May/June 2015 News

New Zealand is known as the ‘Saudi Arabia of Wind’ thanks to the abundant wind we enjoy just about everywhere around the country. Recently I caught up with both Pioneer Generation and Meridian Energy Ltd and learnt more about their wind development plans. There is also some interesting work going on at the University of Otago to model the benefits of a national electricity grid with a higher proportion of wind generation, which will be required if we move to a 100% renewable electricity system. Wind resource is geographically diverse and can contribute to improving the overall resilience of the national grid.

They’re all small, slow incremental steps …which of course is how most change happens. Last month we may have seen another small step taken in the area of battery technology.

Tesla is a U.S. company that make the best, and most expensive, electric car in the world. They’ve just launched a new product – the ‘Powerwall’. It’s a 100kg battery pack that you can attached to the wall of your house or factory to store the electricity you produce by photo voltaic cell or wind turbine during that day. You can then use it at peak times, which tend to be in the morning and evening for most households. Tesla plan to mass produce ‘Powerwalls’ for around $US3,500 per unit. One unit should be enough for one household. We’ll keep an eye on the product with a view to testing one out in our conditions to see if it lives up to its hype.

We’d like to see a few more such developments here, as storage remains one of the biggest challenges in moving to a fully renewable energy system. In other parts of the world the development of renewable energy technologies is motivated by concerns about climate change. There are policy targets to reduce emissions created by the production of electricity. In New Zealand we have modest targets like having 90% of our electricity from renewable generation by 2025, but remarkably little policy is in place to make it happen. This month the government is requesting public input into what New Zealand should offer as its contribution to the new international climate change agreement to be agreed in December 2015. Public submissions count, so it is worth putting pen to paper even if only to write two sentences.

Back to what the big market participants seem to consider as ‘new’ energy technologies: technologies such as solar PV, electric cars and battery storage. Solar has been around for a long time, and electric cars since the 1800’s, so what is really new is the advance in battery technology and the low price of PV. If these two technologies can mature and become readily available mass produced items, then home based renewables could become the norm, and coupled with wind, hydro and geothermal, we can achieve a 100% renewable electricity system.

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