When Jeff Wilson goes out for a Sunday drive, his eyes are always on the look-out for sites for hydro power schemes.
He's already done one on the Talla Burn River in Central Otago. The 2.3MW Paul Wilson Station is one of the few privately financed, developed and operated hydro stations in the country, delivering around 13GW of electricity a year to power more than 1000 households between Raes Junction and Clyde.
Earlier this year the scheme was Highly Commended at the EECA awards. ?It's named for his son Paul, the engineer on the project, who drowned in February last year, just months after the plant was commissioned, while taking a water sample.
Talla Burn Generation is very much a family company. The Wilsons put up the idea and a lot of the expertise. The Hore family contributed the land, part of the Beaumont station. Both partners shared the financing.
Wilson learned his trade as an electrician in 1971 working for the Otago Central Electric Power Board, now Pioneer Energy.
The board's strategy was to develop small hydro schemes in cooperation with gold mining, dredging and irrigation companies, and Wilson worked on three of them.
Wife Sue handled the finances, and there was also help from water engineering experts MWH Global, Opus Consultants and Scorpion Engineering.
The existence of a 19th century gold-mining cut through a gully showed the location could be turned into a hydropower canal. Wilson's 4.6km canal is more gradual than the gold miners' raceway, meaning less erosion and preserving height for final drop into the penstock, which is how the power gets made.
Getting the power out to the grid meant 21 km of 33 kV transmission line, 2km of it underground to go through a residential area.
"We did a deal with Pulse Energy. We called tenders and then went with the smaller outfit because we thought it would be easier to deal with," he says.
Wilson says not a month goes by that he doesn't get a call from a farmer to look at the creek on the back of the farm.
"Most people are tyre kickers. I say 'do you have plenty of money?' They need a lot of money if they think they are going to do it, because it needs to be reasonably big, and paperwork costs."
Wilson's dream is a hard one to have. ?"I wake up every morning and I ask myself, if I didn't do this, would I still have two sons?"
But the legacy they created together is still there.
Construction of the 2.3MW Paul Wilson Station at Talla Burn in Otago. The station was named after the late Paul Wilson, the engineer on the project who drowned there in February while taking water samples.
New Zealand wants to have 90 per cent of its electricity coming from renewable energy by 2025.
That's the target. The consensus is that it's probably going to happen, driven by market forces and the march of technology.
According to the Ministry for Economic Development's post-election briefing, in 2010 some 74 per cent of electricity came from renewable energy sources such as hydro, wind and geothermal.
That's 38 per cent of New Zealand's total primary energy supply (electricity plus fossil fuels), which is the second highest percentage in the OECD.
The officials painted a picture of the traditional renewables growing, with strong potential in geothermal and wind in particular, and other options emerging such as marine energy, solar and second generation biofuels.
Geothermal and wind now account for 13 per cent and just under six per cent of total generation respectively.
Achieving 90 per cent means building more renewables, retiring the Huntly Power station and reducing the number of large baseload gas-fired plants elsewhere.
Huntly power station
The ministry's way forward is to believe in the market.
"The ministry's view is that commercial enterprises are best placed to identify the lowest cost generation mix. The government's role is to ensure there are no undue barriers to invest in generation of any type, and environmental effects are priced wherever possible," it says.
The ministry believes the primary economic motivator for generators to move to renewables is the emissions trading scheme, so it would be inefficient to introduce additional financial incentives for particular generation projects.
Other economic factors affecting generation types are that a higher exchange rate favours high capital cost options such as wind (turbines are built offshore), and the availability and price of gas has a major bearing on gas plant economics.
Data reported to the Electricity Authority shows that generation capacity built or under construction since 2007 includes:
?487 MW of geothermal
?428 MW of wind
?14 MW hydro
?400 MW baseload gas
?209 MW peaking gas
?9 MW peaking diesel at Marsden Point.
That adds up to 10,000 gigawatt hours, which is what matters because it's what is sold.? It's enough for another Tiwai Point aluminium smelter and 400,000 extra households as well.
But demand hasn't grown.
The Ministry's latest energy data file estimates consumer demand at 38,490 GWh. That's down on the 38,699 GWh used in 2007.
That contrasts with the big increase in electricity use towards the end of the 20th century, more than 20 per cent in a decade, and Government predictions a few years ago that electricity use would keep growing at two per cent a year.
The world recession and attempts by many industries and households to become more energy efficient have frozen demand.
Factor in the extra power coming available as Norske Skog halves production at its Kawerau paper mill, and the 15 per cent of national capacity suddenly available (if it can be transmitted out of Southland) in the (unlikely) event that Rio Tinto walks away from Tiwai Point, and the country would be looking at an over supply of power.
It therefore makes sense to shut down some thermal capacity - Genesis will decommission its 200MW number three generator at Huntly in November, with another slated for mothballing at the end of 2014.
Work by lines company Transpower, including replacing one of the Cook Strait cables, upgrading the North Island grid, upgrading North Auckland and Northland lines and replacing the transmission line from Wairakei to Whakamaru, should make it even easier to shuffle power round the country and put further downward pressure on wholesale prices.
The Home IQ energy system being trialled by Genesis
One of the most significant innovations in the electricity sector in recent years is smart metering, but will New Zealand consumers get the benefit of those meters?
In a major report on smart meters published in 2009, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright outlined the potential for smart meters to drive more efficient use of electricity in New Zealand households.
Smart meters can give better information to householders on their power use.
Add financial incentives to encourage them to respond to that information, and make that response easy and convenient, and there could be major benefits for the householder.
The commissioner pointed out that the necessary functionality needs to be included in the meters and the retailers need to offer more cost-reflective tariffs.
But it's the electricity generator-retailers who are deploying the majority of smart meters and so decide on their functionality. ?Wright said that some generator-retailers are planning to omit the functionality which is key to delivering the environmental and consumer benefits, however.
The regulatory intervention she suggested didn't happen, and the opportunity may be slipping away.
Metering the market - Genesis Energy is using Advanced Metering Services (AMS), a subsidiary of lines company Vector, to roll out more 500,000 smart meters to all its customer properties. Find out how they're making your power bills more accurate here.
Simply Energy - The proof there is now a market for electricity in New Zealand may be the existence of Simply Energy. Get the full story here.
Micropower - Check out the new term coming out of Japan that people are starting to pick up on - energy lifestyle.