss, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, said there was "no doubt" renewable sources would be a pillar of future electricity generation.

Clark said any increased global demand for wind power had a mixed impact on New Zealand which has a well-established wind farm sector built up without state subsidies as in other countries.

"We're developing some skills in the sector here, building cost-effective plants without support and subsidy and having to make the projects as efficient and effective as possible.

Meridian and TrustPower had already invested in wind projects in Australia.

"Out of that comes skills that can be exportable around the region and around the globe."

The cost of wind farms was vulnerable to global price fluctuations.

A surge in interest in wind power around the middle of last decade led to sharp price increases for turbines, gear boxes and other equipment. This was exacerbated by soaring steel prices and led to delays in commissioning wind farms.

Clark said while the current commodities boom had pushed up some material costs, China had started making turbines which was easing supply problems.

He said it was not only the immediate emergency at Fukushima that was leading to greater scrutiny of nuclear power and other technology such as carbon sequestration - burying waste carbon from coal-fired power stations.

"There are questions about liabilities, if something happens who is going to pay, does it mean insurance goes up? It's potentially the same with carbon sequestration. It may be in a hole in the ground but who's responsible if it burps for some reason."

New Zealand wind turbine maker Windflow Technology said there was more comment on wind power as a result of the Japanese disaster but this had not translated into any buyer inquiry yet.

Marketing manager Sheralee MacDonald said the Christchurch company's demonstration turbine at the head of Lyttelton Harbour had survived both of Canterbury's major earthquakes unscathed.

- NZ Herald

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