NZ’s Renewable Advantage, WGC Opening Address

Monday, April 20, 2015 - 11:43
Energy and Resources

Good morning and welcome to the World Geothermal Congress. It is a real pleasure to be here and I’m sure that, like me, you are all looking forward to a fascinating few days.

In recent years we’ve heard a lot about the idea of an 'energy trilemma'.  As the World Energy Council puts it, we need to balance the tensions between the need for energy reliability and security, society’s need for accessible and affordable energy, and the need for environmental sustainability.

As the world transitions towards a lower carbon future, as issues such as pollution become more pressing, and as new technologies and innovations unleash new potential, it is hardly surprising that the value of the renewable energy industry is growing.

The United States Department of Commerce believes that, worldwide, the renewables sector will reach US$7 trillion in expected cumulative global private sector investment between 2012 and 2030.

The increased demand for renewable energy, coupled with the ongoing interest in energy reliability and security has focused attention on geothermal energy. After all it is clean, cost-effective and very reliable – if managed sustainably it provides a consistent energy flow day and night, in any climate and in any weather.

The growth in global geothermal use since this Congress last convened in 2010 reflects this heightened interest.

At that time the total installed worldwide capacity from geothermal power plants was 10,897 MW.  That capacity has now increased by 16 per cent to 12,635 MW. 

Forecasts suggest that over the 10 years from 2010 installed capacity will double – a very significant increase over this decade.

Globally, geothermal energy is experiencing a renaissance, a flourishing, if you will.

My country, New Zealand, has contributed nearly a quarter of this increased capacity over the past five years. We are now the fifth largest geothermal power generator in the world. Of course, we are fortunate to have abundant energy resources.

And this leads me to the theme of this conference - “Views from Down Under – Geothermal in Perspective”.

As with the Australian workshops and field trips, those of you who are travelling to New Zealand after the Melbourne leg of this Congress will get to see first-hand how exciting our geothermal story is.

In many ways it is a pioneering one - characterised by innovative, sustainable and respectful management of geothermal resources. This approach was first embraced by our indigenous Māori communities and continues to define our management of the resource both at home and with partners around the world.

Māori call it kaitiakitanga, which means guardianship, protection and preservation.

Early Māori harnessed geothermal power in everything from cooking to warming shelters and geothermal areas, historically and today, are also used for their curative properties, as well as bathing and tourism.

New Zealand’s first geothermal power plant, Wairakei, was established in the 1950s and was the first in the world to generate electricity using a liquid-dominated geothermal resource.  For over 50 years, Wairakei has provided the country’s most reliable source of energy.

The Kawerau geothermal field has been the site of the largest industrial use of geothermal energy in the world for over 50 years and continues to expand.

The last decade has seen a period of unprecedented growth in the use of geothermal energy in New Zealand, particularly for electricity generation. The availability of high temperature, productive geothermal resources means these are the lowest cost electricity generation facilities to construct and operate.

In the six years to 2014, over NZ$2 billion was invested in geothermal electricity generation plant in New Zealand.

We now have over 1000 MW of installed geothermal electricity generation capacity – double the amount we had a decade ago. This accounts for 16 per cent of New Zealand’s electricity generation, second only now to hydro-electricity, in an electricity system that is dominated by renewables. 

At 79.9 per cent, New Zealand’s share of renewable electricity generation in 2014 was the highest it has been since 1996 – and the fourth highest in the world.  New Zealand is making strong progress towards our ambitious goal of having 90 per cent of our electricity supply generated by renewables by 2025.

Māori landowner trusts have played a significant role in this recent investment activity, often partnering with big power companies such as Mighty River Power and Contact Energy in both world-leading electricity generation and direct use developments.   

Commissioned in 2010, Mighty River Power’s Nga Awa Purua power station features the largest single-shaft geothermal turbine in the world, while its Ngatamariki power plant, opened in 2013, boasts the world's largest singular binary power plant.

Contact Energy’s Te Mihi plant, opened last year, is our largest power station, with a 166 MW generating capacity, enough to power over 160,000 homes.

Contact’s Wairakei plant bioreactor, designed to clean up discharged condensate from the original station, is also considered a unique development.

There has also been some significant investment in large scale direct geothermal energy applications.

Māori-owned and managed dairy business, Miraka, is the first company in the world to use renewable electricity and steam to run milk powder processing operations.

Other initiatives include using geothermal energy to dry timber at saw mills, to heat glasshouses for horticulture and for hot water and space heating.

In parallel with the worldwide renaissance in geothermal I have spoken of, New Zealand has also seen a real resurgence.

In the regulatory space, the New Zealand Government has recently strengthened the health and safety and environmental regime around petroleum and geothermal operations, and established a High Hazards Unit within the regulatory agency WorkSafe New Zealand.

The New Zealand geothermal community has always played an important role in building the geothermal industry worldwide. We’ve built an alumni network of colleagues through our international collaborations, project experience and the post-graduate programmes at the Geothermal Institute in Auckland.

The New Zealand Geothermal Association promotes coordination and collaboration amongst the international scientific and educational communities, while the more recently formed Geothermal New Zealand is an industry organisation with an export focus, promoting and marketing New Zealand companies with specific expertise across the geothermal spectrum.

New Zealand scientists and engineers are already key contributors to many of the world’s geothermal developments, from GNS Science whose staff have played major roles in the exploration of geothermal fields in Indonesia and addressed development and field utilisation issues in the Philippines and many other countries, to Environmental Management Services which specialise in working on environmental consenting and policy in the Asia and the Pacific region.

Last year a memorandum of understanding between Auckland UniServices and the Indonesian Geothermal Association was signed to develop specialised geothermal training courses.

GNS Science and Philippine geothermal company Energy Development Corporation also signed an agreement last year that will see the two organisations work together in geothermal developments in a number of countries.

New Zealand holds a seat on the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Council which works to promote the increased adoption and sustainable use of renewable energy. Engagement with multilateral agencies, such as IRENA and the Pacific Regional Infrastructure Facility, are important ways in which New Zealand assists developing countries to efficiently deliver energy sector projects.

There are many other examples of our international partnering, so I’d urge you to take time to visit the New Zealand Inc. pavilion at this Congress and see just how much New Zealand companies and research and education institutes have got to offer.

Fairly flat electricity demand recently has resulted in something of a hiatus in construction of new power stations in New Zealand, including geothermal power stations.  This has contributed to an increased focus in partnering in international developments where we can share our many decades of expertise and experience, honed through our significant recent investment in cutting edge technology.

The increasing number of countries actively investigating geothermal as a reliable, cleaner alternative to fossil fuels within their expanding electricity markets positions New Zealand to play a leading role in this space.

New Zealand’s broader renewable advantage, our strong legacy of environmentally responsible stewardship of our geothermal resources, the active and successful involvement of indigenous communities and our new and robust health and safety regime, all further position us as valuable international partners.

Tomorrow morning, our health and safety geothermal regulator, WorkSafe New Zealand, will meet with some of you to discuss its proposal to establish an International Geothermal Regulators’ Forum.

The proposition is that while New Zealand, the US, Iceland and other nations have developed geothermal regulatory regimes, there is currently no forum in which these regulators can exchange knowledge, learning and discuss issues. 

At the other end of the scale, there are developing countries with emerging geothermal industries where there is little regulatory oversight which could benefit from such a forum.

I’d urge you to support this proposal. It is one way we can use this Congress to collectively leverage our passion and understanding of the contribution geothermal energy can make into something tangible and useful.  It may well act as one of the catalysts needed to convince prospective or fledgling geothermal countries and companies to invest in geothermal development, as well as continuing to inform and improve international regulatory best practice.

On Wednesday afternoon, a session will be held to introduce New Zealand’s new code of practice for deep geothermal wells, which will also inform best practice worldwide.  I invite you attend.

This, then, is one ‘view from down under’ and I’m sure you’ll hear many others while you’re here, including from our fellow Australian hosts.

I’m also sure you have many other ideas about what this congress can achieve in order to improve best practice in the global geothermal community and to build awareness of the significant role geothermal energy can play in our transition towards a more reliable, less carbon-intensive, global energy future. I really look forward to hearing them.

In closing, all of us are aware of the energy trilemma our countries face individually as well as collectively. Alongside this, it is also increasingly apparent we need to transition to a lower carbon future.

All of us agree renewables - and specifically geothermal energy – are fundamentally important to achieving on these issues.

It is pleasing therefore that geothermal is currently, as I have argued, in a period of renaissance. But also be clear this is not an argument for complacency.

This Congress must be seen as a significant opportunity to seek more ways to act collectively with coordination and collaboration educationally, scientifically, in our regulatory and also our commercial endeavours.

We can all work together more across the board.

From a New Zealand perspective we view our renewable advantage, as reflected in our history and more recent growth in geothermal energy, as strong reason to deepen relationships and partner more internationally.

Ultimately more than a set of issues to solve, all that we discuss over the next few days are first and foremost, opportunities. Let us together seize them.