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    Could New Zealand become the SAUDI ARABIA OF WIND?

    March 19, 2023 - Jamie Gray


      The South Taranaki Bight offshore wind project is not even on the drawing board, yet the potential of New Zealand for power generation at sea is drawing worldwide attention.

      The New Zealand Super Fund last year announced that together with Danish investment firm Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners (CIP) it would jointly investigate the feasibility of the project in the South Taranaki Bight.

      While the project, expected to cost about $5 billion, is still in its formative stage, the wind energy world is excited about the possibilities, international wind power expert Stewart Mullin said.

      Wind power, particularly offshore wind, has proven itself to be a good way of displacing coal-powered baseload, or continuous, electricity supply, said Mullin, who is chief operating officer of the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC).

      Brussels-based GWEC represents the wind associations in various countries, and has the major and minor wind industry companies as its members.

      Mullin, who has a background with turbine makers Vestas and Siemens Gamesa in Denmark, was in New Plymouth to address the third Offshore Renewable Energy Forum.

      He said New Zealand had been quoted as being “the Saudi Arabia of wind”.

      “It is clear that New Zealand has one of the best resources in the world,” he told the Herald on Sunday.

      “There is nothing in the resource area that would stop New Zealand from being a world leader,” he said.

      The experience overseas had shown wind power, particularly offshore wind power, can offset fossil-fuelled baseload power because wind at sea is typically more constant than it is on land.

      In Europe, more importance was being placed on offshore wind projects in the wake of gas shortages arising from the war in Ukraine.

      Mullin said the conflict has proven to be a wake-up call for energy markets around the world.

      “There are huge opportunities for countries like New Zealand to play a leading role, just because of the resource,” he said.

      The experience overseas had shown that projects needed to engage with a wide range of stakeholders and actively consult with local communities.

      He said marine wind parks close to major cities also had the potential to shorten transmission lines.

      In countries such as Denmark and England, offshore wind projects had also acted as natural reefs providing habitat for diverse fish species.

      Mullin said the South Taranaki Bight project had promise.

      “It is definitely an area that has great wind energy resource,” he said.

      The typical time frame for an offshore wind farm, from start to finish, was 10 years “on a good day”.

      The trouble is, as countries rush to meet their decarbonising targets, 10 years is too long, he said.

      “Of course, if we want to meet our climate goals, we are going to have to be a lot quicker than that.”

      If New Zealand gets serious about offshore wind, Mullin said it could come on stream by the early 2030s.

      Wind power had come a long way since the first project in Denmark in 1991.

      “Since then, the turbines have gotten bigger, the projects have gotten larger, and they have been built further out at sea, so the complexities around this area have increased.”

      And turbines have become bigger and more efficient over time.

      These days, one spin of a rotor is enough to power a single house for two days.

      “Over the course of a year, the generation capacity is huge.”

      Mullin said offshore wind tends to be more consistent and was, therefore, more bankable.

      He said a number of factors feed into whether a project gets off the ground, with community support high on the list.

      But when wind parks are built further out at sea — as has been the trend — the challenges from local communities tend to reduce.

      In terms of financial backing, the projects have proven attractive for the likes of pension funds as they offer a stable source of income over time.

      “Speaking to GWEC members, they are all exceptionally bullish about what could be the start of something big,” he said.

      “All the companies that I speak to in relation to the project understand that there is a long way to go, but they are all really encouraged by the possibilities and the potential.”

      Richard Turner, research meteorologist at Niwa, said Taranaki’s wind characteristics stack up well.

      “You have got a good resource [South Taranaki Bight] that is pretty close to the coast and a sea floor that is pretty shallow, so that makes it practical to have the turbines there,” he said.

      “Having a sea surface that is quite smooth [relative to land] means that there is not a lot of friction or slowdown in the wind speed.”

      He added winds from Cook Strait tended to get accentuated at the southern part of the bight, where wind speeds averaged a healthy 8, 9 or 10 metres a second.

      Giacomo Caleffi, senior business development manager (New Zealand) for Copenhagen Offshore Partners (Cop) — which is doing the development and management work for CIP, said there had been extensive government and supply chain engagement, including briefing of all parliamentary parties for the Taranaki project.

      There was also a programme of consultation with iwi, community, local government and local industry, which was ongoing, he said.

      “There have been discussions with iwi in Taranaki on possible partnership models, both from a co-design and commercial perspective,” he said.

      Cop will shortly deploy a floating LiDAR (light detection and ranging) device off the South Taranaki coast to measure wind performance.

      The company is also installing a fixed LiDAR on the Kupe gas platform in a consortium with two other developers.


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