The reason my articles have appeared only once each week for the past several weeks is that I have been on an extended trip through Polynesia and New Zealand.
The next two articles will report on some interesting information about New Zealand and my trip.
(I was fortunate to leave Christchurch the day before the recent disastrous earthquake. My prayers go out to the people of Christchurch who have suffered such a calamitous blow, as well as to all those who live in New Zealand.)
New Zealand is a beautiful country with a population of 4.4 million. The North Island has extensive geothermal activity, while the South Island has mountains rivaling the Rockies, and Fiords carved out by glaciers.
There are two factors about energy in New Zealand that deserve note.
First, hydro, on average, provides 60% of the nation’s electricity. With Auckland representing a third of the country’s population and the rest of the North Island representing another third, the electrical load is primarily on the North Island. Most electrical generation is located on the South Island, which requires a long and stringy grid to carry the electricity to the North Island.
Since hydro depends on rainfall, Transpower, the entity responsible for the grid, must plan for when there is a lack of rainfall. Planning for future growth of the grid, and for determining where, how much and what type of power generation should be built, is a challenge when considering the probability of dry years and reduced electrical supply from hydro.
Interestingly, geothermal accounts for only a small part of power generation, in spite of New Zealand’s huge geothermal resources.
Second, New Zealand depends on tourism, where tourism is the largest component of the economy. The natural beauty of New Zealand, with its diverse geology and diverse flora and fauna, are compelling attractions for tourists around the world.
Strategically, it’s important for New Zealand to protect its natural environment.
With this in mind, wind power is being developed while coal-fired power generation, rightly or wrongly, has been completely shut down. New Zealand is also a nuclear free zone.
The unreliability of wind can be tolerated because of the ease with which electricity output from hydro can be adjusted, so long as rainfall is plentiful. Wind, however, is still more costly than other methods of generating electricity, especially hydro.
Natural gas is not in abundant supply and there is some opposition to drilling in deep waters off New Zealand’s coast. New hydro-power installations are not being constructed, even though there are multiple locations for new dams. There are a few plans for building new geothermal resources for generating electricity.
While it’s strategically important to protect the environment, there needs to be some recognition that high costs for food and hotels could dissuade people from coming to New Zealand. The price for electricity permeates the economy, as it does here. Prices are already high. Higher prices, coupled with how far people must travel to reach New Zealand, could hurt tourism.
My travels through New Zealand took me from Auckland, to Rotorura, where there is geothermal activity, not as extensive as Yellowstone Park, but still very interesting. Then to Queenstown, Greymouth, Fox glacier and Christchurch on the South Island, with its majestic mountains, Fiords and glaciers.
My thanks to Bryan Leyland for showing me around Auckland and taking me to a presentation by Transpower, where plans for future growth of the grid were discussed.
New Zealand is a beautiful country, and is well worth visiting.
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