Wind turbines in Manawatu

The goal has been set: in less than a decade, the Government wants Aotearoa to transition to a 100% renewable electricity grid. 

It’s the biggest energy and infrastructure challenge we’ll face in our lifetimes.  For many other countries, it simply won’t be feasible.  Here in Aotearoa it’s not going to be easy but it is possible, and green hydrogen offers us a compelling pathway to get there. 

We won’t be using hydrogen to generate lots of our future renewable electricity, like countries such as Japan are planning to do.  Instead, hydrogen could stimulate the massive increase in renewable generation we’ll need to cover spikes in demand when we typically rely on coal.  

For the most part, that massive increase will come from new wind farms.  We’re very unlikely to build any more hydro dams, and it’s been well-signalled that wind is the energy source our generators will invest in most heavily over the coming years.  

We do live in the Roaring Forties after all, and regions like Southland have massive untapped potential for wind generation.  It’s already one of the cheapest sources of renewable energy and it’s getting cheaper.  Hypothetically, we could build enough wind farms to cover our peak demand, even during periods when Aotearoa’s lakes are low. 

Contact CEO Mike Fuge

But of course, it’s not that simple.  The sheer number of wind farms we’d need to build wouldn’t be economically viable.  They’re complex to plan, expensive to build and while they’re a relatively inexpensive source of electricity when they’re running, they’re expensive to have sitting idle when the demand isn’t there for the power they’re generating. 

Economically balancing supply and demand is our toughest challenge as we head toward a 100% renewable grid, but it’s here that green hydrogen could provide a realistic and workable solution. 

Rather than shutting wind farms down during periods of low demand or wasting valuable wind energy, excess capacity from turbines could be used to electrolyse green hydrogen for export or over the longer term our own domestic steel industry.  

It’s hardly a new idea, but using excess wind energy to make hydrogen is now sparking real interest around the world.  In the UK, plans are under way to fit floating wind turbines with desalination equipment to remove salt from seawater, and electrolysers to split the water into oxygen and hydrogen.

It’s the kind of thinking we should be doing here, too.  We’re going to need a lot more wind farms to get to a 100% renewable grid, and hydrogen could deliver us the solution we need to make them viable, and make this Government goal more realistic. 

Mike Fuge is the Chief Executive Officer of Contact Energy