As an itinerant authority on wind energy I have been buffeted by gales in the far corners of the globe, from the tip of Denmark’s Jutland peninsula to the torrid shores of India’s Gujarat province. But rarely have I been pounded as hard as I was when I visited the observation point overlooking Port Chalmers outside Dunedin, New Zealand. “Truly a world class resource,” I thought as I struggled to hold my wind meter into the wind. “Now I know why Keith was so excited.”
New Zealand Commits to 90% Renewable Electricity by 2025 (RenewableEnergyAccess.com, September 26, 2007)
Keith was the late Keith Dawber, who for years tirelessly spread the word to his fellow Kiwis — and to the rest of the world — about New Zealand’s renewable energy riches, especially its powerful winds, like those that raked Port Chalmers that day.
Professor Dawber, who taught at the University of Otago, said he had discovered a rich vein of wind energy within easy reach of Dunedin. It only took a few minutes to convince me of that, and I quickly scurried back to shelter.
As Keith Dawber would explain to anyone who would listen, New Zealand is in the enviable position of being rich both in intermittent forms of renewable energy such as the winds that power the wind farms on the North Island, and in those steady forms like hydro power that can be used when the winds are not at gale strength. The future for New Zealand was not in burning ever more natural gas in power plants, he said, but in integrating wind-generated electricity with the renewable resources characteristic of each island.
Dawber envisioned integrating wind energy with geothermal power plants on the North Island, and with the hydro system on the South Island. In this way, he said, New Zealand could construct the world’s first sustainable energy system, using only the renewable resources that fall on, blow across, or rise up from New Zealand’s soil. Initially, natural gas would be set aside for transportation until it, too, would be eventually replaced by various forms of solar energy.
While Professor Dawber was certainly a visionary, he was no dreamer. Like hydro power before it, wind energy has become a global enterprise. Wind is now the world’s fastest growing source of energy. Last year sales of wind turbines reached almost USD 6 billion (6,000 million). For the past five years, growth has averaged 40% per year. Germany, the world’s third largest economy, supplies more than 2% of its electricity with wind energy.
Denmark, New Zealand’s Northern Hemisphere twin, meets 15% of its electricity needs with wind turbines — all of them built domestically. The Danish wind industry has become so successful that Denmark now plans to meet 50% of its energy needs with wind energy by 2040. They will probably do it, too. In the meantime, they will continue exporting their wind turbines around the globe to nations with less foresight.
As Professor Dawber often liked to point out, New Zealand has far more abundant renewable energy resources than tiny Denmark. And as I learned that day at Port Chalmers, New Zealand’s renewable resources are in a class by themselves. It’s not an exaggeration to say that New Zealand has some of the most powerful winds on earth. The two wind power plants on the North Island are the most productive in the world, and New Zealand’s first wind turbine, the Danish machine overlooking Wellington, has consistently set world records for production.
New Zealand also has an equally valuable resource in the world-class innovativeness of its people: pioneers, such as Keith Dawber, who struggled for years out of the limelight to show the way forward. Keith could see a bright future for Kiwis in a sustainable economy built on New Zealand’s renewable resources, providing jobs for native sons and daughters.
There is tremendous power in the wind that sweeps over Port Chalmers, but there is also tremendous power in Keith Dawber’s vision. I hope Kiwis find the means to pursue both.