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Electricity ‘Solution’ Devoid Of Imagination


Howard's End: Electricity ‘Solution’ Devoid Of Imagination

By Maree Howard

The Government's solution to the power crisis is so devoid of imagination, of vision, of lateral thinking that you'd think they're still waiting for a feasibility study for the wheel. But then, I'm probably just a silly old woman so what would I know. Maree Howard writes.

The Government has determined by its lack of imagination, vision and lateral thinking that we must all pay about $40 per consumer per year just so that we can have a few reserve power stations on hand in case of dry years.

But wait a minute! In October 2002 Benmore Hydro Station in the South Island generated 54% of the nation's electricity requirements and in December 2002 it was 53%.

So what was the constraint?

It seems it was the limits on the high voltage cable which crosses Cook Strait. So, no matter how much Benmore Hydro Station produces, the high voltage cable simply lacks decent capacity.

There has also been problems with outages in North Island power stations and significant down-time because of maintenance needs. That's not going to change.

It looks, then, that these moth-balled-until-needed reserve power stations, which will probably have to all rely on burning fossil fuels, - unlike hydro which is instant fossil fuelled stations take time to start -up - and will likely all have to be built in the North Island. Well, good luck to you.

But there might be a solution without regularly having to put a siphon hose into the wallets of New Zealanders just to build old-fashioned fossil fuelled reserve power stations which might, or might not, be used once every sixty years.

In case anybody hasn't noticed the West Coast regularly receives heavy rainfall - in fact, as I write this, it is persisting down. At Milford Sound, for instance, it is not uncommon to receive 6 or 7 metres of rain each year - that's right 6 or 7 metres, not millimetres. And other areas of "the Coast' receive up to 3 metres each year so it's a hell-of-a-lot of water.

Trouble is that rain generally doesn't make it across the Southern Alps to the East Coast because of rain shadow effect.

That's why the West Coast has been described as "where the clouds are taught to fly" because they drop their rain on our side as they rise to cross the Alps while travelling east.

Now there's no way that I'm suggesting building a new power station anywhere on the West Coast, but we do have a hell of a lot of water which is the major component of hydro electricity generation and for the West Coast it is the most renewable energy resource we have.

Hydro electricity is generated using the energy created by falling water. The greater the fall of water the greater the kinetic energy -the energy of motion.

It costs nothing and nor does it harm air quality.

What is called run-of-the-river hydro generating plants, use the natural flow of the river which greatly limits their potential to generate electricity in a controlled manner because flows vary throughout the year. To avoid this some dams store water upstream in a reservoir and then release it as needed to generate electricity.

The water can then be carried by tunnels and pressure pipelines to power stations at lower levels. Here it flows through turbines which drives electric generators. There's a bit more technical stuff but that's essentially it.

So, the level and amount of water to generate electricity is the problem and this is where some lateral thinking comes in.

Imagine if we could shift the huge volumes of currently wasted water on the West Coast over to the presently low lakes which service Benmore Hydro Station on the East Coast. Now that would be a really sustainable and durable solution.

And what's more, the lifting pumps to drive that water along the pipes through the valleys of the Southern Alps throughout the year could be powered by the very electricity generated from that water.

It would be like a tap continually dripping 24/7 for 365 days a year. If you've every received an excess water bill from a dripping tap or leaking pipe you'll understand exactly what I'm talking about. Imagine the volume of water which could be moved by this method to fill depleted East Coast lakes.

Perhaps there's yet another alternative. Recycle the water back to the lakes after it has been used to generate electricity at Benmore, or any other hydro station, instead of letting it run to waste. We'd have to do that in a properly controlled manner to ensure that the eco system which currently receives that waste water is not damaged at all.

Just as important in our exercise in imagination, vision and lateral thinking is to take a good hard look at the capacity of the high voltage cable crossing Cook Strait.

Anyway, don't give me reasons why it won't work, give me reasons why it will. They built the Panama and Suez Canals, and the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme, didn't they? - and with less technology than we have available today.

But then, I'm probably just a silly old woman who loves her country and its people and wants the best for it, so what would I know? I'll just leave it all to the shiny-bums in Wellington appointed to this new Electricity Commission with their undoubted high-powered tax-payer funded salaries.

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