NZ’S wind energy future
New Zealand is in the enviable position of having a high proportion of its electricity created by renewable means. It needs to be higher still.
Aotearoa’s natural environment generated 74% of the electricity used in 2010. According to Dr Lawrence Jones, a visiting authority on linking renewables into electricity grids, we are well placed to achieve the goal of 95% renewable electricity generation by 2025.
Jones was here early this month addressing the attendees at the New Zealand Wind Energy Association conference in Hamilton.
A study for the US Department of Energy led by Jones, found that grid operators (the good sorts providing us with reliable electricity) have undergone a paradigm shift – no longer seeing renewables as problematic, but rather a part of the solution to a sustainable energy future.
Critics complain that increased reliance on renewables creates a need for more reliable ‘reserve’ (read: coal, oil and gas) power sources. Jones, however, says improved technology such as forecasting (allowing operators to predict blustery weather or still patches) and smart grids, which send information back to utility companies, will generate a better understanding of patterns of demand and information about energy supply. This enables variable energy sources to be easily integrated.
Demand-response programmes, like letting consumers choose whether they do their washing at 2 a.m. when the price of electricity is cheaper, or during peak demand time, will address problems associated with high demand.
Renewables, such as wind, are becoming widespread as costs plummet and technological glitches such as ‘blade glint’ (where the sun catches on turbine blades, creating an annoying light flicker) are surpassed. Global wind power has increased dramatically in the past decade from 17 gigawatts to 238 gigawatts, enough power to supply 100 million homes. According to the NZ Wind Energy Association, wind energy here will increase from 5% to 20% of supply by 2030.
Jones states that non-renewables will still play a big role in the future in order to meet growth and increased
energy demand. The Government-led New Zealand Energy Strategy 2011 - 2021 is focusing on this, with plans for New Zealand to become a “highly attractive global destination for petroleum exploration” and a “net exporter of oil by 2030”.
With our strong hydropower base, and blossoming wind industry, we’re on the right track, asserts Jones, but we need to ensure we don’t rest on our laurels. “You need to tighten up policies so you don’t get complacent. New Zealand is doing well – but the problem is you don’t talk about it a lot.”