A device that can measure wind, wave and current speeds is about to become the first physical piece of offshore wind technology to be used in New Zealand.
The Floating Detection and Ranging Device, or FLiDAR, is in Taranaki Harbor awaiting towing to a position 37km off the coast of Patea.
Taranaki Offshore Partnership’s Giacomo Caleffi said when in office he would provide key data to access the feasibility of his proposal for a 1 gigawatt, $5 billion offshore wind farm in the South Taranaki Gulf.
“It will record the wind speed — that’s the main thing it does. So it’s recording the wind speed at different heights up to 300m above sea level, and that will give very good data on what kind of wind speed we can expect if we have an offshore wind farm in that area.”
Caleffi said the buoy, which was built in France, used laser recording technology that would give the partnership a “next level, more detailed” understanding of wind conditions in the Gulf.
It was built with the turbulence of the Tasman Sea in mind.
“It was designed to a pretty rough standard and the North Sea is where the offshore wind started, so we have a pretty good idea of how bad the sea can be, but certainly South Taranaki is known for how rough the sea can be.”
FLiDAR will transmit live data via satellite or 4G and record it to a hard drive.
Caleffi said a technician would service the buoy every three months, working from the harbor in Patea, and one of their jobs would be to download that data.
It has been proposed to install 60 230m high wind turbines, comparable to some of the country’s largest hydroelectric plants and capable of meeting more than 11 per cent of New Zealand’s current electricity demand.
Caleffi said it will be some time before construction begins.
“There is still a lot of work ahead, we are still at the stage of feasibility study. This is a key aspect of the feasibility study — to understand exactly what the resource looks like.
“Therefore, we need to do a lot more to understand the environment and the public perception of offshore wind energy.
“So we’re hoping — if all goes really well — we could have turbines in the water by the end of the decade, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
However, he was excited by the prospect.
“This is a very exciting moment in the sustainability journey for Aotearoa because this is actually the first piece of kit that is physically going to promote this offshore wind industry.
“This is a very important technology and will be part of the renewable energy mix that New Zealand needs.”
Long-term investment forecast
New Zealand’s Superfund is investing $2.5 billion in the project. Chief investment officer Brandon Jones said the company was interested in offshore as part of its pursuit of commercial investment opportunities arising from the world’s transition to a low-carbon economy.
“We see the potential for attractive investment and the chance to do something positive for the climate, so it’s a win-win.
“The fund has a long-term investment horizon with no payouts until 2035, and even then no real meaningful payouts until mid-century. So we have a time frame to take some development risk.”
Port Taranaki chief executive Simon Craddock was also excited by the prospect of offshore wind.
“This is incredibly exciting for the port, the region and the country. I mean, the offshore wind industry is a potentially important part of our energy future.
“It’s doable on a gigawatt scale, which is great for renewables, and we’re very excited about the prospects for the region.”
Craddock said offshore wind could become an important part of the port’s business in the future.
“It is difficult to say what share it will be, but it will be very significant. If we look abroad, we can see the scale of activity that goes through ports in Europe, and it is a very significant volume of activity.
“We are very keen to support the developers who will launch this industry and are busy planning for that future.”
The FLiDAR will be towed into position when winds in Taranaki drop below 15 knots and the ocean settles after the recent storm.