Solar in a Renewable Based Energy Market

12 June 2018

It is well known that in New Zealand, energy generation is largely renewable. Around 65% of generation is hydro-based mainly in the South Island and around 15% is geothermal based through the central to the eastern side of the North Island. In the following series of articles, we will look at the pros and cons of commercial solar installations in the New Zealand market.

During the last National-led Government, there was little emphasis placed on increasing the uptake of large-scale Solar (with the current Labour-led Government this may change) as it was seen merely as converting from one form of mostly renewable generation to another with little overall benefit to New Zealand’s energy generation emissions. This is because the vast bulk of our thermal based load is only utilised during times of long-term dry weather (mostly during Winter periods) or intermittently when other generators are out for short-term planned or unplanned maintenance.

While Solar energy generation has been around for well over 30 years, it has only recently that economies of scale in efficiency and cost have meant that generating energy for photovoltaic panels is a realistic option for some businesses to reduce their reliance on the main transmission and local distribution grids.

A recent study published by Statistics NZ and the Ministry for the Environment concluded that sunshine hours are increasing in most areas across the country. However, there are areas throughout the country that have a more natural fit for installing Solar due to a combination of sunshine hours and the costs of energy and transmission and distribution energy pricing.

The recently announced ban on offshore oil drilling and gas exploration will have a major impact on the energy requirements of the country. From the generation perspective, Genesis’ Huntly power station will be most affected. While the original Rankine units are expected to be operated through to around December 2022, the newer 400MW combined cycle generator may have an uncertain future. From an end user perspective, food manufacturing will be most greatly impacted by a lack of gas supply or higher costs due to imports which is most likely lead to manufacturing moving offshore or higher prices for consumers. However, I digress, although the above will most likely have a positive impact on the feasibility of distributed generation.

Regulatory change and reform have always had a large impact on New Zealand’s primary sectors, and since deregulation of the energy system in 1999, successive governments have used the market for political capital by consistently tinkering and influencing the market. With the upcoming wide-ranging government inquiry into power pricing in New Zealand, the newly created Climate Change Commission and the Transmission Pricing Methodology Proposal one thing is for certain is the constant potential for change.