Taken by the tide?

BrownleeI’ve been critical of Gerry Brownlee for his early actions and statements as Minister of Energy  in taking over the Energy portfolio. I still am.  However in addressing the annual conference of The Aotearoa Wave and Tidal Energy Association (Awatea), held in Wellington this week he produced some encouraging facts and expressions of support which are worth reporting.

Speaking of the impressive 65% of our electricity from the renewable sources of hydro, geothermal and wind, he welcomed the prospect of marine energy being added to them.  

He noted an initial assessment of our marine energy resource indicates potential for around 8000 megawatts of generation capacity. Given our present total electricity generation capacity is around 9000 megawatts, marine energy clearly has big potential for New Zealand’s long term energy needs.

Around 26 domestic marine energy projects have been proposed in the last four years, ranging from conceptual ideas, to university research projects, to deployment projects. Some 20 of those are devices, and they are evenly balanced between local developments and imported technologies.

Crest Energy, the recipient of last year’s round of the Marine Energy Deployment Fund, proposes to deploy tidal stream generators at the entrance to the Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland. Their application is before the Environment Court at present.

Brownlee found it encouraging to see this much activity in this industry.  He recognised there will be trial and error both here and overseas as technologies and methods are tested and proven, but said the more activity the  faster we can establish what works, and move forward with confidence.

The government, he assures us, is in on the act, though apart from the Deployment Fund which offers $8 million dollars over four years to selected projects it seems to amount to generalised support.

At this point he reiterated that the government was rewriting the Energy Strategy to focus on security of supply, affordability, and environmental responsibility, with the overriding goal of maximising economic growth. This was the matter I took issue with in my original post.  He now claims that the revised strategy will encourage investors to develop more electricity generation, particularly from renewable sources, (my italics) and marine energy fits into this picture. It’s pleasing to see his emphasis on renewable sources, but it makes one wonder why he was complaining back in February that the energy strategy mentioned sustainability too often. 

Then came an announcement that had little to do with marine energy, but was linked thematically under renewable energy. This year’s budget will allocate $36 million over three years to domestic biodiesel producers  Noting that greenhouse gas emissions from transport make up almost half of our energy emissions he stated that by  supporting biodiesel production in New Zealand we can help get a new industry up and running, which can provide jobs for New Zealanders, at the same time as helping to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Finally the recipient of this year’s Marine Energy Deployment Fund grant: Wellington-based company Power Projects Ltd – $760,000 for a wave energy device it is developing. 

I’m not familiar enough with the renewable energy scene to know whether the specifics of the Minister’s address are significant or not, but one can at least welcome the tenor of his remarks.  This is the Minister who on taking office announced immediately that incandescent light bulbs would no longer be phased out, that the ban on fossil fuel powered electricity plants would be lifted, and that the Energy Strategy would be rewritten in the interests of economic growth. He hasn’t indicated any change in these stances, but if he goes on talking as he did at the Awatea conference it may dawn on him that there really is a new world of renewable energy just waiting for us to engage seriously with it. 

Power Projects put out a news release to coincide with the announcement of the grant.  There are no technical details, but they say the funds will be used to deploy a 20kW scale device and eventually a wave energy converter capable of 100 kW power output which has been developed over the past 4 years here in NZ.  Significantly they add:  “It also means that further development work will take place with NZ-based contractors. It will help to develop a cadre of experts here with expertise not only in marine energy design and development, but also capability in deployment, operations and maintenance. It could therefore help create a whole new sunrise industry for the country.” 

Ahead they look to multiple deployments of the 20kW version over the next 1-2 years and the even larger 100kW peak output device over the following year. It is envisaged that the 100kW version will be close to final size and an array of these modular generators will form a wave farm in the sea, looking much like an aquaculture farm. 

Each device in the array would be capable of powering twenty or more homes. A fully commercial array might involve many dozens or even hundreds of devices, which will generally be invisible from the shore.

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