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In many households across the globe whenever there’s a problem that needs solving someone jumps up and says “I’ll put the jug on”. Globally and locally here in New Zealand we are facing a challenge that is going to need a lot more than a hot cup of tea to solve – and in a way it’s about how we heat that cup of tea.   

Scoring the goal for 100% renewable energy 

New Zealand has set itself the mission-critical goal to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035, transitioning to a carbon-neutral economy by 2050., which we’re 100% behind! But what exactly does 100% renewable energy mean?    

Within the OECD, New Zealand comes in third behind Norway and Iceland in its high rates of renewable energy. Historically our energy sources have come from finite resources dug out of the ground – like oil and coal. But the important word here is “finite”. Moving forward we need to do more to harness the cleaner alternatives nature has given us such as geothermal, solar, hydro, wind, tidal and biomass.   

Our absolute certainty that the jug will boil and the lights will always shine is because that’s the way we’ve always had it. However, as we approach the second quarter of the 21st century, electricity consumption is increasing and we need to focus far more attention on how it is generated and supplied.   

Globally we’re grappling with loads of issues   around how we protect this precious planet of ours and a big part of that solution is the need to embrace more fully-alternative energy sources. Currently, New Zealand’s renewable electricity generation sits at around a creditable 84% with around half of that being hydropower.  

 Luckily we’ve got abundant natural resources, an environmentally conscious population and an increasing focus from corporates to operate in a more sustainable way. Within the energy sector as a country, our electricity generation companies are producing clean renewable energy using water, sun, geothermal energy and wind with many generators having more renewable projects planned to help the country meet its carbon-neutral goals.

Hydropower shows there’s something in the water 

Hydroelectric power schemes have come a long way since 1878 when English engineer, inventor and industrialist Sir William Armstrong harnessed the water in his river to power an arc lamp in his art gallery.  

Hydroelectricity, as our primary source of renewable energy, is the one New Zealanders are most familiar with as it’s been a prominent part of our landscape in both the North and South Islands for over 100 years. More than half of New Zealand’s energy needs (57%) comes from this power source and the country currently has over 100 hydroelectric generating plants. Because dams are traditionally built in vast natural spaces, government agencies have been tasked over the years with developing environmental policies and investigating the impact of new hydroelectric dams. These hydro station locations are popular spots to visit where visitors can marvel at skilled engineering co-existing in consideration of their picturesque surroundings. The country’s largest dam at Manapouri was built in 1971 and borders the World Heritage UNESCO site Fiordland National Park, and generates enough electricity annually for around 619,000 Kiwi homes. The alternative to this of burning fossil fuels for power is not just relying upon a rapidly diminishing resource, it also causes pollutants to be pumped into the atmosphere, consequently impacting climate change. The benefit of hydropower in New Zealand, when compared with fossil fuels, are clear when factoring in our high rainfall and optimum geological terrain for harnessing the water flow to drive the turbines. 

Letting off steam for geothermal energy 

If you’ve visited Rotorua you’ve probably had a soak in one of the many geothermally heated pools and explored the geothermal parks with their otherworldly and smelly terrain. All that geothermal activity and our position on the thermally active outer reaches of the Pacific Ring of Fire could be perceived as something of a mixed blessing in New Zealand. But for a future that involves renewable energy, it comes with advantages. The existence of numerous volcanic areas, fault lines and tectonic features deliver geothermal activity in prime locations like the Taupo Volcanic Zone. This has seen New Zealand become an early adopter of technologies and processes leading the world in best practices for this fascinating energy source. The powerful energy they produce has been harnessed not just for tourism but supplying an alternative renewable energy source from small-scale to giant plants like Wairakei and Ohaaki. Our leading-edge global position was seeded back in 1958 when New Zealand became the first country in the world to generate electricity from a liquid-dominated geothermal resource. The Kawerau geothermal field is ranked as one of the world’s largest producers. Geothermal energy in New Zealand punches above its weight and today is predominantly utilised for electricity generation with 19 power plants operating over 8 fields. The production makes for more than 17% of our overall electricity supply. At the moment geothermal power is considered one of our cheapest sources of electricity and unlike other energy sources, is less affected for supply by changes in the weather. This naturally occurring resource literally bubbling up from beneath the earth’s crust means that unlike hydropower, the environmental impact is lessened. The reduction of emissions also meets our global commitments warranting future exploration, investment and expansion. As New Zealand moves towards a decarbonised electricity market, this key form of power has the potential for further growth as a contributor to our overall electricity supply.

The answer is blowing in the wind 

Wind has been filling the sails of boats, ships and windmills for millennia - powering vessels, grinding grain and pumping water to advance humankind to greater efficiency and production. But it wasn’t until 1887 that the first wind-powered turbine was used to produce electricity. In  New Zealand we’re blessed with plenty of wind and land to build the turbines so we can utilise this free and clean resource to create renewable energy. With New Zealand currently deriving around 6% (the equivalent of 300,000 Kiwi households per annum) of its electricity from wind farms, the aim is to substantially increase installed wind capacity across the country. There are now 17 wind farms operating across New Zealand   Further investigations are underway for the potential construction of more turbines on wind-swept hilltop sites including Waikato and Northland.  While seeing wind farms dominating the landscape is not everyones' cup of tea, others argue that the eyesore factor is outweighed by their important role in our country’s renewable energy strategies. For a greater understanding of how wind turbines work visit this resource. 

Sunny side up for solar power 

When New Zealand born singer songwriter and global star Lorde writes a song called Solar Power you know that harnessing our famous Kiwi sunshine has got to be a good thing! Our commitment in New Zealand to this as a viable renewable energy source is certainly something worth singing about. Harnessing the power of the sun to generate your own electricity is a concept that New Zealanders are embracing in increasing numbers.   

Although installed grid-connected power counts for around 0.5% of our total power supply in Aotearoa, many solar power systems exist across the country with more added every year. The solar power system on the rooftops of Kaitaia College in the winterless north shows a trend towards energy independence, reduction of costs and even showing our future generations with tangible proof literally above their heads. When MBIE released a study in 2020 on the economics and forecasting of solar power, this pointed to evidence that there’s massive potential for gigawatts of grid-scale growth in the coming decades. Although currently, only one grid-scale project operates - at Kapuni in South Taranaki, more are under construction and on the drawing board. Navigating the solar journey for your home can be improved by forging a good relationship with your electricity supplier, like us. We offer our solar customers a buy-back scheme for excess solar generated.

The path to reducing and eliminating fossil fuels  

We are a small nation, intent on making the changes and stepping up to lead by example with robust aspirational policies and actionable commitments to play our part. With 81 % of New Zealanders concerned with climate change, moving the dial to integrate sustainability goals with environmental obligations and economic objectives makes this a challenging but satisfying quest - one that’s in the long run good for the planet. 

Want to learn more about generation in New Zealand? 

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