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New Zealand

New Zealand

Big wind stations in a small country -- New Zealand's best year yet

The New Zealand market finally came into its own in 2004, with a huge 350% increase in installed capacity which saw the country's total wind generating capacity rise from 38 MW at the beginning of the year to hit almost 170 MW by year-end.

The bulk of that increase came from major development in the Manawatu region, with significant extensions to the large Te Apiti and Tararua wind farms. Meridian Energy's Te Apiti is by far the largest, with its 55 turbines producing 90.8 MW, triple the generation of the two Tararua projects.

"Increasingly wind is becoming mainstream and is being treated just like a regular form of generation," says James Glennie of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association. He believes it has been gaining credibility as a standard energy source in a country where the majority of energy comes from renewables, primarily hydro generation.

Power prices have been allowed to rise from typically very low levels, which has enabled wind to become competitive -- and local district councils are becoming more comfortable with the prospect of wind farm development in their areas. Pundits warn, however, against any rush to development as the potential for public backlash remains, particularly in areas where the density of wind development is perceived to be high.

Manawatu'a wind farms are highly visible, which has led to some local vocal opposition, even though the densities remain much lower than elsewhere in the world. Global comparisons produce some interesting results for the New Zealand wind energy scene. Glennie has put together a per capita comparison on a country-by-country basis to discover that in 2004 New Zealand had the fourth largest per capita installation rate in the world, at 33.5 W per capita.

Actual wind installation volume in New Zealand may not exactly race the pulse of the wind energy business. There are only 175 turbines operating around the country. But the country's clear commitment to the industry is a good sign and is likely to give New Zealand a good political message to promote.

"The next big challenge will be grid integration," says Glennie. As with most countries, more information is needed on how to achieve a seamless meshing of wind power into the power system without affecting security of supply. Opinions vary widely as to how much wind can be put on the system, ranging from 300 MW to 3000 MW. Glennie believes the country could see 1500-2000 MW. Even at that amount, the installed capacity related to land area with good wind generation potential would remain low by many standards.

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