A new report, published today by EECA (the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority), shows the significant role currently unutilised, forestry residues could play – as the region reduces its reliance on fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy. Up to 99% of Northland’s energy needed for heat used in manufacturing has the potential to be met by locally sourced biomass (wood fuel made from residue).

The Northland Regional Energy Transition Accelerator (RETA) report provides insight and recommendations that will help streamline technology and infrastructure investments, for local businesses and energy suppliers, and cut carbon at the same time.

“Forestry owners and biomass suppliers in Northland can expect significant demand for wood residues locally as the region looks toward new, lower-emissions energy solutions for industrial processing,” said EECA Group Manager Business, Nicki Sutherland.

“On the energy user side, the tech we need – like biomass boilers that use wood residues for fuel – has been proven and available for a number of years now.

“When you combine this with the fact there is a lot of unutilised wood residue in the region’s forest that is not being exported – it is clear there is significant commercial opportunity for wood processors.”

The region also has a relatively high amount of spare electrical capacity to accommodate higher anticipated demand from fuel-switching projects. “Because of this capacity, capital connection costs are relatively low,” said Sutherland.

The Northland RETA covers 18 sites which consume 4,471 TJ (3,646TJ is fossil fuel) of energy and produce 262,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum. The majority (147,000 tonnes) of emissions are coal.

Energy efficiency and demand reduction are key parts of the process – which can lead to significant costs and energy savings and make fuel switching cheaper and easier in the long term.

For businesses on the demand side, Sutherland noted programmes like RETA help with an increasing expectation domestically and within export markets for lower-carbon products and services.

The report includes input from the Northland Inc Regional Economic Development Agency, Transpower, Top Energy and Northpower, local biomass suppliers and forest owners, electricity generators and retailers, and medium to large industrial energy users.

Head of Investment and Infrastructure at Northland Inc – the region’s economic development agency, Vaughan Cooper, said the RETA gives the local energy users and suppliers confidence to move forward and find opportunities to work together.

“It can be a bit daunting trying to work out where to start with your approach to clean energy use, renewable choices and carbon implications and how these can be built into your business operations,” said Cooper.

“It highlights opportunities to create greater resilience amongst some of Northland’s key sectors, such as forestry, through identifying areas for potential diversification. We look forward to continuing to implement the opportunities identified in this report in partnership with EECA and our business community.”

Northland Regional Manager for CFG Forest Managers and member of the Northland Wood Council, Matt Pedersen said the RETA process was valuable to the sector as it brought key industry people into the same room to discuss a range of issues.

“Forestry needs an economically viable outlet for the fibre that will be used in new or existing biofuel systems. It is good to understand the constraints different industries face and not to feel specific issues are ignored,” said Pedersen.

“Scale will be the largest driver of the viability of new projects and any processor of any scale can retro fit this tech into their systems and utilise fully their own outputs or sell into the wider market. This will require broad pan-industry planning to ensure growth is sustainable and not cut short due to unforeseen constraints.”

This Northland RETA report is the culmination of the planning phase of the RETA programme. It provides the region’s energy users and suppliers with information and tools for developing and implementing their own energy transition plan.

“There are some very promising projects already under way in region,” said Sutherland.

“Using information from our RETA programme, businesses can prepare for the future understanding the process heat energy and carbon saving opportunities that are in the pipeline both now and beyond 2030. But it doesn’t stop there – the lines of communication are open and EECA is committed to providing continued guidance for the region to help it thrive in a low emissions environment.”

Read the full Northland RETA

Additional information

Process heat is the energy used as heat mainly by the industrial and commercial sectors for industrial processes, manufacturing, and warming spaces. Some process heat emissions can be reduced by redesigning the underlying processes, but decarbonising the remaining heat demand will require switching from fossil fuels to low-emission fuels, such as wood fuels in boilers or electricity in electric boilers or heat pumps.