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Why we’re lagging with wind power

March 12, 2020 March 2020 No Comments

If anyone has bragging rights on Global Wind Day, it should be New Zealand. However no new wind farms have been built in five years. 

Below the top half of the North Island is smack bang in the middle of the Roaring Forties which supplies an abundant supply of gusty, howling, and roaring wind ideal for creating electricity.

Is climate change going to take the winds out of the Roaring Forties sails though? Not likely, said Weather Watch’s Duncan.

“I can’t imagine climate change will affect the Roaring Forties too much. The reason why it blows a gale down there is because there is no land. You’ve got Antarctica this huge continent with this high pressure parked over it all the time, it’s the driest place on earth … That big belt of high pressure basically squashes against the low pressure that forms south of New Zealand over the Southern Ocean.”

It’s a particularly valuable resource. Solar doesn’t supply much power during grey winters when demand soars and dry years mean risk for hydro lakes. Wind-generated electricity could plug the winter gap.

Despite this abundant source of potential power, local Global Wind Day gloating is subdued. Wind provided just 5 percent of New Zealand’s electricity in 2017.

Hydropower is New Zealand biggest electricity source at 59 percent, geothermal energy accounts for 17 percent. Gas provides 14 percent of electricity and coal 3 percent.

Wind comes in second to last for commercial scale energy production just in front of wood, solar and biogas’s 2 percent. There are just 17 wind farms and 490 turbines. These have a capacity of 690 MW per year.

Compared to other countries New Zealand’s 690 MW is miniscule. China is the world leader in wind power capacity, with a staggering 221,000 MW capacity. The United States has 96,400 MW, Germany 59,300 MW and India 35,000 MW capacity.

For countries trying to use wind to supply over half their electricity from wind, the variable nature of it is a problem. Denmark, which obtained 43 percent of its electricity from wind in 2017, buys electricity from Norway on days when the wind isn’t blowing.

Batteries are another solution; Scotland just announced a massive “super battery” is going store power from a 215-turbine wind farm. The 50 MW lithium-ion battery is the size of half a football field.

In New Zealand we have an excellent back-up for days that aren’t windy. Our hydro lakes effectively become big batteries. Water can be stored and then used on calm days to replace wind electricity.

The New Zealand Wind Energy Association’s vision is to grow wind power to supplying 20 percent of New Zealand’s electricity by 2035.

It all comes down to the way New Zealand’s electricity market works, according to the association’s chief executive Grenville Gaskell.

 “Wind farms get built when investors can make a return on doing so,” said Gaskell.The reason we don’t have many wind farms is simple: we just haven’t needed the extra electricity.

 “The cheapest form of electricity generation at the moment is wind and geothermal, they’re cheaper than building more gas or coal or hydro.” However without storage wind electricity producers have to accept prices given to them. For companies with fossil fuel plants this drives down the price their fossil-fuelled electricity can demand. For electricity companies who have gas or other non-hydro facilities, wind risks driving their profits down.

You would need a new company to come in and build it whereas if an existing company built a wind farm it would be eating into its profits.”

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