CLEANTECH: Little Country; Big Wind

By Published On: March 21, 2008

If you think that California’s goal of increasing the percentage of renewable energy in the state’s electricity mix to 33 percent by 2020 is daunting, consider the job ahead for New Zealand. New Zealand, a country with an estimated 4.2 million people on 103,000 square miles, hopes to achieve 90 percent renewable generation nationwide by 2025. Largely charged with the task is Meridian Energy, the country’s largest state-owned utility. Currently, nearly a third of the total energy consumed in the country–including electricity, heat and transport fuels–already comes from renewable sources and about 70 percent of all electricity is generated by renewable energy, according to government statistics. In 2001, New Zealand’s first national energy efficiency and conservation strategy was released. It included a goal of 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency and a 22 percent increase in the supply of renewable energy by 2012. The motivation, interestingly enough, isn’t driven by fears of global warming or concerns about rising sea levels. It’s because of the ready availability of renewable resources, particularly hydroelectric power, which makes up the lion’s share of the renewable energy supply in New Zealand. The country’s cultural focus on available renewable resources is the opposite of the traditional California approach to energy, which focuses on fossil fuels as opposed to renewable resources–both solar and wind–that are there for the taking. In New Zealand, wind energy currently constitutes less than 1 percent of the country’s annual energy production. However, Meridian is funding a $1.5 billion (about $1.2 billion U.S.) capital investment program in potential hydro and wind projects. It also is building a $400 million, 62-turbine wind farm in New Zealand, called Project West Wind. In some countries in other parts of the world, wind power companies receive government subsidies since the wind doesn’t blow strongly enough to make wind power a viable option. But in New Zealand, the wind typically blows strongly enough for wind-power companies to survive without such subsidies. New Zealand is pursuing wind power, in spite of the prevalence of hydro-power to provide supply diversity and reliability. The West Wind site has the potential to be the most productive wind farm in New Zealand. It’s estimated at 210 MW. It has twice the international average capacity factor of 23 percent for wind farms. The wind farm construction is considered unique. Each project, according to Primavera, Meridian’s consultant, is customized. According to the company, its software is innovative in that it functions as a centralized data repository and project management process that collates information and uses it to analyze and supervise project aspects, including cash flow, risk management, contingencies, and even weather simulations. Primavera doesn’t have much of a presence on the renewable energy front in California. California Energy Commission spokeswoman Susanne Garfield said that the commission has invested in software for different efforts, such as modeling, but hasn’t provided funding toward project management software like that developed by Primavera.

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