New Zealand’s Energy Policy: Powerful Renewable Energies

New Zealand has a small population for a country this size.

At the same time, it is able to achieve almost complete energy independence due to its renewable energy potential.

1. Enormous geothermal energy potential in northern New Zealand

Due to plate tectonics, New Zealand has considerable potential for the use of geothermal heat. On its northern island, New Zealand sits directly on a bed of molten magna. Geographically, the northern part of New Zealand is located where the Pacific plate slides under the Australian plate. Or to put it more succinctly: Here the Pacific Plate, which is an oceanic plate, slides under the continental plate of the larger continental mass to which New Zealand belongs.

When the Pacific plate slides under the Australian plate, it is heated when it reaches into the inner hearth. In the process, the Pacific plate turns into magma. This heated magma creates a pressure below the end point of the Australian plate where New Zealand is located, and the friction of the magma rises to near the surface in many places, which means that the heat transfer is much greater in these areas. This is one of the main reasons why the northern part of New Zealand has enormous potential for geothermal energy. This concerns both heat recovery and electricity generation.

2. Significant hydropower potential on the South Island

New Zealand has great potential for hydroelectric power generation, especially in the southern part of the country. This allows the nation a relative degree of energy independence. In addition, New Zealand has considerable rainfall throughout the year.

The fact that the country’s gradient from the mountainous Southern Alps to the coast is decreasing rather quickly is considered advantageous for the development of hydroelectric power plants.

3. Wind energy is a great fit for the South Island, but the North Island is even better.

New Zealand benefits greatly from its location in the West Pacific. The stormy Southern Ocean guarantees strong wind speeds throughout the year. This makes New Zealand predestined for wind energy as an energy source. This is the third pillar of New Zealand’s renewable energy strategy.

The potential is greatest along the Cook Strait, and there is a reason why New Zealand is famous for sailing!

4. Fossil fuel reserves and other forms of energy 

In terms of fossil fuel reserves, New Zealand has very few options. This is in stark contrast to its neighbor Australia. Australia has considerable reserves of fossil fuels, including natural gas in Western Australia and coal. Australia also has huge uranium reserves north of Melbourne. We have already discussed the energy sector in Australia in another article.

Biomass and biogas could be used as an energy source, as New Zealand has a large agricultural sector. In the specific case of New Zealand, other forms of renewable energy appear to be more attractive in the long term.

5. New Zealand’s dependence on energy imports, fossil fuel supplies, and international cooperation. 

New Zealand is much more dependent on foreign oil imports than Australia. The country is located in the western Pacific Ocean, which means New Zealand can cover part of its fuel needs with energy imports from the United States. This is a major weakness resulting from New Zealand’s location off the main axes of global energy trade. 

But New Zealand’s geopolitical situation is visibly improving. New opportunities may open up as both New Zealand and Australia have joined the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

6. Summary

The combination of geothermal energy, hydropower and wind energy all contribute to New Zealand’s relative energy independence. This is especially true for electricity generation and heat consumption. A countervailing factor is New Zealand’s geographical location, which makes it dependent on fuel imports from abroad. This creates a certain dependence on trade partnerships.

Many thanks for the shared interest in the energy world!

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