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New Zealand

March 1, 2011

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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[To find earlier articles, click on the name of the preceding month below the calendar to display a list of articles published in that month. Continue clicking on the name of the preceding month to display articles published in prior months.]

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2011 2:39 pm

    I last visited New Zealand for two weeks in January 1986. The countries population was about three million. West of Rotorua I visited a geothermal power plant that was built in the 1950s. I believe it was initially 250 Mw. The engineers told me it was the largest geothermal plant in the world at the time of construction. When I visited, the output was down to about 125 Mw and the engineers told me the plant would be closed in thirty years. This made me believe geothermal is not necessarily renewable as told by its promoters.

    In 1986, one American dollar bought two New Zealand dollars. Based on dollars, prices were comparable with those in Atlanta, GA. With no particular effort to save money, two of us spent about $100(U.S.) per day for food, drink, lodging, entertainment, and gas. I sort of thought the people in New Zealand had the same income in New Zealand dollars as we had in American dollars. So we had double the buying power.

    New Zealand is a very “green” country. I am wondering if electrictiy is so expensive that this has driven up the costs for tourists and the natives. This should be a warming for the people in America the folly of going to a green economy, i.e. reduce use of fossil fuels.

    I greatly enjoyed New Zealand. Everyone was polite and friendly. I had no concerns about wandering the streets any time of day. Australia was a little wilder.

    Jim Rust

    • March 1, 2011 3:03 pm

      The exchange rate now is about .74 US for 1 dollar NZ.
      New Zealand is definitely a “green” country that has been strongly influenced by the UK for its position that CO2 emissions cause global warming. It’s my understanding that the UK has put pressure on all its Commonwealth members to adhere to the UK government’s position on global warming.
      At the Transpower meeting, there was a definite sense that global warming was driving policy.

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