It is an interesting proof of concept that unfortunately emphasises the least efficient use of the coal seam methane resource. Scoop captured the press release:
Speaking today at Solid Energy’s Annual Meeting in Auckland, Chief Executive Officer, Dr Don Elder says that in a first for New Zealand, coal seam gas is now producing enough electricity for 500 to 800 homes, using one of the world’s cleanest forms of thermal energy.
The on-site generator is currently fed by four wells taking gas from a 32 hectare section of the coalfield. Gas flow from this small pilot has the potential to power as many as 1000 homes but it is not yet known if the local network connection can accept that much electricity.
Coal seam gas can be used for industrial energy, electricity generation and could be injected into gas transmission systems to supplement gas resources.
While it ceratainly is unique to be using coal seam gas in New Zealand, burning it to produce electricity, where up to two thirds of the energy can be lost in the form of waste heat, is a poor use of a non-renewable resource. This is particularly true here, where it is common knowledge that renewables, including baseload geothermal, are cheaper than thermal baseload.
That last use mentioned in the quote is the future for natural gas in New Zealand – direct use in homes and in industry, where the heat is what is wanted, and where using electricity to create heat is in fact wasteful. The long transformative journey from gas > heat > electricity > heat for many uses is a waste of a finite resource.
Coal seam gas does have a future in New Zealand, particularly given the rapid dwindling of our big gas fields. We can expect serious shortfalls in gas supply here in NZ by 2015 if current trends – and waste – continue. Let’s be smart about how we use it – this time.