Search starts for cheaper Stewart Island power

A team from the University of Canterbury is working with Venture Southland to investigate cheaper sources of electricity for Stewart Island.

The 12-month project, managed by Venture Southland on behalf of the Southland District Council, will assess the wind, solar and hydro potential on the island.

University of Canterbury energy engineer Ian Mason said the aim was to find a cheap source of electricity for Stewart Island which was renewable, reliable and realistic.

Stewart Islanders were paying about three times as much as Canterbury consumers for electricity, largely because of the cost of fuelling the island's diesel generators, he said.

Dr Mason said the university team was investigating the viability of cheaper, greener options.

"If you look at wind, the fuel is free. If you look at solar, the fuel is free. If you look at hydro, the fuel is free, and, of course, is environmentally friendly."

The team had already measured wind and solar potential at Tiwai Point and completed a pre-feasibility study of hydro power.

Dr Mason believed a combination of the three sources would suit Stewart Island, with diesel generators remaining for backup, but it was unclear which source would be dominant at this stage.

It was a myth solar energy would function effectively only in sun-drenched places, he said.

"In Germany, they have a lot of solar photovoltaic panels and Germany is not a particularly sunny country. You can take some hope from the fact that Germany can make it work."

Venture Southland enterprise project manager Robin McNeill said University of Canterbury staff were chosen to help because they had a lot of expertise with energy projects. The team visited the island two weeks ago and would have a clearer idea what proposals were realistic after the year-long investigation, he said.

Venture Southland had also sent out a request for proposals on wind modelling and data collection to help investigate and measure wind as an energy source for Stewart Island, he said.

Proposals should focus on feasibility and site selection of wind monitoring sites, data collection, and analysis of data collected from the island, and must be received by March 29.

The Southland Times