Wind energy in New Zealand
High average wind speeds make wind a useful generation resource in New Zealand. Currently, just over 6% of New Zealand’s electricity is generated from wind turbines.
This is projected to significantly increase in coming years with several wind farms under construction, planned or under investigation. In addition, the potential for offshore wind farms in New Zealand is being explored.
How much of our electricity comes from wind?
2021 data is sourced from MBIE. Future indications come from the Climate Change Commission and New Zealand Energy Scenarios TIMES-NZ 2.0 modelling.
- 6 %
- 20-34 %
How does wind electricity work?
Wind turns turbine blades connected to generators that convert the wind’s energy into electricity. The quantity of electricity generated is determined by the blade size of the turbine and strength of the wind.
Turbines generate electricity between specified high and low wind speeds, shutting down when wind exceeds a turbine’s maximum safe operating speed.
Turbines range in size from around 1 kW domestic units up to 15 MW which can be seen in prototype offshore wind farms. The largest capacity of a single wind turbine in New Zealand is 4.3 MW, situated at the Waipipi wind farm, which has a collective capacity across the farm of 133 MW. This is the second largest farm in New Zealand behind Turitea, which will have a combined capacity of 222 MW – enough to generate 2% of New Zealand’s electricity needs once construction is complete.
The future of wind electricity in New Zealand
Before 2000, New Zealand’s total share of electricity generated from wind was close to zero. New Zealand has an excellent wind resource, and with our earliest wind farms installed not long after pioneering installations in Denmark, now has some of the longest operating wind farms in the world. Due to the advances in wind turbine technology and reducing costs, wind has seen significant increases in total electricity generation and generation potential in recent years.
This is in-line with global trends as the costs of wind power continues to decrease while technology improves. Although COVID-19 has led to some supply chain challenges and subsequent small price increases in the short term, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that onshore and offshore wind costs will decline by around 10% by 2025.
Offshore wind farms
In 2022, the Government announced the development of regulatory settings to enable investment in offshore renewable energy (including offshore wind farms) in New Zealand.
There are advantages associated with offshore wind farms including the ability for larger turbines and higher and more consistent wind speeds allowing for greater electricity generation. New Zealand’s offshore wind resource is much greater than the onshore wind resource, meaning that multiple GW of offshore wind capacity could be developed if needed. Therefore offshore wind farms could support New Zealand to meet its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
Advantages and limitations of wind energy
- Abundant – Wind generation is a good energy source as it is efficient, reliable and abundant.
- Zero emissions – Wind turbines don’t produce greenhouse gas emissions during their operating life and are easy to remove, making wind power one of the most environmentally friendly forms of electricity generation.
- Relatively fast builds – Wind energy infrastructure is faster to build than some other energy types such as hydroelectric or geothermal power stations.
- Stable electricity generation – Wind is quite stable over a longer period, and wind farm operators can forecast with reasonable accuracy how much electricity they’ll generate in a year. The long-term stability of wind generation makes it a good fit with hydroelectric generation, which can experience reduced output during dry periods, but can smooth out short term variation in wind farm output over a short period (i.e. days or a week).
- High EROI – New Zealand wind generation has a high Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI), higher than many other electricity generation methods (hydropower being the main exception).
- High EROC – The lifetime Energy Return on Carbon Emissions (EROC) for New Zealand’s wind farms is approximately 56 times better than a combined cycle natural gas power station and 97 times better than a coal fired power station.1
- Short term output variability – Wind generation can vary significantly over hours and days, making it more difficult to integrate into the electricity system than stable sources like geothermal, or dispatchable sources like Hydro or Thermal. In NZ, the large Hydro schemes generally have enough flexibility to absorb wind intermittency, but with higher penetration of wind, some additional firming capacity may be needed. Wind farm operators continue to improve their forecasting capabilities, and as new wind farms are added in more diverse locations, the overall variability of wind output in NZ should fall over time.
- Embodied emissions – Construction of wind turbines require significant energy and material input, including steel, concrete, copper, and some rarer minerals. This means that a new wind farm will have ‘embodied emissions’ that may take a year or two to pay back with clean electricity generation.
- Consent and property considerations – Windfarm establishment can be a lengthy process due to requirements around consenting and property rights. Transmission solutions are also needed to bridge the distance between generation and end use.
- Visual and sound considerations – Some people object to the visual impact of wind farms and the noise they make, but careful site choices, and consenting and consultation processes can often mitigate these issues. Improving technology and noise standards for turbines have also made wind generation quieter.
EECA and wind energy
EECA is a member of the New Zealand Wind Energy Association, and the New Zealand Offshore Wind interest group, set up to explore potential benefits, options and barriers relating to offshore wind Energy in New Zealand.
EECA’s work on the TIMES-NZ future energy scenarios model helps us understand the potential of wind energy in New Zealand. EECA built the model along with BusinessNZ Energy Council and The Paul Sherrer Institute. The model is used to inform policy decisions on energy and climate action. The modelling shows wind to be a key renewable energy source in New Zealand’s future energy mix, with wind making up the largest portion of electricity generation in 2050 (even larger than hydroelectricity).