When I was a kid growing up in Christchurch in the 60s and 70s we often experienced brownouts and blackouts. The power simply failed. The lights would go off, and we’d be in the dark till they came back on.
That all changed once some of the big hydro schemes came online. Now, apparently, about 70% of our power is generated by hydro schemes. Luckily we have no nuclear plants.
Problems still come though when we have droughts, as all too often happens. And after our latest long, hot, dry summer, the lakes are dangerously low. There’s talk of potential power supply problems very soon if lake levels don’t rise.
It’s ironic, of course, to read this while in the middle of a week of rain, but guess rain in Wellington doesn’t always translate to rain where it’s needed.
Transpower will step up moves to have big electricity users cut back if there is no significant rain in hydro catchments within a fortnight.
Anxiety over falling hydro lake levels prompted the national grid operator yesterday to announce intensified contingency planning to avoid power shortages this winter.
Inflows to hydro lakes this autumn are below those of 1992 when a power crisis resulted in hot water heating being cut and sweeping voluntary savings.
…The dry summer and autumn had coincided with the unexpected closure of the New Plymouth thermal generating plant due to an asbestos find; the Stratford plant out for a scheduled mid-life maintenance; a unit out at Huntly and some constraints there due to river temperature restrictions.
Low lake levels had been a recurring problem for the country throughout the past six years.
Of course, our overall power requirements are much higher now than they were 30 or 40 years ago: TVs, computers, sundry electrical appliances are common and plentiful.
There’s a lot of energy of wasted: we see many well-lit empty office buildings downtown, offices have their central heating thermostats set higher than they need to be.
Meanwhile, this is good news:
Neptune Power has been granted resource consent for an experimental turbine capable of producing 1MW of power in 80m of water 4.5km off the south coast of Wellington.
I dream of a day when each building is self-sufficient in energy generation. Can’t the scientists and technicians find ways to exploit every day activities on the small scale to generate power? I bet they could if someone were willing to fund the research.