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The NZ Wind Energy Association (NZWEA) has a published a new report setting out their vision for the coming years, Wind Energy 2030: the growing role for Wind Energy in New Zealand’s electricity system (PDF). It reiterates their expectation that by 2030 wind energy will be supplying 20 percent of our electricity. This is double the amount forecast by the Ministry of Economic Development in their recent Energy Outlook, a forecast which the WEA protested  about at the time.

The report (or its summary) communicates some salient points about wind energy in New Zealand. There is plenty of reason to be upbeat about the prospects. New Zealand’s wind resource is one of the best in the world, with a potential that we have barely begun to realise. Our wind is predictable, able to be forecast accurately 24 hours in advance.  Seasonally, wind is actually more predictable than rainfall. And because wind is nearly always blowing somewhere in New Zealand wind farms in different parts of the country will contribute to overall grid reliability.

Wind meshes well with the hydro generation which supplies around two thirds of our electricity. As wind is increasingly used, hydro generation is likely to become more focused on filling gaps in wind generation — and our hydro lakes will be fuller for longer and hence more reliable.

The report describes wind energy globally as a large, mature and growing industry, with the new markets in Latin America, Africa and Asia now driving market growth. New Zealand is able to tap into global expertise, but also to contribute since our high wind farm productivity provides a good learning and testing environment for wind turbines and hopefully will lead to the development of exportable skills and technology.

Financially wind already makes for good investment in New Zealand, and will become even more profitable in the future. Ongoing running and maintenance costs are falling. Developers are improving their site assessments, reducing their development costs, siting turbines more effectively and sizing them more accurately. And the fuel continues to be free.

A wide geographical distribution of wind farms is likely, and the ample supply of onshore locations means that offshore production is not likely to occur before 2030. The anticipated 3500 MW of wind generation capacity by 2030 will cover 0.4% of New Zealand’s land area. The turbines themselves and servicing roads will occupy a much lesser space of 0.003% of the land.

The report points to the advantage of wind generation in that it can be deployed quickly and in different amounts. In times of low electricity demand growth smaller wind farms can be built. Similarly, if demand grows rapidly wind generation can be deployed quickly when consents are in place – in months rather than years. Thus, development of wind can reduce the electricity shortage/over-capacity cycle that New Zealand has traditionally experienced.

The difficulties in obtaining consents for some wind farms has been well publicised in recent years, but the report notes that resources consents are currently in place for a further 1700 MW of generation, giving a healthy pipeline of potential developments.

It’s good to see the NZWEA providing this kind of report, accessible for the general public, factual and justifiably positive about the future for wind generation of electricity in this country. The case it makes is understandably focused on the economic feasibility of the industry, and it is certainly important that the public understand that wind generation is already capable of standing on its own feet economically.

Although the contribution wind energy makes to combatting climate change is mentioned briefly, it is not a prominent feature of the report. It doesn’t need to be, of course. If wind can make its way on economic grounds, that will do fine. But the report sees a continuing role for natural gas generation, albeit at a lower level than Government forecasts, because of its ability to rapidly vary output for peak supply.

This is too comfortable a view from a climate change perspective. We have to be able to generate electricity reliably without recourse to fossil fuels of any description, and we have to move in that direction as rapidly as possible. We would have to do that eventually even if there were no climate change concerns because the fossil fuels would run out. The challenge is to do it long before that stage, since by that time terrible damage would have been done to the global climate. We need wind and hydro and geothermal and solar and tidal and wave power in place of fossil fuel, not alongside it.