New Zealand's wind power industry is poised to deliver large swathes of power in coming years as the country strives to become one of the first in the world with 100 per cent renewable energy sources.
So says Rebecca Tjaberings of WSP Opus, the global professional services firm which designed and helped build Antarctica's unique Ross Island wind farm, powering the New Zealand and American operations in Scott Base and McMurdo Station, as well as providing consultancy for the 62-turbine West Wind on Wellington's windy west coast for Meridian Energy.
Tjaberings, Group Manager of Power for WSP Opus, says the three wind turbines at Ross Island were built to cut down dependence on diesel at Scott Base and McMurdo research stations; they have cut fuel bills – as well as curbing pollution in one of the world's most pristine environments.
Plans are being laid now for an upgrade, probably in 2030, and Tjaberings says the likelihood of enhanced wind power to cope with more demand from the bases encapsulates what is happening on the New Zealand mainland.
The government has targeted 2035 for New Zealand to be 100 per cent powered by renewable energy – hydro, solar, wind and geo-thermal. In 2016, wind energy provided about six per cent of our total supply, according to the New Zealand Wind Energy Association who predict that will grow to 20 per cent in 2035, thus providing about a fifth of our projected total.
"Wind power will likely be one of the first to get going [towards that 100 per cent goal]," says Tjaberings. "That's because there were a lot of wind farms consented, but not built, in the first decade of the 2000s. This will be balanced with developing a mix of other renewable technologies."
There are already 17 wind farms in New Zealand but more did not go ahead because there was generally enough supply to meet demand – plus uncertainty over the future of the Tiwai Point aluminum smelter (which uses about 10 per cent of the country's electricity supply).
"But now, with population growth heading the way it is and increasing numbers of electric vehicles, more demand is on the way. No one is quite sure how quickly the electric car phenomenon will take off – but everyone is sure it will happen," says Tjaberings.
However, as WSP Opus found when setting the Ross Island wind farm in place in 2009, there are always challenges: "In Antarctica, it was obviously remote and with Antarctic conditions – there wasn't the luxury of having manufacturing facilities nearby,"
Tjaberings says. "The turbine foundations had to be built in New Zealand, transported down to Ross Island – and they had to be put up very quickly, in the summer months."
Ideally in New Zealand, wind farms would be built close to main centres like Auckland to reduce set-up and transmission costs. However, land around such main centres is at a premium and does not always come with the best wind resource.
Tjaberings and the Wind Energy Association say wind farm sites in Waikato, Taranaki, Manawatu, Hawkes Bay, Wairarapa, Rangitikei, North Canterbury, Clutha and Gore have all been consented but construction has not yet begun – and a further six sites are being investigated before consent is sought.
New Zealand is fortunate to have enough existing land-based options that we don't necessarily need to follow international efforts to build wind farms at sea, she says. Companies like Mitsubishi and General Electric are racing to build giant sea-based wind farms, with the latter developing an 800-foot turbine that can power 16,000 homes by itself. Meanwhile a British-Dutch consortium is planning a wind farm in the North Sea capable of powering a city of 20 million people.
"Clearly wind has real application in New Zealand, even more than solar; we just don't have the solar advantages Australia does, for example. However, the combination of the two will become more and more common," says Tjaberings, adding that battery storage of generated electricity will become more important as the 100 per cent renewable energy goal is targeted.
Tesla batteries – and others – have made large strides in recent times, ranging from small batteries that homes with solar power can use to store energy from rooftop cells. There are also grid-sized batteries currently in play in New Zealand – like Vector's $5m Powerpack battery in Auckland, able to power 450 homes for 2.3 hours, cheaper than the conventional $12m upgrade to existing network infrastructure which would have been required to achieve the same thing.
The battery stores power to help ensure energy provision to customers at peak winter levels at all times. Even that is dwarfed by Tesla's 100 megawatt battery which launched in South Australia late last year – the largest lithium-ion battery in the world, designed to power 30,000 homes for up to an hour in the event of a blackout, but usually called into action to even out electricity supplies at less critical times.
"The advances in battery storage means things will change quite quickly – and we can see an era fast approaching where power becomes much more localised with small scale generation embedded in local networks helping to meet energy demands. People with storage units might be able to sell power to their neighbours, for example.
"It's a pretty exciting time and we are sure wind-generated energy will be a big part of that change."
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