Geothermal know-how a valuable asset
By: Mike Underhill, Chief Executive, EECA
What do we have in common with North America, Chile, Indonesia and Tonga?
I recently attended a conference in Wellington with energy leaders from those countries and others throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and it struck me that we were bound together by one vastly powerful force.
We all sit on the unstable lines drawn by the Ring of Fire – the zone of intense volcanism and earthquakes that touches a range of diverse countries, and of course cuts a vertical line through New Zealand.
On one hand, this means we’re all more vulnerable to catastrophic natural events such as tsunami and earthquakes. On the other, we’re all sitting on a vast source of renewable geothermal energy.
New Zealand has been an innovator in this space since 1958, when the Wairakei generator became the first in the world to exploit wet steam (rather than dry). We now produce about 17% of our electricity through geothermal energy.
We’ve shown how successfully geothermally-heated water and steam can be directly applied to industrial processes (particularly wood processing, paper-making and recently milk drying) and to heat greenhouses and hot pools. Waste heat from a geothermal power station is even used to grow prawns at a park near Taupo.
This history knits well with two other threads that were common throughout the conference.
The first was the need for countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region to boost energy resilience by improving energy efficiency and reducing reliance on coal and oil.
The second was the benefit of sharing information and working together. We talked a lot about global issues – climate change of course, but also pressures building on our food and water systems. No country can solve these problems on its own, so coordination looks set to be the new competition.
The skills, experience and expertise New Zealand has developed in geothermal technology will become more sought after as our regional neighbours seek to learn from others’ experience as they develop their renewable energy resources. This bodes well for our geothermal scientists and engineers, and good on them. I’m confident it will also be good for our planet.