Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Blueskin Energy Project

By Scott Willis

Keeping warm and healthy as the cold bites is not always simple, especially if a household is in economic stress. Having good, unbiased information is an important first step in making sound choices, however. Thanks to a new contract with the Energy Culture's team at the University of Otago, we'll begin work in June on a Community Energy Advice trial, so keep your eyes on "Blueskin News" and subscribe to the email to stay informed. This is about making houses warmer, healthier and more energy efficient.

This month is about wind generation and technology. All wind turbines, whether small household turbines or larger community-scale turbines, need to suited their site to be effective. Wind turbines usually operate 75-90% of the time, but not at full capacity as wind is not constant. They also have an optimal operating range – they only produce electricity once wind gets to a certain speed and cut out when it gets too great. Too many days of high winds for a low-range turbine will wear out parts (like using a Honda Civic to tow trailer loads of gravel each day), and likewise, too many days of low wind for a high range turbine will under-utilise it (like owning a four-wheel drive to go to the supermarket). The trick is to find the right balance. However, now that we're experiencing wilder weather thanks to a changing climate, a greater degree of unpredictability (or 'risk') has entered the equation. No one knows how to model for climate change within the financial model of a wind cluster. The approach we're taking with the Blueskin wind cluster is to seek a slightly over-engineered turbine (the Christchurch made 'Windflow 500') for the site, in order to contain the risk of wilder weather and ensure low maintenance costs. Certainly, everyone will understand that when you build 'above spec' it costs more, even when using locally built machines. However, seldom do people or even professional industry developers give enough weight to the risk of building just enough to meet specifications, often to their regret. We can avoid spending generation income on turbine repairs, or having generation down for maintenance with the right choice of turbine.

Next comes the price we get for our power because we will have to sell into the market. This is where a community scale project has the advantage over household scale generation: we gain bargaining power.

Early bargaining discussion has begun and once we know for sure the realistic price we can get we add the figures to the spreadsheet, sign agreements, seek resource consent, raise capital, and, assuming the Blueskin community still wants it, begin construction. That only sounds so simple because I've avoided some of the detail. Feel free to get in touch if you want to know more.

The website www.blueskinpower.co.nz/ is where you'll find fresh information as it comes to hand, and don't forget to complete the Blueskin Bay Energy Survey received either in your mailboxes or via the BEP Update.

Contact Scott on 482 2048 or by email scott@blueskinpower.co.nz.

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