Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.
- H G Wells
I have no doubt that we will be successful in harnessing the sun's energy...
If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago.
- Sir George Porter
Windmills of Banning Pass, near Palm Springs, California, United States (N 33°57' W 116°42')
This landscape studded with wind turbines has become a classic sight in the United States and in northern Europe.
Germany is the world leader in the use of wind power. The use of wind energy, although still marginal in the world energy balance sheet
(its power exceeded 16,600 megawatts in 2001), underwent exceptional growth in the last three years of the 20th century.
Global wind power is expected to have exceeded 20,000 megawatts in 2002.
Renewable and nonpolluting, windmill energy uses the most modern methods developed by the aeronautics industry.
Source: www.yannarthusbertrand.com from Earth from
Above by the incomparable photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand
For years, New Zealand has enjoyed some of the lowest power prices in the developed world. Many people believe this was due to the large hydro-electricity schemes developed
between the 1940s and 1970s. The truth is, however, that the huge Maui gas field off the coast of Taranaki has set the benchmark for New Zealand's electricity prices for
most of the last 30 years. Today, Maui gas accounts for up to 25% of our electricity generation - but now it's running out. By 2010 it is expected to be all but
exhausted. With New Zealand's economy growing and an increasing demand for power supply, we need to make some tough decisions now to avoid an energy supply "gap" that could
disrupt our economy and our way of life.
New Zealand's energy solution is not a simple one. The big issue is security of supply. Solving the problem is a balancing act: security versus price versus the
environment. What are our energy options? How do they affect our environment? How will they affect the price of our power bills? How much can we rely on
them for our power supply? These are just some of the questions we need to find answers to, to ensure power shortages are not the way of the future. Please join the
debate and try your hand at balancing our energy needs to help determine our energy future - it's all about positive energy.
How does it affect me?
In the short term, it doesn't. However, it is inevitable that power prices will increase as New Zealand makes the investments needed to replace Maui. You can
offset some of these right now, by using some easy, power saving tips in your own home. It's a good habit to get into. By making yourself aware of the issues at
stake, you are also taking part in the debate that we all need to have: the future of New Zealand's energy.
Meanwhile, let's be clear - there is no threat to gas for cooking, hot water, and heating, which use only a tiny fraction of the gas that currently supplies New Zealand's
energy supply needs.
What do I need to do?
Think about and engage with the issues. New Zealand's energy situation is a dynamic, changing one and we need to understand what our options are and how each one will
affect our overall energy future. It's important that we don't close off options that could ensure us a secure electricity supply, at reasonable cost to consumers and to
the environment. To ensure that we consider the options together, we need as a country to understand the trade-offs that any new electricity supply options will
Why are we telling you this?
Simple. This is an issue that affects all New Zealanders and it's not going away. A quarter of New Zealand's electricity is a big chunk to lose and with the
absence of new cheap hydro or gas alternatives and the lead times required to secure new, reliable electricity sources, we have just a couple of years to make some difficult
choices. New Zealand has plenty of energy options. As a country, we need to weigh up the costs and advantages of each option against the cost to jobs and quality
of life if we don't maintain a reliable power supply.
The environmental impact of power generation comes in many forms. For some technologies the impacts are predominantly local: discharges into rivers, emissions from power
station stacks, or the noise and alteration or spoiling of the landscape associated with, say, an opencast coal mine or the development of a major hydro scheme. Other
impacts are more widespread. Global warming is the ultimate example of an energy technology having local benefits and global costs. The distribution of such impacts
is also likely to be highly variable. Some people may suffer significant direct impacts (for example. Bangladeshis suffering increased flooding, or farmers in parts of
Africa who suffer increased drought), whilst others may appear to enjoy a "better" climate, even if native plants and animals start to change.
Many environmental impacts are intangible and difficult to predict. For example, global warming may exacerbate water disputes between countries in politically volatile
areas of the Middle East and Africa, and cause increased economic migration from peoples out of developing countries to more developed ones. There are no easy answers.
New Zealand Is Lucky
We have a number of different options to help fill our energy gap over the next couple of decades. Unfortunately, each of them comes with its own set of very different
pros and cons.
New Zealand has been blessed with many natural resources, not least of which are the major lakes and rivers which have been harnessed to provide hydro power. Large scale
developments last century mean that hydro now accounts for between 60 and 70% of total generation.
Clean and relatively abundant source of electricity
Already supplies 60 - 70% of our needs
Produces no greenhouse gases
NZ has a wide range of potential sites, large and small
Positive public perception of existing hydro plant and renewable energy generally
Provides baseload generation - as long as it keeps raining
Strong and growing opposition to environmental impact of new big hydro schemes
Reliant on weather - production can vary greatly from year to year
Many new schemes would struggle to make electricity at competitive prices
Most of best sites already used or off-limits
Low hydro storage capacity in NZ
Water becoming an increasingly scarce and expensive resource
New Zealand has two gas options: domestic natural gas from fields like Maui and Pohokura and imported Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). The electricity generation
characteristics of both are identical, as are most of their pros and cons.
Significant untapped domestic resources known to exist
Important existing source of electricity - producing up to 25% of total electricity, more during hydro shortages
Relatively short power station construction times
Relatively minor visual and physical impact
Liquefied Natural Gas abundant on world market should local supplies run low
Gas-powered plants can run 24/7 - perfect for security of supply
Produces relatively lower cost electricity than most renewable energy alternatives
Plants can be built close to source of demand - reducing costs of upgrading the national grid
Greenhouse gas emissions add to global warming - although much less so than coal
Range of possible future costs for greenhouse gas emissions is very large
Gas costs rising - Maui gas was very cheap by world standards - new domestic supplies already cost significantly more
Local gas supplies uncertain - timing and size of local discoveries unknown, especially because of relative lack of new exploration in NZ
Imported Liquefied Natural Gas would expose New Zealand electricity to fluctuations in world gas prices and foreign exchange rates
The only significant environmental impact from gas is the carbon dioxide (CO2) that is emitted. Modern combined-cycle gas fired power stations emit 2½ times
less CO2 than a modern coal-fired power station.
New Zealand has copious quantities of coal - equivalent to 30 Maui fields - which, if it were exploited, could serve New Zealand's needs for many decades.
Plentiful local supply
Abundant overseas supplies
Competitive with other new generation options if low or no carbon tax
Reliable and available for baseload generation to ensure security of supply
Relatively clean for local air quality, if using latest technology
Produces greenhouse gases
Expensive source of electricity if high carbon tax
Range of possible future costs for greenhouse gas emissions is very large
Largest deposits of domestic coal located far from the centres of demand for electricity - costly to transport the coal or the electricity
Coal-fired power stations are expensive to build - a lot of money to waste if a significant new gas field is found which makes New Zealand's coal capability redundant
Although there is plenty of wind in New Zealand, it also needs to be physically accessible, located close to the National Grid and not too environmentally
invasive. Additionally, wind power fluctuates with wind speeds, so it needs to work as a complement to more reliable energy sources, rather than as a stand-alone.
Middelgrunden offshore wind farm, near Copenhagen, Denmark (55°40' N, 12°38' E)
Since late 2000, the world’s largest offshore wind farm to date has stood in the Øresund strait, which separates Denmark from Sweden.
Its 20 turbines, each equipped with a rotor 250 feet (76 m) in diameter, standing 210 feet (64 m) above the water,
form an arc with a length of 2.1 miles (3.4 km). With 40 mega-watts of power, the farm produces 3% of the electricity consumption of Copenhagen.
Source: yannarthusbertrand.com from Earth from
Above by the incomparable photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand
Large, identified potential
Well-suited to NZ conditions - abundant wind
Complementary with hydro
Technology improvements should lower costs, making some wind increasingly competitive as electricity prices rise
Expensive electricity at most identified sites, using current technology
Major cost to transport power from remote site to National Grid - large scale wind development would require significant new investment in the National Grid
Visual intrusion makes it inappropriate for areas of natural beauty
Highly variable - depends on back-up being available from hydro and fossil fuel generation for times when conditions are too light or too severe to allow wind turbines to
Community acceptance - potential noise and visual issues
In 2030 Denmark plans to satisfy 50% of its electricity needs by means of wind energy (as opposed to 10% today).
Although renewable energy makes up only 2% of primary energy used worldwide, the ecological advantages attract great interest.
Thanks to technical progress, which has reduced noise created by wind farms (installed about a 1/3 of a mile, or 500 m, from residential areas),
resistance is fading. And with a 30% average annual growth rate in the past four years, the wind farm seems to be here to stay.
Photo source: trane.dk
Renewable energy resources are those that are replenished naturally but limited in the amount that can be used at any one time. Renewable energy resources include
biomass, hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, ocean thermal, wave action and tidal action.
In many parts of New Zealand, volcanic activity heats up water underground to very high temperatures. Geothermal power involves drilling deep wells to tap into this high
temperature water to produce steam to turn electricity turbines.
Renewable energy using heat from the Earth's core
Substantial untapped reserves
Technology and efficiency improving
Provides continuous generation - ideal for security of supply
Some reserves would be relatively economic to develop
Wastewater and emissions require environmental control
Potential for land subsidence
Potential impact on existing geothermal features of cultural or economic significance
Some reserves would be costly to develop
The sun's energy can be directly harnessed in two main ways: solar heating of buildings or water, and electricity generation using solar cells (photovoltaics).
Capable of being tapped simply through 'solar-savvy' architecture
Improving technologies and scientific understanding of possibilities
Growing public acceptance and uptake of solar water heating technology
Solar space and water heating can be incorporated relatively cheaply when a building is being constructed
Readily available to everyone doesn't require expensive national grid upgrades
Solar electricity generation using photovoltaics is expensive
It is often expensive to fit solar heating into existing buildings
Seasonal and regional variations - unreliable, daylight/weather-dependent
Primary processing industries such as timber and pulp and paper plants generate waste biomass. These by-products can be burned to produce steam and generate electricity
with lower sulphur and nitrogen emissions than coal.
Already, 4% of our national energy supply is provided by woody biomass.
Uses materials that would otherwise be wasted
Potential to lower energy costs on-site and reduce demand on national grid
Cost-competitive in many cases
Waste materials need to be close to generation site to be economical
Wave power involves converting the up and down motion of the waves into electricity using devices either fixed to the shore, or floating out at sea.
Tidal power involves capturing some of the energy that is inherent in moving vast quantities of water back and forth twice a day. Tidal devices can either be large
dam-like structures, or they could involve turbines anchored free within the tidal flow.
Clean, abundant energy source
Potentially suited to New Zealand conditions
Cost of technology likely to fall
Technology is currently expensive and in its infancy
Relentlessly harsh environment
Environmental and marine safety issues
New Zealand tidal flows not especially strong
French Pass, which separates d'Urville Island from the South Island coast, is the only place in the world where two different levels of ocean can be seen at once. This
causes tremendously dangerous currents - sometimes the tide flows at up to 8 knots through the narrow Pass. Perhaps it would have strong enough flows to generate energy?
The range of potential energy efficiency measures is as diverse as the range of different energy uses.
Very environmentally friendly - reduced energy consumption
Very secure and reliable
A significant cost-effective potential
Social benefits - impact on housing warmth, dryness, respiratory illness, especially among the elderly and very young
Suffers from barriers to investment
Consumers often are not aware of what they could do to save energy
Or cannot be bothered
Or don't have funds available to invest in energy efficiency
Long payback times for some energy efficiency investments
Retro-fitting existing buildings not always cost-effective
To many people, nuclear power is a fundamentally unacceptable option. Concerns over nuclear are many and varied, including:
nuclear waste will have to be stored for thousands of years
the risk of accidents such as the one at Chernobyl
possible deliberate terrorist strikes
the problems of proliferating nuclear technology to politically unstable states'
or even concerns that the cost of nuclear still isn't properly known given the uncertainties regarding decommissioning and waste disposal.
However, as concern about global warming grows, it is increasingly suggested that nuclear power should play a significant role in meeting the world's future electricity
requirements. Supporters of this now claim that the concerns highlighted above are no longer the problem they used to be and that nuclear now represents a clean, safe and
cost-effective option. Most recently, noted environmentalist and author of the "Gaia" theory, James Lovelock, has added his voice to such calls.
Contact has not included nuclear as a possible option for New Zealand for two main reasons. Partly this reflects the no-nukes stance that has been adopted by successive
governments. However, it also reflects the fact that it is not expected that a nuclear option would be commercially viable in New Zealand now or in the near
future. That is, among other reasons, because nuclear power relies on large economies of scale to achieve acceptable costs. The smallest unit size commercially
available is in the order of 600MW. This is a very large unit size for the New Zealand, almost twice the current largest unit on the system. A base-load unit of this
size present a significant number of technical challenges. It would simply not be feasible without significant changes to the way we operate the system to accommodate
something of that scale in New Zealand for many years to come.
For pages on natural disasters - including lightning strikes, tornados, hurricanes, volcanoes, floods, and more - as well as some great satellite and tree photos, clicking the
"Up" button immediately below takes you to the Table of Contents page for this Environment section.
The Topics Index offers access to a different approach to lots of topics - among them poisonous insects, eating dogs, what's addictive, training versus teaching, tornados, unusual flying machines, humour, wearable computers, IQ tests, health, Y chromosomes, share options, NJ's positive side, oddities, ageing, burial alternatives, capital punishment, affairs, poverty, McCarthyism, the most beautiful city in the world, never-ending work and lots more (it would take you a year to read it all)...