Next week is New Zealand Geothermal Week, with industry events planned throughout Taupō.
Geothermal leaders will converge for workshops, field trips and networking events around the Taupō Volcanic Zone, which is projected to produce nearly a quarter of New Zealand’s power within the next five years.
As it stands, 18.5 per cent of the nation’s power is produced by geothermal energy.
That puts New Zealand near the top of the table in terms of geothermal production, alongside larger countries such as the US, the Philippines, Indonesia and Turkiye.
Most of the country’s geothermal sites are found in the Taupō Volcanic Zone, which stretches from Tongariro National Park to Whakaari-White Island.
Contact Energy has five geothermal power stations in the area, with a sixth under construction in Tauhara.
That new facility alone will generate 3.5 per cent of New Zealand’s energy needs —enough to power about 200,000 homes.
Iwi in the Central North Island are also major stakeholders in the region’s geothermal power sources, with areas such as the Taheke Field, which is close to the Kaituna River, being explored for development by the trust that owns it.
Even among renewable energy sources, geothermal is prized as a baseload source, meaning it is consistent and not weather dependent like solar and wind power.
New Zealand Geothermal Association chief executive Kennie Tsui said this reliability was important for businesses that needed reliable energy.
“A number of industries are also tapping into the geothermal resource to capture the heat, and this takes a load off the national grid.”
It is also vital for New Zealand’s climate change impact reduction goals.
“The low-hanging fruit for geothermal applications is to increase the electricity supply to help New Zealand transition to electric vehicles, to power industrial process with geothermal heat, and to make district heating a commonplace thing in large residential developments.”
However, geothermal energy production still has an impact on the natural environment, with Waikato Regional Council noting that “the environmental effects have been dramatic” on areas where natural geothermal energy has been harnessed.
This is due mainly to heat and fluid extraction reducing the pressure on the underground systems, causing geysers to disappear.
It is still considered a green energy-production option, with large government investment including a five-year, $10 million research grant awarded to GNS in 2019 to explore further potential in the area.