New Zealand is an island state in the South Pacific – a very long way from anywhere. It has a landmass the size of the UK but with only 5.1m people in it; 70% of which live in the North Island. Auckland, with 1.5m inhabitants, is by far the largest population centre and there are high land prices across the country; particularly for flat ground!
Across the country, electricity demand is around 40,000GWh per year; with commercial and industrial customers accounting for nearly 70% of this. The NZ Aluminium smelting plant, located at Tiwai Point (bottom of the South Island), is the country’s largest consumer (at around 13%). Households are high users at 7,000kWh per year, each with a high proportion of electric heating and cooling depending on the season and location.
The National Grid in New Zealand is owned and operated by Transpower, which is state owned. There are 29 local distribution companies, with many in council or trust ownership. The electricity market is regulated by the Electricity Authority (EA) and follows a typical developed market framework aside four large Generator/Retailers who dominate the share of generation assets and retail customers; three of which are owned 51% by the government.
Why New Zealand?
In an effort to stimulate competition the EA has made numerous regulatory changes which have opened opportunities for developers in wind and solar.
New Zealand is a unique place in many ways and could be one of the first OECD countries to run on 100% renewable power. However, despite high specific yield figures (of between 1650-1900kWh/kWp) there has been no utility scale solar installed in the country. There are numerous reasons for this, however the regulatory environment is now attractive for investment.
HES Aotearoa and the solar pipeline
In line with the changes in the country, HES Aotearoa (a joint venture between Hive, Ethical Power and Solar Southwest) was established to enter the market. HES Aotearoa began in early 2021 and is led by Nick Keeler, exclusively functioning in New Zealand.
The NZ Gov website states that at present the country only has around 160 MW of installed grid connected to solar power. At present, HES has eight pipeline solar sites under development, totalling 360 MW – which is more than double the existing constructed solar development in the country. The breakdown of the sites is split 205/155 North and South Island respectively. Two sites are now consented with a further four currently awaiting determination. The first 50 MW site in Ashburton district in the South Island is planned for construction start in January 2023.