Today the Green Party released their energy policy for the 2017 election.
The reaction from Business New Zealand has been largely positive. Other than the commitment to 100% renewable energy, the lobby group believes that it is constructive and comes about as a result of working with the party.
I support parts of the policy too. One area which is encouraging is the Green Party plan to support inter customer trading of electricity that private users generate and put back into the grid. Likewise encouraging the lines companies to amalgamate in places means that the management of the grid across New Zealand should hopefully become less fractured than 29 separate entities at work.
New Zealand is rich with options for renewable energy. It sits in the “Roaring Forties” belt of latitudinal westerly winds, which upon contact with the Southern Alps give rise to substantial rainfall enabling hydroelectric power generation, as well as significant opportunities for wind power. The reasonably high sunshine hours in towns like Blenheim, Whakatane and Nelson ensure the natural potential for solar power also exists. Around the coastal environment there are also several locations where tidal power can be potentially harnessed.
I am aware of significant investment in geothermal energy in New Zealand that has most likely utilized the available capacity. Geothermal systems are quite delicate in nature and thus a fine balance exists between re-injecting too much water back into the ground and not enough.
Another source of power that is heavily utilized is hydro power. Although it has lost a portion of the market as other sources have come online, hydroelectric power makes up about 60% of New Zealand’s total electricity supply. However it is dependent on reliable northwest rainfall feeding the Upper Waitaki Power Scheme, and the Clutha, Roxburgh and Manapouri power stations in Central Otago and Southland.
But there is undeveloped and under researched potential in New Zealand energy resources as well. One example is that New Zealand has a thriving waste stream of bio-waste ranging from waste cooking fat and oil, that at least on a small scale has been demonstrated to be suitable for refining. New Zealanders discharge a huge volume of green waste at refuse stations each week. On a local scale there are a few operations where the gas is captured and used to power onsite facilities. However these are few and far apart. Due to the uncertainty and a lack of interest by Government in biofuel, I support research into whether or not a nation wide bio-fuel programme can be developed in New Zealand.
There is one concern I do have though and that is that the Green Party might try to mothball with the intention of decommissioning thermal plants that rely on coal and oil, such as Huntly, Stratford and Whirinaki. These power stations would prove useful in maintaining energy supply during dry periods when the hydroelectric storage lakes are running low, or if there has been a problem with other sources.