Have your say on the draft Energy Strategy (or lack of one)

It is ironic that there is so little to criticise inside Gerry Brownlee’s draft Energy Strategy, but that’s because there is almost nothing in it! Length is not really a good indication of quality, particularly where policy documents are concerned, but the Minister has pared down the 112 page Energy Strategy to just 20 pages and the 86 page energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy from 86 pages only 12, revealing a severe lack of imagination. The chop is so severe that Brownlee has combined the two draft documents into one, otherwise they would have to be called draft leaflets.

The two major criticisms that can be leveled at the new documents are the focus on developing all our coal and oil resources as fast as possible and selling them to the highest (read overseas) bidder, and the complete lack of any specificity on how any of the policies that are mentioned will be achieved. Except for the “drill baby, drill” policy, there isn’t anything new at all in either document, just a re-branding of some of the same targets Labour had in the existing strategies, minus any programmes to achieve them.

The Energy Strategy and the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy cover some complex policy territory, but fortunately there is a Green Party submission guide ready and waiting to help you have your say. It’s a bit long and detailed, but if you treat it like a pick & mix of good ideas to choose from, you can create your very own custom menu of goodies to feed Minister Brownlee’s imagination. If you don’t agree with something in the guide, delete it and add your own!

18 Comments Posted

  1. The issue that has me most concerned is how is New Zealand going to meet the peak electricity demands of the North Island during winter periods at times of low winds?

    At present, gas fired generation meets this gap, assisted by the coal-fired Huntley plant. If we are to meet the 90% renewables target, we need to substantially reduce our dependence on gas and coal, but wind isn’t going to meet this need and the North Island does not have the same hydro resources as the South Island. Geothermal will help, but has limited control capability and the electricity companies are not being encouraged to maximise the control capability that it can offer (i.e. running the geothermal harder at times of higher demand). The long term strategy might need to be another Cook Strait cable, i.e. a second high voltage DC link which would permit South Island hydro to meet the peaks in North Island demand. Then wind generation (and other renewables) in both islands can be used to keep the South Island hydro lakes topped up.

    This issue is simply not mentioned in the “strategy” document.


  2. So perhaps not concrete. Surely after centuries of development, we must have some practical materials that can be used to build a tube to carry sea water up and down that have a decent life.

    The goal is certainly worth chasing. The energy available in the waves crashing on our southern and western shores averages tens of kiloWatts per metre of shore, so a 1 MegaWatt wave powered generator may only require a few tens of metres of wave front.

    Even if the part of a wave powered generator that is in contact with the water needs to be replaced every decade or so due to wear and tear and corrosion, it could still be economical providing that part was easily replaced and the expensive bits reusable. In a LIMPET system, that might mean lining the water columns with a replacable lining.


  3. OK…. a submission has been sent. It is unlikely that they will want to hear me in person I think…. I was perhaps a bit too “nasty” in making my observations. My patience with the willfully ignorant seems to be diminishing. Something to do with the incessant alarms being sounded by my cr@p detector I suppose. 🙂

    Kerry, as I said, possible and not I think, too hard.

    Trevor… Find a 50 year old concrete structure at some coastal location where there is significant wave action (a requirement if you are to get a moving column of anything).


    My point is that there is (I think – I reserve the right to be wrong) unwonted optimism in play here. If the materials used were locally sourced, wood and flax and otherwise renewable based I would be more supportive. My problem is that I have been to sea on ships, and I have experience with these effects over a long term. The various designs are… interesting… but the energy capture ratio just seems invidious compared with the maintenance I expect to be required.


  4. What does “The Government will also investigate
    improving emergency access to ‘reserve’ water in hydro lakes.” actually mean? Seems to me that this government wants to ride rough-shod over the rules protecting some of our hydro lakes.


  5. Reading into the documents I suspect something else here. The complete lack of specificity and presence of various types of weasel-wording seems to indicate (to me at least) that the government intends to make changes it is NOT specifying, covering itself in the adherence to these new and almost impossible to violate due to their lack of specifics, strategies.

    It isn’t that I don’t trust National… I trust them implicitly. I trust them to do the worst possible thing at the worst possible time for the worst possible reasons. They are quite reliable in that regard.

    Doesn’t make them good, but they can be trusted to sh!t in the well.


  6. One of the reasons I like the idea of oscillating water column wave generation such as LIMPET is that the moving parts are in air. The only thing in full contact with the water is a rigid tube, which can be made of concrete or other materials as required to withstand the elements. The turbines are above the water line and are driven by the air, and the generators and control equipment are even further from the water, and accessible inside a normal building – no sea-sick engineers. These systems can be installed on coasts or breakwaters, and all the transmission lines can be run in the air above the land.


  7. Well corrosion is one of my specialties.
    How to deal with problems between dissimilar materials is also developed technology. Just that some people try and get away with it to save initial costs.

    Structures at the air water interface will always have problems with severe weather and corrosion which is why i am iffy about sea based wind generation and wave generation. .

    I envisage tidal turbines somewhere like the floor of Cook Strait.
    The advantage is a constant flow of predictable energy and well developed technology.

    The technology needed is over 100 years old.

    As for usable life.
    The same setup in reverse has over a 30 year life on submarines and semi-sub oil rigs. In fact this part of the ship usually goes to the breakers with a lot of life left.
    Good choice of materials and coatings can extend the usable life much more.
    Maintainance requirements are very low. It was part of my job on the rig. Engineers on a gas turbine electric ship I was on had a holiday until she was re-engined with diesels.
    Oil fired power stations have their own equally or more costly maintainance requirements.

    NZ has the capabilitie to easily run mostly on renewables.

  8. BJ,

    Your comments regarding “rust never sleeps” are spot on and the answer to that are very simple.

    A lifespan for any structure should be calculated beforehand, and the replacement cost amortised into each unit of (in this case) electricity.

    Very simple really in theory but in practise we would have politicians (or management/shareholders if privately owned) digging into the replacement fund savings for other purposes.

    Accounting structures and taxation rules just dont sit comfortably with savings or retained earnings.

    Before people get too exited about building in inert (or seemingly so) materials like concrete or carbon fibre composites, they are just as susceptable to on going problems.

    The aircraft industry need to be careful that their increased use of epoxy resin infused carbon fibre when in contact with stainless or alloy mountings and fastenings, as they have a long term tendency to react with salts, moisture, etc.

    Pretty scary some of the degregation being witnessed over time due to chemical reactions between dissimilar materials.

  9. Trevor

    The disadvantage, as a marine engineer might tell you, is that “rust never sleeps”. Which means that making something that will last a long time in that environment and stand up to the storms is pretty darned hard. That’s what makes a land based wind generator cheap in comparison to the ones pushed off the coast by banana (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) people.

    There are 3 sorts of things at the interface of land, air and ocean. Mangrove swamp in which constant growth overcomes the destruction, sand beaches (where the rock has been turned into small pieces already) and rock (where it is young enough to still be in large pieces). So wave generators need to be built out of locally available materials that last a long time in the marine environment and realistic maintenance costs counted before they can be added into (or subtracted from) the net energy supply. Not saying these things can’t be done. Just saying that there is more optimism about them than I feel.

    Similar discussion for Kerry about the tidal turbines (which only need to survive the land ocean interface). We know how to do this, but it is not low-maintenance or easy. More likely to survive than wave generators and IMHO a more likely solution, but compared to what we are used to doing so unsustainably?

    MR2Guy however, is mistaken in his assessment of alternatives. His implicit assumption assigns NO cost to continuing to do things the way we have done them in the past. That is a hard mistake to start from, and he misses several other important points.

    The majority of energy going into our homes (the energy we are paying for directly) is being used to heat the great outdoors, as the random stacks of firewood we optimistically label “houses with good indoor-outdoor flow” – were built back when people were thinking in terms of free electricity from our “massive” hydro projects. The negligible insulation values of single pane glass in aluminium frames, insulationless walls and door and window “seals” that allow candles to be blown out by the drafts in a decent southerly, these things have come back to bite us with a vengeance.

    We owe it to the next generation to fix as much of this as possible. I actually regard the existing houses on existing sections, in the main, as detracting from the values of those sections as they have to be torn down before something useful can be built on the section.

    Our lighting has become more, rather than less efficient. Our powerful computers and entertainment systems are more, rather than less efficient. We use microwave ovens and more efficient refrigerators. Smarter appliances and less energy is the rule, not the exception.

    We do need somewhat more power to make ourselves more self-sufficient in terms of our industrial capacity, but this is not a massive growth in demand. We can do what needs to be done with relatively minor re-balancing and our children will be provided for… and this is not the case in many other countries on the planet.

    Where we used more energy we are learning to do with less. The places where energy use per-capita is increasing aren’t places like New Zealand, but places like India and China. We have the population density and energy supplies to survive… unless we are bananas. They are in far deeper trouble.


  10. Wave power is mentioned just once in the report, saying that New Zealanders are exploring how to harness the waves. The level of funding for wave power and other marine power sources is trivial considering the potential.

    And I doubt that Gerry has even heard of osmotic power generation…

    One of the advantages of pretty much any form of marine power generation is the slower and more predictable variability, making it easier to integrate with the rest of the generation system than wind or solar.


  11. It is hard to say what the running costs of oil, gas or coal fired power stations will be as we can expect the prices of oil, gas and coal to all increase but by how much? All three emit CO2, which with international emissions trading now has a cost which we can also expect to go up, but again we can’t predict by how much.

    Wind, wave, tidal and similar renewable generation has very low running costs, with some forms being lower than others, which is part of their attraction.

    Most renewable generation is intermittant, but the electricity companies still build it because the generation from these renewable forms displaces that from non-renewable resources or permits water to be conserved in our hydro lakes. As the amount of intermittant generation increases, we may need to look at pumped storage systems to absorb excess generation and increased use of demand management such as running freezers at off-peak times and even freezing water to cool air conditioning systems at times of low electricity prices.

    Don’t forget that coal, gas and oil plants are not run continuously either.

    Technology and power consumption are not directly related. I am now using a lap-top so my computer power usage is lower than it was a few years ago, due to technology advances. Other technology has also become more energy efficient. We can expect to see more use of LED lighting, which is more efficient than even CFL and lasts longer too (and uses no mercury).


  12. Mr Guy.
    It is actually cheaper long term, displaces millions year in imported oil, and there is also the advantage that they could be made locally.

    Though I think longer term tidal power is more promising. (No eyesores, less ecological impact and the technology of connecting turbines/propellors to electric motors/generators under water is well developed.

  13. Ive always thought energy companies invested in wind power as a form of tokenism, ie they can look green whilst in reality they use coal and gas to produce their power.

    Generally wind power costs 20-50% more than coal \ gas power generation, not to mention its not 100% all the time, so you would need to build more of them to ensure stable supply.

    I cant see how that is doable considering power costs now and people barely able to afford their bills. How is a 20 – 50% increase possible ?.

    Add to that the increasing amount of technology products being used in the home and business, how will supply ever keep up ?

  14. @MR2guy – your list is a bit short. You haven’t even mentioned geothermal, which produces a significant portion of our current renewable electricity and is harnessed for some direct heat as well. In addition, we have a world-class wave energy resource, and even the NACT government is prepared to support some development in this area – check out CHIME – Chatham Islands Marine Energy Ltd.

    Solar energy, wind power and tidal energy can’t produce enough power? What information are you basing this assessment on? Cook Strait alone has GigaWatts of potential in tidal generation. We have enough developable windy sites to meet our average electricity needs, and virtually all the electricity companies believe that it is cost-effective, otherwise why would they invest in wind generation as they are doing? Solar energy is expensive, fluctuates widely and wildly and is least available when we need it most, but if every roof were to be covered in solar panels, we could generate more than our annual needs, and if this were not enough, we could put up some pedestrian shelters with solar panels on their roofs to generate some more without impacting on any food production.


  15. it’s about philosophy. He does not believe in a prescriptive plan I suspect. He wants to lay out some opportunities, objectives and aspirations but allow the market to decide if, how and when.

    ANd he is probably right, because our history of planning in the energy sector has been woeful, in that our assumptions have often turned out wrong and ruined the economics of our plans. Look how often you lot get ‘peak oil’ wrong as an example of how poor we might have been if we’d used such projections as the basis for policy.

  16. Seems that coal, oil and gas and the limited hydro we have are our only options when you consider the alternatives.

    A) Nuclear
    Greens dont support it, public dont want one built near them.

    B) New Hydro
    Finding a river without something living in it that the Greens want to protect is pretty hard. There goes that idea.

    C) Solar Energy, Wind Power, Tidal Power
    People support it, but its prohibatively expense and wont produce enough to meet our growing energy needs.

    Fusion power perhaps ?

  17. An economy based on extraction of finite resources is the sort of thing common in the 19th century, in the conquered colonies in Africa, India and SE Asia. It lead to development in those countries but only the sort that supported the extractive industries – roads that lead from the mines to ports, etc. The vast bulk of the local population remained in poverty, unable to afford the value-added products that were manufactured at the centre of the empire.

    National’s vision for the country is one where we voluntarily choose to become a dependent colony, supplying raw materials to the empire du jour. Why a sovereign developed country would choose this for itself is a bit of a mystery to me.

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