Geothermal Powers New Zealand’s Needs

Ask most Americans what geothermal energy is and you’re likely to get some quizzical looks. But in New Zealand, it would appear, the adoption and installation of geothermal systems is at an all-time high.

This information comes courtesy of New Zealand’s Minister of Energy and Resources, Gerry Brownlee, based on the June 2010 quarter energy data published in the latest edition of the Ministry of Economic Development’s New Zealand Energy Quarterly. The main use of geothermal energy in the country is for electricity generation (according to the Ministry of Economic Development’s Energy Outlook Reference Scenario, geothermal is currently the most economic option for new electricity generation in New Zealand). In 2009, electricity generation from geothermal accounted for over 10% of New Zealand’s total electricity supply, and that number is expected to increase substantially over the next 25 years.

GeothermalNZ

image via NZ Ministry of Economic Development

According to the government of New Zealand, the country has easily accessible and large geothermal resources (as do many other countries with a significant landmass situated on the Pacific Rim). Currently, most of New Zealand’s installed geothermal generation capacity (about 600 megawatts) is situated in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, with another 25 MW installed at Ngawha in Northland. These installations utilize either dry steam, flash steam or binary cycle (or a combination of technologies) to create electricity, based on the temperature and conditions of particular geothermal reservoirs.

“Geothermal is a significant source of electricity generation in New Zealand, and made up over 13 per cent of total generation in the June quarter,” said Mr Brownlee, in a statement. “With a number of new geothermal projects in the pipeline, this will continue to grow.”  Other highlights from this quarter’s New Zealand Energy Quarterly include the fact that renewable generation currently accounts for 73% of New Zealand’s total electricity generation, and that, in the remaining 27%, gas has now displaced coal–a combination of factors that have caused the country’s greenhouse gas emissions due to electricity generation to drop to their lowest level since 2000.

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Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.