There’s a lot of wind in this narrow, bony country, which is why the amount of wind energy coming on stream is growing at 28 per cent a year. Wind now accounts for nearly five per cent of our electricity supply, totalling 1930 GWh, according to a report by economists BERL for the New Zealand Wind Energy Association (NZWEA). As at the end of 2011 there were 16 operating wind farms with a capacity of about 623MW, with Meridian, Trustpower and NZ Windfarms the main players. Most of the turbines are in the lower North Island. The Ministry for Economic Development’s latest energy outlook predicts an annual growth rate in wind generation of just 5.1 per cent, which means a total of about 4300 GWh by 2030. The NZWEA says the MED has been consistently wrong in its forecasts, and it’s picking steady growth to 3500 MW by 2030, giving 12,700GWh of capacity, enough to supply 20 per cent of the country’s expected electricity demand. Association chief executive Eric Pyle says almost a third of TrustPower’s generation capacity now comes from wind, with Meridian running about 13.5 per cent. “Wind is now a mainstream source of generation in New Zealand and globally. People know how to use the technology and connect it to grids. Onshore wind farming is very cost competitive,” he says. With steady winds expected at most sites, the efficiency factor of wind farming here is more than double that of places like Germany, so it is treated almost like base line power. Almost, which is why generators often pair wind with hydro, which can be switched on if the wind stops blowing. “We are also seeing a trend of smaller wind farms in local networks, so it’s a more distributed model that helps with grid stability. By spreading out their generation, companies are spreading the risk,” Pyle says. Pyle says while the industry here is largely an importer of technology, “because our wind resources are so good, companies learn a lot about the turbines, and develop local solutions to problems that can become niche products that are re-exported. “Internationally there has to be more renewables. New Zealand is well placed to develop industries with export potential.” That’s something Meridian is already doing with its investment in wind farming across the Tasman. External relations manager Guy Waipara says the Australian market is much bigger, and incentives in place to encourage a shift from its predominantly coal and gas-fired thermal generation make investment attractive. “You can’t make money solely from the energy market because it is dominated by sunk cost coal plants, so renewables need a leg up,” Waipara says. “New Zealand as far as we know is only place you can build renewables commercially without a subsidy.”
The efficiency factor of wind farming here is more than double that of places like Germany.
Photo: Ted Baghurst