Last night, while attending my weekly pub quiz, several of my team who work in the medical sector got text alerts from Waikato DHB warning of rolling blackouts across the region and the possible effects on services. These were quickly followed by texts from family members asking if we had lost power, like them. Luckily for us, lights in the pub stayed on and we finished our quiz.
According to TVNZ online news: Transpower New Zealand GM of operations Stephen Jay says demand for electricity is at an all-time high. "Insufficient generation has been made available to meet demand and manage a secure system," Jay said.
"As a result, Transpower has asked the distribution companies to reduce load.”
Well, it was a chilly night in Hamilton but not as cold as a few weeks back. What was different this time was that a high pressure area was covering pretty much all of the country, leading to clear skies, calm conditions and the typical cold, frosty nights that result.
As at December 2020, New Zealand’s power generation capacity was:- 57% Hydro, 13% Gas, 10% Geothermal, 7% Wind, 5% Coal/Gas, and the rest a mix of mostly Cogen and Diesel.
With cold, calm conditions nationwide it’s fair to assume that the wind component was producing little or no generation, which dropped NZ to 93% of total generation capacity. Assuming sufficient lake levels in our hydro dams and no maintenance outages at any of the other generation sources, then all other generators should have been able to meet their nominal capacity.
There is another complication - the HVDC cable which connects the North and South Islands and is used to export power to the more populous North Island. This has a limited capacity but Transpower does not give that as the reason for the “power emergency”. They specifically say it was insufficient generation.
Based on what we know at this stage, that suggests losing up to 7% of our generation capacity can lead to brownouts/blackouts. There is insufficient spare capacity in our other sources to fill that gap. Imagine what will happen when we have a period of restricted hydro generation, our main source of power, combined with calm conditions.
As people are encouraged to install electric forms of heating to replace gas, which this government wants to phase out, and the number of EVs increase, at least among those of us wealthy enough to qualify for the government subsidies, electricity demand will grow and extra capacity will have to be installed.
This government hates fossil fuels. They already want to stop burning coal at Huntly Power Station and there is an effective ban on new oil and gas exploration. Nuclear, the best way to generate emissions-free power, is taboo. Hydro, the most reliable form of renewables generation, can’t get past the RMA because the Green lobby hates changing the environment.
Let’s see, what are we left with? More wind and probably some solar. Both of these change the environment by covering it with huge turbines about 100m high and banks of black panels which only work efficiently for a few hours each day, as long as it’s sunny and summertime.
Logic and reason shows that we don’t have enough reliable conventional generation capacity - gas, coal and nuclear - to ensure the power stays on when the renewable sources won’t work. Will we install more? Of course not!
We’ll build more of the generation which caused the power outages last night and expect it to solve all our problems. This government’s energy strategy follows the rest of the Western world and is founded on woke ideology. Real science and engineering are conspicuous by their absence and that is why power outages will become a regular occurrence in the not too distant future.
Derek Mackie is a geologist with a keen interest in current affairs.