Tidal Energy in NZ – is it a viable source of generation

Nice blue waves

New Zealand is an ideal candidate for wave and tidal energy production. After all, we are surrounded by ocean. The western and southern coasts have large wave energy resources generated by the Southern Ocean and Tasman Sea, with strong tidal currents in certain areas, such as Cook Strait, French Pass and Foveaux Strait. Our harbours are also suitable for harnessing tidal energy.

While New Zealand is poised for the development of a wave and tidal energy industry, there are several obstacles. A report put together by the Ministry for the Environment outlines five key issues and barriers that must be overcome before this industry can be truly viable.

1. Policy

Current policies governing the development of the wave and tidal industry do not account for its status as an emerging industry. Policies currently require consultation, data collection and the development of standardized protocols, as no existing protocols are available for this new activity. These requirements are disproportionately costly for developers and investors who could instead devote resources to more established industries.

2. Information

To start a wave or tidal energy project, developers need to map resources and collate site-specific data to assess the viability of specific technology options at the required scale. Such resource data, if it exists at all for a given site, is currently fragmented or is not easily accessible. Also, much of the data that is available is out of date, putting the onus on the developer to collect the data themselves.

3. Technology and specialist equipment

As with many emerging industries, the costs associated with technology and equipment are high and information on its longevity and effectiveness is still being collected. In-country expertise in wave and tidal energy technology and equipment is also lacking.

4. Investment

Given the many hurdles mentioned above, power companies have yet to get on board with wave and tidal energy. This means that most investments are made by small-scale investors and enthusiasts.

5. Infrastructure

In addition to the infrastructure needed for gathering wave and tidal energy, there would need to be infrastructure connecting this to the national grid and also storing the energy to smooth generation peaks.

 

Currently, there are a dozen or so wave and tidal projects underway here in New Zealand. However, the above issues are holding back development. While progress in wave and tidal energy technology is encouraging, more investors and more supportive policies are needed to see development accelerate in New Zealand. For now, our wave and tidal energy industry is expected to grow slowly, led by entrepreneurs, enthusiasts and private funders. However, as more capital is dedicated to wave and tidal energy, this industry is bound to grow.