Some news recently bought a smile to my dial. Mercury Energy has pushed the “go” button on a major new wind farm near Palmerston North; work begins in August and the farm will start operating from late 2020.

Mercury has committed to the construction of the first 33 of 60 consented wind turbines at Turitea near Palmerston North, representing a key milestone in New Zealand’s renewable energy development.

Mercury’s Chief Executive, Fraser Whineray, says that current market conditions indicate that new renewable energy capacity is required for New Zealand, and Mercury is pleased to step forward with a wind farm development it has been working towards for 15 years [note: it’s not that these things take 15 years to plan, it’s just that power demand has been very flat in the last decade, so power companies have been cautious about building new plants].

The 119MW Turitea wind farm will generate 470 [Gigawatt hours] per annum on average, enough electricity to power 210,000 cars. When generation connects to the national grid at Linton, with commissioning expected to begin from late 2020, Turitea will be New Zealand’s third largest wind farm. It will be the first large-scale generation addition to New Zealand’s capacity since 2014.

“The estimated $256 million project supports the opening up of a further $750 million investment opportunity in wind energy development,” Mr Whineray said.

Transmission and other infrastructure from this project is scaled to support the development of the remaining 27 turbines at Turitea and on the Puketoi range to the east, where Mercury has consents to construct a 53-turbine wind farm.

There’s a bunch of statistics in there, but here’s the map which shows what Mercury is doing – extending a major new transmission line, and committing to the first 33 of 60 potential wind turbines:

Source: Mercury Energy

On completion, this will be the third-largest wind farm in New Zealand. There’s a bit more information about it here, including an ‘aerial photo’ version of the map above, and some quite nice things which Mercury say about wind:

“Wind is now the premier generation development technology in NZ. High resource quality and technological improvement have driven improved economics”.

Preach!

Like Meridian Energy, Mercury does much of its marketing on the basis that it only owns renewable power plants – hydro, geothermal and wind. They also mention solar as part of this “awesome foursome”, but that’s just marketing gloss really; they’ve only got a small ‘research and development’ site, although the symbolism is quite neat as it’s on the site of the former gas power plant in Southdown, near Otahuhu.

Hydro and wind work well together, because hydro can be dialled up and down quite easily (and quickly) to balance out the times when the wind isn’t blowing well. As Mercury put it:

“Turitea complements Mercury’s existing baseload geothermal and flexible hydro assets: all North Island located, close to major load centres; ability to utilise flexibility of Waikato Hydro Scheme to ‘firm’ intermittency of wind”.

Currently, NZ generates a little over 2,000 Gigawatt-hours of electricity from wind each year, so this new farm could add 20% to NZ’s wind power production.

For those who are interested – hey, who wouldn’t be? – Mercury ran a Q&A session, and you’ll be able to read the transcript later today..

So what else is new with electricity since I last wrote about it two years ago? New Zealand keeps gradually transitioning towards renewable sources of power, with coal and gas starting to wind down (more slowly, in the case of gas). MBIE have a graph below, which shows hydro as NZ’s number-one source of power since forever, with geothermal overtaking gas to become number-two a few years ago, and wind overtaking coal to become number-four.

Mercury’s announcement, and various statements from the other power companies, suggest that any new power plants in NZ are likely to be in the North Island (where any demand growth will be, and there are no annoying aluminium smelters to hold their feet to the fire), with geothermal and wind being the main new sources.

However, the economics of solar keep improving too, and although I’ve been sceptical of it in the past, it’s looking more and more possible that solar will start to take off in NZ. Even so, it might still be such a small fraction of the whole that it’s hard to see in a graph like the one above – after all, it took wind a long time to come this far – but there are quite a few applications where solar could make sense. More on that later, perhaps!

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53 comments

  1. Contact has the 250MW Tauhara II consented, waiting on market conditions just like this Mercury scheme.
    I’d rather more geothermal was developed as wind and hydro are both in short supply during dry years. I also worry about the number of birds and bats killed by turbines.
    Going forward I’d see an increase in coal generation in lieu of gas, as the gas supply becomes more expensive/scarce. There is no market driver to replace the existing generation (Huntly).
    Solar is viable for people who aren’t already connected to the grid. Given our sunlight conditions, large scale schemes here probably won’t stack up as costs probably won’t continue to reduce like they have.

    1. You can definitely have wind in dry years, the first half of summer 2016-17 was very dry but also very windy.

      Also it would have to be a pretty unlucky bird to hit one of those blades, given most birds generally have the reactions to get out of the way of a car on the open road. Our native bats are generally forest dwelling so I wouldn’t expect there to be too many on a windswept hill in the Manawatu.

      1. Nevertheless, it appears there are unlucky birds out there – figures vary wildly but one reputable study in the US put it at about 2.2 birds per turbine per year and that seems to be the most quoted figure. DoC has written a 50 page document on the subject including mitigation recommendations and no doubt Mercury Energy pored over that before submitting their proposal for consenting.

        https://www.doc.govt.nz/Documents/science-and-technical/sfc289entire.pdf

        1. Thanks for that link. I’d hazard a guess the impact of a windfarm on birds is few orders of magnitude less than the impact of a hydro dam on fish and eel populations.

      2. Summer is not the problem, its winter when demand is also higher. Also consider that we only have about 6 weeks hydro storage.
        Dry winter years coincide with La Niña.
        La Niña results in lower wind resource.
        https://ir.canterbury.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10092/6254/12635389_C97.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
        https://www.niwa.co.nz/sites/niwa.co.nz/files/import/attachments/wind.pdf

        The turbines are the Vestas V112-3.45 MW model in 3.6 MW Power Optimised Mode with hub heights of 69 metres and rotor diameter of 112m. Whe operating at 15rpm the tip speed is over 300km/hr, much faster than a car.
        https://renewablesnow.com/news/vestas-confirms-epc-job-for-119-mw-turitea-wind-farm-in-new-zealand-648587/
        https://www.vestas.com/en/products/4%20mw%20platform/v112%203_45_mw#!at-a-glance

        1. Thanks for that, somehow the press release gave the impression that 119MW was for the whole 60 turbines, not just for the first 33. 3.6MW is big, they will be the biggest in NZ. Tararua is 65m hub + 90m blades at 3MW.

          This story is great news for New Zealand after 5 years without a new wind farm and several stories about new gas-fired stations being built or consented. In addition to this one there is a 100MW wind farm in south Taranaki due to start construction this year.

    2. The 5 tower wind farm new my home has wiped out the entire sea eagle population in our area, they are all gone.

      1. Interesting that NZ’s third largest wind farm will only power 210,000 cars. It just goes to show the scale of the infrastructure that will be needed to convert the whole fleet to being evs.

          1. Tiwai is powered by Manapouri. This power is no use in the North Island where the majority of cars are, the line losses would be enormous.

          2. We need a lot more than 13% of our current power supply to transition to EVs in any meaningful way. Replacing all of our current land transport energy use would need more than 100% of our current renewable generation capacity – ie, if we make no efficiency improvements to current electric consumption we will need to double our generation.

        1. I’ve actually crunched the numbers on this, and other researchers have too – to convert all NZ cars to electricity (assuming they travel the same distance as currently) would be equivalent to about 10%-15% extra power demand. So it’s certainly achievable.

          1. What, if any, would the savings in foreign exchange on oil imports if we replaced Tiwai with EV,s?

    1. Electric buses should be the first priority. Government and local government should put some money in rather than publishing “Ted Talk Type” motivational pieces and expecting some magical credits and the holy sacred markets to somehow reduce carbon emissions.

      1. TimR
        Yes a doubling of present generating capacity as you say. (Productivity Commission)
        And also from them, “All of the identified pathways to a very low-emissions electricity system involve a large expansion of wind
        generation in the lower North Island. A future system would require transmission upgrades to transport this
        energy to load centres, particularly Auckland. Stevenson et al. (2018) estimate that the cost of this investment
        could be as high as $5 billion, with flow-on effects to consumer electricity prices of $5 a MWh.”

        The figures strongly suggest that we won’t just be swapping fossil fueled vehicles for evs, if anyone believed that this might happen

      2. This should be as simple as the government requiring all new buses are electric now that there are good examples of electric buses in all formats and the unit costs aren’t that different. Does anyone know how quickly the bus fleet refreshes? Hopefully a lot faster than the NZ car fleet.

  2. I’d really like this press release to be from Fonterra talking about how they are replacing all their coal fired boilers with renewable energy sources. Which MBIE chart does that sit on?

  3. The disadvantage of of solar is it only generates electricity during sunny day time.

    People uses most electricity during cold winter. Unfortunately winter tend to be cloudy and short day time. So solar may not be the answer for New Zealand.

    1. Yes although batteries are becoming cheaper.
      Soon we will all have a big battery in our car (well apart from Patrick) that could potentially be used by the national grid to store energy. In that case I imagine we could be 100% renewable without any new sources.

      1. Does this mean that:
        1/ after a few cloudy days, people stop driving anywhere, or
        2/ the battery will be sized to span between sunny periods in winter?

        If it’s the second one, I’m not sure why the massive resource use involved in establishing dispersed battery storage is always brought up as a reason against households using solar energy, yet seemingly accepted as normal for cars. Do you know, Jimbo?

        1. I imagine batteries are more useful for concentrating the power produced over a day (whether that be wind, solar, etc) into the times when it is mainly needed (e.g. mornings and evenings). At the moment any electricity produced off peak (especially at night) is pretty much wasted. Batteries would change that.
          In terms of weather and seasons, I imagine it would probably balance itself out to an extent. Maybe solar is good in summer, wind and hydro are good in winter.

        2. Harriet: We are about to enter an era where EV battery size for a hatchback (Leaf, e-208) is at least 50kwh, likely just over 60kwh. That’s three times the size of a Tesla powerwall unit, so there’s likely plenty of battery capacity on its own.

          There’s two issues that I can see needing to overcome:

          1) V2G systems are currently expensive and not widely available;
          2) Not many EVs support V2G (the Leaf does but my understanding is Teslas do not).

          There is a possible 3rd hiccup that may become less of an issue over time; the question of how deep you can cycle a Li-Ion battery without damaging it – although as battery size increases this will be less of a problem.

        3. Heidi the grid is the battery for longer periods… I quite get your point? No one is suggesting we only have solar panels and e-cars. It’s simply an addition to the mix. And we already have a pretty robust grid. Also storage + renewables is getting price competitive with trad generation, which is amazing.

          1. My point is that the resources going into a car and battery are pretty big (taking the long-term multi-generational view of what should be considered normal). EV’s for car share make sense. They don’t make sense for individuals using their car for a few trips a day, especially as the need for those trips could be reduced through better land use planning, and satisfied by better modal choice.

            Household batteries to add to the national storage capability to cater to household energy requirements seem a whole lot more worthy of the resource commitment.

            Yet because people are already used to spending a heap of money on a car, that’s where the resource seems to be being spent.

          2. I fail to see the problem if people are going to have a car; they might as well have one with V2G function and it can do both?

            30 Kwh of Powerwall is about $20K installed; 30 Kwh of Nissan Leaf is about $5,000 more. That’s a lot of extra bang for your buck vs wall mounted batteries.

          3. Heidi I see your point now. Yes hopefully car sharing is the future which would destroy my theory. Although I think the more immediate future would still involve personal e cars.

          4. Yes, I’m not arguing against EV. Where that happens, great. I’m arguing for reduction in numbers of cars due to good planning reducing the need for travel, and a stronger interest in household PV and battery storage.

            Rational Man sometimes needs a reminder to look at the whole household situation – instead of buying a new EV, it may be cheaper, more sustainable, and more fulfilling, to move closer to town, use PT, and install PV for the house.

      2. “we could be 100% renewable without any new sources” – that’s right, see https://www.greaterauckland.org.nz/2014/03/17/can-new-zealand-transition-to-100-renewable-electricity-spoiler-yes/ for a few different expert opinions on it.

        Solar economics keep improving, so maybe it will end up being part of the mix too, but we could get to 100% even without it, and most of the studies that have been done so far assume that solar wouldn’t be a major factor.

  4. Solar will be the biggest source of power, despite energy companies talking it down. They don’t like it, because unlike the other sources, it can be generated at home by the user. In fact some energy companies charge you a penalty on your grid connection if you have a solar installation.

    Of course some of us still use the element of fire for energy. I collected another half cubic metre of wood this evening, that will heat my home this winter to a level that could only be matched by electricity by having three or four 2400kW heaters at full power. Nothing beats a good fire for heat energy, and mine also heats the hot water cylinder.

  5. “Yet because people are already used to spending a heap of money on a car, that’s where the resource seems to be being spent.”

    I think that there are also significant other factors at play. There is a very powerful road transport lobby that is pre-occupied with more roads being built. There is an even more powerful car retailer and car maker lobby group that is fighting hard to preserve car sales- and arguably fossil fuel car sales. The change by car makers to all ev production has been slow; although it has been slow because many consumers don’t want evs.

    We see the likes of Toyota cleverly positioning themselves with respect to a feebate scheme even though they don’t produce evs.

    The Productivity Commission stated at p364, “if governments seek to assist any activities or industries in the future, assistance should generally take the form of direct and transparent taxpayer funded subsidies.” So perversely you and I will pay for encouraging the desired outcome and life continues as normal for the less desirable outcome. (contrast the tobacco tax)

    I agree with you in a resource starved future it will be imperative to find other solutions than the private car. The status quo is a hard position to change and it will take persistence.

  6. A bit of wind turbine fun for you all to enjoy. I work at an organisation that shall remain nameless (in the Lower North Island) and we once received an email from someone asking if we could turn the wind turbines off so that it wouldn’t be windy for her daughter’s volleyball tournament at the weekend.

    Not sure how she thought wind was produced before wind turbines were invented, but it brightened up our day!

    1. What did you reply? That you’d be doing everything you could to reduce the strength of the wind for the day of the tournament?

  7. I’m sad that no one commented on the Captain Planet reference in the post title! I ran out of time to find/ make an image of it, but for people in their early 30s approx, surely you remember the Planeteers combining their powers and elements to summon the mighty Captain Planet…

  8. Thanks for the post, John. It wasn’t that long ago (showing my age here, I won’t say how long ago) that the techy types were saying wind is never going to be a big part of sustainable energy production, because of all moving parts meaning that maintenance would always be a big issue.

    1. I’m a bit late on this post, but that raises a good point: maintenance. I drive through the Manawatu quite regularly, and have been really concerned recently on how many of the wind turbines are not going. Even on a windy day, the big wind farm near the Manawatu Gorge (which I think is 55-60 turbines?), it often has a number which seem to be out of commission – i.e. at least 10 of them, standing there without moving, while others are moving. At least one had shat itself, with big brown rusty splatters seeping out of the nacelle, but the others just seemed to be dead.

      Does anyone know – are they having maintenance issues? Or is this normal ?

  9. The Q&A is here: https://issuu.com/mercurynz/docs/turitea_wind_farm_teleconference_tr?e=25554184/68764124
    The fact that they are putting in transmission now to cope with the full scheme including Puketoi to the east suggests that the whole thing – up to $1b and 500MW over 10 years – is likely to go ahead. Vestas operates for 25 years, and partly in return gets to gather data on the site. The 45% capacity was asked but not answered – maybe the new turbines have something to do with that. Also the discussion indicates that the 100MW farm at Waverly is not fully decided yet.

  10. Interesting post & comments thanks, I think a combination of many renewable sources is a good idea, so much more flex if weather conditions etc change.

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