Report shows path to renewable energy future – while creating economic opportunity

New Zealand has more than enough natural renewable energy resources to power the country’s zero carbon emissions goals, according to a report released today by the New Zealand Infrastructure Commission, Te Waihanga.

Te Waihanga has assessed New Zealand’s low-emission energy resources and outlines how we could develop these to decarbonise our electricity system and develop new opportunities in its report, Leveraging our energy resources. 

The report, released today, explores what resources we have, the current and emerging technologies available, what needs to change, and what challenges and opportunities New Zealand is likely to face to make this happen.  

Te Waihanga Chief Executive Ross Copland says New Zealand has an opportunity to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, improve economic performance by unlocking new export opportunities, and lift our living standards by leveraging our abundant low-emission energy resources. 

“We have abundant, untapped wind, solar, hydro and geothermal resources that, combined, are treble the amount identified by the Climate Change Commission for achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. However, the issue is whether they can be developed at prices investors are willing to pay.

“New Zealand could generate wind power at a comparatively low cost by global standards – provided we are efficient at consenting and building new wind farms,” he says. 

“We have higher average wind speeds in Aotearoa than in most other places, meaning that our wind farms can produce more energy per unit than the global average. The least-windy sites in New Zealand have better wind energy potential than the windiest sites in Australia.”  

Other low-emission energy resources are also abundant in Aotearoa. While most of the best sites for hydro generation are already being used, there are opportunities to increase geothermal electricity generation and develop large-scale solar farms.  

New Zealand also needs cost-competitive backup generation to cover periods when demand is high, hydro reservoirs are low, the wind is light, and the sun is not shining. The report discusses options for addressing this issue, and concludes at this stage, it is unclear which option, or package of options, will perform best.  

However, while the technology and resources are available, there are still some major barriers to achieving fully-renewable energy generation, Copland says.  

“Our resource management system needs to keep up with changing technology. We need to be able to consent and build larger-scale wind farms and use new turbine technology to generate electricity at a lower cost. We also need a sound regulatory approach for offshore wind farms, which could become cheaper than onshore wind farms in coming decades, if current trends continue.”    

New Zealand needs to add an average of 494 megawatts of low-emission electricity generation capacity every year for the next 30 years to meet electricity’s contribution to achieving our net-zero carbon target, Copland says.  

“Relative to the size of our economy, we built more new generation during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s than we need to build over the next 30 years.  

“However, putting our resources to work will require a world-class resource management system that provides clear and timely pathways for consenting new wind farms. We’ve got a big task ahead of us.”