A top US Government official visiting the country has praised New Zealand as a "great model" for other countries working to boost their renewable energy generation.

Mary Warlick, the US Department of State's principal deputy assistant secretary of the Bureau of Energy Resources, has spent the past few days learning about New Zealand's energy profile from Kiwi researchers and Government officials.

With the US investing billions of dollars to up its own capacity for renewable energy generation, Ms Warlick told the Herald that New Zealand could offer many lessons from the way it invested in research and industry development in the space.

Today, around 40 per cent of our primary energy is supplied from renewable sources, which also generates 80 per cent of our electricity, largely from hydropower (more than 50 per cent) and geothermal (around 14 per cent).


Other sources are wind (five per cent of the total electricity supply), bio-energy (providing eight per cent of primary energy supply) and solar and marine.

By 2025, the Government wants 90 per cent of our electricity generation coming from renewable energy sources, provided it did not affect security of supply.

This compared with a renewables contribution of 17 per cent to total energy generating capacity in the US, with 8 per cent of that coming from hydropower and five per cent from wind.

However, Ms Warlick said there had been leaps just in the last six years, when US generation of electricity from wind had tripled and solar-power generation had increased ten-fold.

The US Government had also committed to a US $4 billion programme to drive innovation and research in renewable energy, along with offering loan guarantees to encourage investment.

Its ambitious commitments to slash carbon emissions was also shaping the picture, and the Obama Administration recently introduced some of the toughest fuel economy standards in American history, with a goal to double fuel effiency from 27 to 54 miles per gallon by 2025.

But in working toward a cleaner future, the US still had some large hurdles to overcome, she said.

"One of our biggest challenges has to do with the location of our renewable resources - being far from population centres, that alway poses additional challenges when it comes to investment in the infrastructure that's required."


While New Zealand's energy sector had recognised a strong and obvious economic case in capitalising on our plentiful natural resources - particularly in hydropower and geothermal - "market forces" still needed to prevail in the US, she said.

But she saw a big future for clean energy in the US.

"In our view, we see there remains really significant potential for renewable energy development and technological improvement, which will lead to a greater share of renewables in our energy mix."

In this area, she saw New Zealand as being internationally ahead of the curve, presenting an "impressive example" to other nations.

"I do think that New Zealand really is a great example of how an emphasis on clean and renewable energy options can work, be successful, and help support goals of reducing carbon emissions."