PODCAST: Blue Energy conference – the state of wave and tidal energy in NZ

awatea conference-10Marine energy proponents, investors and researchers converged in Wellington today (19 Apr) for the start of Blue Energy — Aotearoa Wave and Tidal Energy Association (AWATEA)‘s 2010 conference.

Opening speaker Mike Underhill – Chief Executive EECA – argues that renewable energy is one of New Zealand’s strategic advantages globally. Currently, 31% of NZ’s total energy and around three-quarters of our electricity generation comes from renewables, with a national strategy that aims to boost the second figure to 90% by 2025.

Most countries rely far more heavily on fossil fuels, with limited scope for significantly developing renewable energy sources.  According to Underhill, New Zealand actually has the highest per capita renewable potential in the world, and he believes marine energy will be an important part of future development. His group’s research has found that there is good public support for marine energy, despite a poor understanding of the technologies involved.

Listen to Mike Underhill’s presentation:


Marine energy aspires to become a key player in the mix of renewable energy sources available here, but faces many technical and economic challenges. Nick Eldred – AWATEA Chairman – points out that the Ministry of Economic Development’s most recent electricity generation projections failed to include tidal or wave power — something the fledgling industry is lobbying to change.

There are currently five main marine energy projects under development in NZ:

  • Neptune Power – granted resource consent for a single marine turbine prototype in Cook Strait, yet to be deployed
  • Crest Energy – previously granted local consent for Kaipara Harbour 200 marine turbine installation, now awaiting national Environment Court decision
  • WET-NZ – wave energy prototypes trialled in Wellington Harbour and Pegasus Bay; has resource consent for 2 yr trial of 1/2-scale device off Taranaki
  • Energy Pacifica –  pursuing tidal stream generation in Tory Channel, applying for resource consent for 50 marine turbines
  • Chatham Islands Marine Energy – pursuing shore-based wave power near Point Durham, resource consent application lodged

In addition, around 20 minor projects are in various stages of development. Eldred argues that the Chatham Islands are likely to be the real early adopters of commercial-scale marine energy technology, given existing disproportionately high electricity prices there.

Listen to Nick Eldred’s presentation:


NIWA scientist Dr Craig Stevens raises some unexpected questions about environmental impacts of marine energy. In particular, he urges those concerned to look beyond whales and dolphins to consider changes to the physical marine environment caused by the very act of harvesting ocean energy. For example, he notes that the wake generated by undersea devices may persist for long distances and alter the types of marine organisms and ecosystems able to live downstream. He calls for more baseline research to be completed so future impacts can be assessed, and proposes an Ocean Observatory in Cook Strait.

Listen to Craig Steven’s presentation:


Dr John Huckerby – Founder and current International Representative for AWATEA – uses his presentation to launch a new report on marine energy resource allocation. The current Resource Management Act framework allocates space for marine developments on a first-come-first-served basis, and Huckerby fears competition may become increasingly intense given the highly limited number of suitable sites for tidal generation (Foveaux Strait and south of Stewart Island; Cook Strait; Cape Reinga; Banks Peninsula). Potential wave power sites are more widespread, but connection points to the grid will limit options.

Huckerby highlights parallels to the aquaculture industry and its ad hoc regulatory approach, and he presents a number of recommendations aimed at forestalling similar problems.

Listen to John Huckerby’s presentation:


Day two kicks off with updates from four of the NZ-based projects listed above. Despite being grouped under the marine renewable energy banner, these represent a diverse range of approaches.

Crest Energy’s Operating Manager Anthony Hopkins explains the extensive legal challenges facing the company, including a proposed moratorium that would remain in effect until the Foreshore and Seabed Act overhaul is resolved. If these difficulties can eventually be overcome, Crest will still need to carry out baseline environmental monitoring for a full year before installing its proposed 200 turbines. These turbines would be purchased essentially “off-the-shelf” from suppliers — Crest is a commercial energy venture, not involved itself in any marine energy technology R&D.

Listen to Anthony Hopkin’s presentation:


In distinct contrast, Wave Energy Technology (WET-NZ)’s John Huckerby describes in detail their progress in designing and testing a novel device for wave energy generation.They’ve just received the green-light for a two-year field trial of a half-scale prototype off Waitara, east of New Plymouth. Their prototype wave generator is a floating, tethered device of the point absorber variety, requiring at least 25 metres water depth to operate. The field trial will involve transmitting power over 4 km back to shore.  WET-NZ is a purely R&D-focused venture at this stage, with any commercial-scale development still a substantial way off.

Listen to John Huckerby’s presentation:


Energy Pacifica’s Director Anthony Bellvé explains the reasoning behind his decision to launch a tidal generation project in Marlborough’s Tory Channel. Marine turbines create a large output of energy from a small structure, particularly where the tidal current is fast-moving. Energy Pacifica’s latest plan would involve 50 large marine turbines, purchased from overseas, with a total generating capacity of 75 megawatts. Negotiations over power cable routing are ongoing — it may run to Picton or across Cook Strait to Wellington. The company’s initial resource consent application will be lodged this week.

Listen to Anthony Bellvé’s presentation:


Finally, Chatham Islands Marine Energy’s Garry Venus describes an entirely different form of wave energy technology that underpins their project — not water-based, but still powered by marine energy. No technology development is involved — it will be based on a project in Islay, Scotland that relies on an oscillating water column concept. Waves force air in and out of a chamber at the shoreline, and the air in turn powers a turbine. The company projects the single installation will be able to provide for fully half of the Chatham Islands’ power needs, and significantly reduce the region’s dependence on diesel generation. If successful, Venus envisions direct applications in other diesel-dependent Pacific Islands.

Listen to Garry Venus’ presentation:


For more information on the conference, see here.