Building an electricity network that keeps pace with technological developments and meets changing consumer behaviour is a key priority for Top Energy’s $170m 10-year investment programme.

Over the coming decade, Chief Executive Russell Shaw says the company will focus its investment programme on initiatives that enable greater flexibility in how it manages its network.

“We have natural advantages, such as the geothermal resource at Ngawha which we are developing, but our network is remote, largely rural, and dependent on a single high voltage, double circuit line supplied from Manugatapere. In fact, approximately one third of the network is uneconomic to run and remains unreliable in some areas.”

Mr Shaw says the company has embarked on an investment programme that will help address these issues to provide a reliable and resilient network.

While the expansion of Ngawha and building a second line to Kaitaia are key to the long-term reliability of the network, Mr Shaw says the company is also focused on new initiatives in the short term.

The first is the installation of more diesel generators which can boost local supply.

“Over the next two years the company will install an additional 9MW of diesel generation to improve network security to customers fed from the single line to Kaitaia.”

The second explores a number of alternative network options such as combining small generators, batteries and solar panels to create micro-grids to boost the local power supply without needing to invest in the replacement of costly and uneconomic lines infrastructure.

“This will increase the total diesel generation capacity distributed through the network to 15MW. Once completed the generation at Ngawha will produce 53MW of geothermal generation in the Far North with the opportunity to grow this to 81MW in 2025. This will mean that power will be exported from the region 100% of the time.

The diesel generator deployment comes at a cost of $10 million which Mr Shaw says is significantly quicker to implement than the second line to Kaitaia, which is currently delayed due to property acquisition rights with landowners.

“The advantage of back up localised generation has already been demonstrated at Taipa where the supply has been maintained during outages affecting the wider network.”

 

Two 1MW diesel generators will be installed at Omanaia over the summer so that power can be maintained to 1,600 customers on the south west side of the Hokianga while the substation and 33kV line are upgraded.

This approach offers clear customer benefits as the generators provide backup power while essential maintenance on the network is undertaken. This work can no longer be completed using live line practices.

Once this project is finished these generators, along with additional generators yet to be procured, will be relocated to Kaitaia where they will be used to secure supply to the northern network which supplies 10,000 customers.

“This is a temporary solution until we are able to build our second 110kV line into Kaitaia.”

Mr Shaw says the diesel generators only represent one example of the investigations the company is undertaking to provide more diverse energy solutions for its customers.

“We are continuing to explore the viability of micro-distribution networks such as solar panels, batteries and other localised generation to provide service to areas that are presently connected to the network but are either uneconomic or challenging to access due to their remote location and restricted customers numbers.

“We envision these areas operating as stand-alone networks or micro-grids,” he says.

Mr Shaw also refers to the high penetration of solar power in the Far North, which is the second highest across all New Zealand electricity lines companies.

“We have 600 customer connections who have installed solar panels, creating a total of 2MW of embedded solar generation, which means they can export power back to the network.”

“It is essential that Top Energy remains responsive to new technologies for managing two way flows of energy – particularly as more customer invest in their own generation and want to sell power back onto the network.”

“Energy projections from Transpower, who manage the national grid, indicate that electricity demand is likely to double by 2050,” he says.

This is driven by changes required to meet our carbon neutral goal by 2050. This will require industrial processes to use more electricity rather than fossil fuels and far greater uptake in electric vehicles, which is growing steadily in the Far North with charging stations operating in Kawakawa, Kerikeri, Kaitaia and Kaikohe.

“We have the long-term goal of creating an affordable and reliable electricity system for the people in the Far North – who are the owners of the network.”

 

For more information contact: Philippa White, 021 2418740