Transpower, along with Top Energy and Northpower are proposing Northland as the pilot region for renewable energy zones (REZ) in Aotearoa. To enable a REZ, the transmission lines need to be upgraded. This map shows the distribution networks for our lines companies. Note the high capacity 220 kv line between Bream Bay and Auckland. It currently has capacity to transport more electricity, but to increase traffic on the other lines, more capacity is needed. The Dargaville line, for example, is at capacity now.
If capacity is increased Nortland could be the first region in the country to achieve 100% renewable energy. Currently during peak load, coal or gas-fired backup is needed.
We consume about 250 MW of power, but when the network’s capacity is increased we could support 2000 MW of renewable regeneration. We could then export energy south. Auckland’s data centres alone require over 300 MW of power. Our power is now the most expensive in the network, so increasing generation would cut transmission costs and hopefully reduce our power charges.
The Transpower proposal sees those installing renewable regeneration meeting the cost of connection to the grid. Infrastructure projects in New Zealand are notoriously expensive, so those costs, loaded onto generators will ultimately be passed on to consumers. We are also moving more to a user-pays model as reflected in the recent price rises. Overseas companies with capital could quickly develop renewable solar or wind farms – their primary interest will be ensuring dividends for shareholders, extracting dollars from even the poorest in our communities.
Increased transmission capacity is a little like fishing quota. It is a potential resource that can be allocated to generators. Ideally Iwi will have options for at least 50% of new generation allocations. Mäori take a longer view with investment decisions and will retain ownership in Aotearoa.
Respected kaumatua and kaitiaki Millan Ruka has developed a marine turbine that can be deployed in a variety of marine and freshwater environments. Currently Millan is building a prototype and finalising patents. His design earned him a place on the Callaghan Climate Change Accelerator Programme.
Millan intends for the turbine to be available internationally to help address the climate crisis, while generating opportunities for Te Tai Tokerau and Aotearoa. Following a successful prototype there is an opportunity to build a local manufacturing industry for turbine construction. The turbine design can be scaled to size and has the potential to service our more isolated rural communities providing energy independence.
Community ownership and agrivoltaics
There is also potential for community ownership of generation. Industry experts suggest that 1 to 1.5 hectares of land is required for a 1 MW solar farm.
Agrivoltaics combine crop production and solar panels. Shade-tolerant crops such as raspberries can be grown under an appropriately spaced solar panel roof. This video illustrates the concept.
Community power retail companies
2022 Young New Zealander of the Year, Ezra Hirawani, is among a growing number of people setting up bespoke power retailers. Combining retailing and generation could help to provide low cost power and investment opporunities. This Stuff article includes video about Ezra.
Off grid power for remote communities
Top Energy has a lot of kilometres of line to maintain for a relatively small population. For remote communities, maintaining long power lines for a small group of people may not be viable. With battery technology and solar panels getting cheaper, it may be more cost effective to create small scale generation and storage independent of the grid.
The REZ concept comes at an ideal time to stimulate our thinking about how we might better ensure lower cost energy security for people and mitigate climate change. You can access the consultation documents and find out where to give feedback here. If you have any ideas, please comment below.
Featured image: By ChristofferRiemer – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8292751