back to article NZ hydropower drought could see leccy rationing

Kiwis are being urged to use less 'leccy by their government. New Zealand normally draws three quarters of its electricity from righteous hydropower stations, the most dependable form of renewable energy, but dry weather in the Antipodean hills has seen low water levels and power cuts are feared. "It's not an emergency," said …


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  1. dervheid
    Thumb Down


    Oh dear.

    Whilst NZ are to be applauded for their 'green' stance on electricity generation, it would appear that all that 'renewable' energy ain't so renewable after all.

    Lessons to be learned on;

    1) Diversity.

    2) Spare capacity.

    3) Keeping your options open.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    at least ...

    at least they are telling their populous BEFORE it becomes a problem!

    hydropower is not utilised anywhere near enough,

    how about creating a bottleneck further up the river to increase pressure?

    could implement that during a low useage period.

    But I am just throwing ideas around there

  3. Toby Rose

    Temporary Solution?

    Can't they put some of their sheep on dynamo-treadmills until the rains cometh?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Renewable, yes. Reliable, no.

    No text.

  5. Gordon Pryra

    Its the Orcs fault

    Or the Halflings.

    NZ should have followed Europes lead and wiped out all the fantasy races years ago.

  6. David Cornes


    Imagine the outcry if they propose building some wind farms on those beautiful hillsides...! :-D

    I'd have thought wave power (in a country with 100% coastline) must be worth a thought for the future too?

  7. Xander


    If only they'd stuck some solar panels on or near the dam...

  8. SpeakerToAliens

    Couldn't they harness a couple of...

    Cave Trolls to the generators? Or maybe build some Balrog fired power stations?

    They'd be a great (super)natural power source.

    Mines the one with the Mithril lining.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    With NZ generating electricity from Hydro, geothermal, natural gas, oil, coal, wind, solar, co-gen, it does have quite a bit of diversity already.

    Hydro is the main source of electricity, not the only one.

    The lakes aren't dry, but because of the Resource Management Act, the electricity generators have limits on how much water they are allowed to take from the lakes and rivers for power generation

  10. Anthony Randell

    Lack of new capacity is the real problem.

    Also thanks to the Resource Management Act (RMA) no significant new capacity has been built in NZ for some time.

    Hydro isn't particularly popular with the Greens either and NIMBY'ism has blocked a number of other alternatives.

    If you don't build new generating facilities eventually demand growth catches up and you have to turn off the lights. This has already happened for much of the heavy use companies which are operating with reduced productivity.

    NZ, clean, green and DARK!

  11. Adair Silver badge

    Nothing new under the sun...

    NZ has been here before; and the immediate answer is the same one---just use less. A hell of a lot of electricity use is absolutely non-essential, but of course we don't tend to think about that until suddenly we bump up against the fact that supply is not unlimited.

    Same in this country really...

    Frankly the Kiwi's power supplies are a lot more secure, long term, than ours are, and being reminded of the limits will do them no harm. Just wait for the wailing when the same thing starts to happen here.

  12. Grant

    demand rises to fill capacity

    Every few years the hydro lakes drop and this scenario plays out, usually with little ill effect as people suddenly become more energy efficient and the demand stays largely below capacity. Unfortunately after that "crisis" is avoided they go back to being the same wastrels they were before - driven by electricity company encouragement!

    The point of renewables is that they are renewable, not that they purport to be able to supply all the energy one could want. Presumably when the UK runs low on coal and gas they will have something else to generate the 75% of electricity that these sources currently do, as well as take up the increased demand as people convert from gas heating etc. And that changes in the climate won't render any immoveable renewable energy sources untenable in the meantime.

    Bring on the fusion!

  13. dervheid

    Diversity 2

    If, as the article states, "New Zealand normally draws three quarters of its electricity from righteous hydropower stations", then that's not exactly very 'diverse' then, is it?

    As I said, "Eggs...Basket"

  14. TeeCee Gold badge

    " New Zealand won't allow nuclear technology...."

    Ah! That'll be the old, pre Carbon-cult greenness then. They need to wake up, get with the program and join in with the new, shiny, glow-in-the-dark, 21st Century greenness.

  15. mark Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    like grant said

    This just tells me NZ has their power issues more or less under control.

    You lot wont be laughing at their 75% hydro when the lights go out here.

    I wanna Move!

  16. Anonymous Coward


    I'm a little lost with some of the logic in these comments.

    We burn loads more fossil fuels than we need to...

    ...creating ( probably) changes in world weather patterns...

    ....which causes extreme conditions such as drought and floods...

    ....which hits the countries trying to use water power and not crippling the environment.

    ...allowing us to laugh at them for not being diverse.

    Oh. I get it now.

    Serves them right for not joining in with the carbon burning party. Ha ... Who's smug now, NZ.

  17. Stuart Silver badge

    Rainy Day?

    Surely wind + hydro would be the perfect combination?

    Hydro is great for delivering peak loads from (watery) reserves to deliver power when people need it. Wind delivers power when .. errr .. the wind blows. It then displaces hydro which effectively mean any excess leccy helps the dams refill - cheap and effective wind power storage for an unrainy calm day.

    NZ has only 322Mb of wind capacity. And those fossil generators are now going full belt at peak gas/oil prices. Not very forward thinking are we?

  18. Jonathan Edwards

    Heated towel rack?


    To keep the towels' extremities from turning blue?

  19. Jonathan Ward

    One I've seen before

    Use excess capacity at night to pump water back up the hill. it's not a new idea.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Extend the grid

    With 15% of the country off in Oz, I wonder why they are using so much power? if the Kiwis want to be truly CO2 neutral, they need to build a $2b power link across the Tasman so they could reduce their citizens CO2 output and provide some backup just in case.

  21. Gilbert Wham

    Being as it's the Antipodes...

    ...does one really *need* a heated towel rack? I'd be tempted to keep my towels in the fridge.

  22. Ian Dennison
    IT Angle

    Historical reasons also,...

    there is a large gas-fired station in the north island down for planned maintenance for an extended period, which will make a hole in the capacity.

    One option thrown around in the 80s was to hook up one of the Inter-island Ferries to a generator and pump out some wattage into the grid. Wonder if they still have the huge fan-belt to connect it up?

  23. Jim

    Re: One I've seen before

    Erm... works really well if you plan to do this from the start (like Dinorwigg) but rather hard to retro fit, particularly at short notice. Also, you need excess capacity from a source that you really can't afford to turn off cos it will take two days to turn back on again - you know, like a nuclear reactor.

    Nice to see a continuing objectivity with regard to the pros and cons of nuclear power, no personal preferences clouding your articles - no siree bob.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    There are no perfect sources

    Water power = dependent on rainfall and snow, large storage required

    Coal power = acid rain and pollution, large amounts available

    Nuclear power = radiation and depleted fuel cleanup, expensive

    Wave power = purely dependent on waves, reliable? but not "storable"

    Wind power = purely depenent on wind, reliable? but not "storable"

    Gas/methane/propane = availability of fuel, expensive

    Solar power = will outlast all our lifetimes put together but not readily storable via batteries (but could be used to break water for hydrogen to burn)...

    yeah, i'm sure there's more, but you get the picture by now...anyway, we're all going the way of the bird

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    This means a mass exodis of 'travellers' to the UK this summer. Probably given't one way tickets by the Kiwi gov't.

    Mind you, since they don't seem to wash, they aren't the ones likely to have 24 hour heated towel rails....

    Paris, cos I hear she likes it down under

  26. SB


    Hydro supplying 2/3 of normal output of 75% total electricity. So currently 50% being supplied by other means. Hardly all eggs in one basket!

  27. Steve Mann

    Smug Kiwis Brought Low By Own Over-Cleverness Outrage

    Kiwis need to drink their energy-generating medium? How unforesighted of them.

    This was all figured out in the seventies.

    Powersats in solar orbit. Microwave transmission. Amortize costs over whole world.

    Result: Cheap as air electricity for as long as we remain capable and willing to build and launch the powersats and to tolerate a downloading facility near you.

    Worth remembering department: The sun never sets in space.

    I will now pause to allow the mob of angry villagers with torches to burn down my castle because "everyone knows" how dangerous this idea is.


  28. donc
    Dead Vulture

    Hydro green?

    Ironically hydro is no longer considered green among the green lobby. The fluffy bunny division are usually aghast about the artificial lake destroying the habitat of some animals whilst the "CO2 is Satan's farts" division don't like the huge amount of concrete needed to make the dam.

  29. Anonymous Coward

    [But won't their TVs be off already?]

    Indeed. NZ telly is complete pants - recycled Brit soap operas and American crime dramas. No one watches it. They only have three terrestrial channels.

    No power to be saved there, then.

  30. Nexox Enigma


    @First AC:

    """hydropower is not utilised anywhere near enough,

    how about creating a bottleneck further up the river to increase pressure?"""

    First of all, a rather high percentage of all reasonable hydro dam locations have been used up in developed countries. You can't just stick a dam anywhere. Second, hydro power operates by the hydrostatic pressure of the water pushing down in the reservoir - nothing you put upstream could potentially put more water in the basin, so it'd be useless.


    """Hydro is great for delivering peak loads from (watery) reserves to deliver power when people need it. Wind delivers power when .. errr .. the wind blows. It then displaces hydro which effectively mean any excess leccy helps the dams refill - cheap and effective wind power storage for an unrainy calm day."""

    Wind power (With subsidies) now costs about as much as coal per kW. The pumps and pipes that you'd have to use to elevate your water would probably run 30% efficient at best, then even the best / most massive hydro plants can only do something around 90% effiency. Wind would therefore cost more than 3 times as much as coal, which puts it in the price range of many other more feasable renewable power sources.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Having spent time in New Zealand, it will rain soon, and frequently. Not an issue really. As for towels in fridges, south!=hotter.

  32. Antidisestablishmentarianist
    Paris Hilton

    @[But won't their TVs be off already?]

    Sniff! Three terrestrial channels! THREE! We have four thank you very much, five if you can pick up Prime.

    Even Paris know this!

  33. Anonymous Coward

    "not storable" => hydrogen?

    Difficult problems may need radical solutions. There is actually plenty of power to go round, but it's often in the wrong place or at the wrong time - this applies particularly to solar, which Earth has rather a lot of, but UK plc is a bit short of.

    Since it now seems to be acceptable for UK plc to satisfy its energy needs by shipping liquefied natural gas from our mates in Libya etc, why doesn't "the market" take it a stage further, build some solar power plants in part of Africa or elsewhere where the sun shines reliably, use the solar power to generate hydrogen from water, liquefy the hydrogen and ship it to the energy-desperate e.g. over here in Europe, where it can be burnt in zero-carbon power stations, and other similar large energy uses, thereby freeing up the limited carbon-based fuels that remain, to be used in applications which would be hard/tedious/expensive to change eg domestic and small scale commercial uses.

    Just a thought.

  34. Wayne Sheddan

    But what we really want to know is...

    How will this affect the BOFH?

    I am not sure where everyone gets the idea that alternate renewables (wind, solar, wave) are able to be bought online overnight?

    Its only in the last coupla years that wind has been anywhere near cost effective enough to even consider - and then the infrastructure to transport GWs of wind generated electricity hundreds of km through mountainous, fault riddled terrain (which is zealously protected by a beligerant and militant green lobby) doesnt just 'pop-up'.

    As for wave, solar,... - these are realistically still only at the production prototype stages. Hardly ready for pinning the energy demands of a country on.

    Also, the impression I have is that NZ - like many developed countries, has a power grid that is starting to creak under the load. Generation is one thing - delivering it is quite another.

  35. Anonymous Coward

    Pebble Bed reactors please

    If any one has a few smaller Pebble Bed reactors that they don't need, please post them to us in NZ.

    We have a lot of retarded greenies here, so it might pay to disguise them as recycling plants or Gaia temples.


  36. CTG

    Irreducibly pluvial

    The hydro lakes *are* the spare capacity. Most of the hydro is normally not running, and only comes online when demand is high or some of the coal/gas stations are down. The problem is that the lakes are very low now, so if something happens to one of the conventional stations (like the one that broke down last week), it will use up a lot of the reserves in the lakes to keep up with demand.

    However, as Alan says, it will probably rain on the lakes soon enough. New Zealand is an irreducibly pluvial country, according to former PM Geoffrey Palmer (no, not that one). That means it rains a lot.

    The elephant in the room that everyone is ignoring, though, is that 15% of NZ's electricity supply goes to just one user - the Comalco aluminium smelter. Yup, 15%. Shut that down, and there is more than enough electricity to go round. But which politician would be prepared to put a couple of thousand voters on the dole just for a trivial matter such as ensuring the country has enough electricity? Not any of the useless bunch we have, so instead we get mealy-mouthed bleating about not using the dishwasher.

    Now, if they just fitted a turbine to the top of the Beehive, we could harness all the hot air generated by the pols - should be good for a couple of megawatts...

  37. Stewart Stevens

    Cut the cable.

    We have a cable connecting the North and South Island. Sounds like a good time to renew the call to cut it. Most of the power and other cool stuff comes from the South. The North Island is ridiculously over populated, barren and is mostly full of bureaucrats and politicians. A great place to make efficiency savings.

    Also this won't stop us continuing to produce the finest Aluminum in the world (energy expensive.) We are contractually obliged to maintain power generation for this though. Don't worry the smelter is in the South so no problems there with cutting the cable between the islands.

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Big Blow

    If wind power isn't worth the effort Texas Oil Man T Boone Pickens is wasting a shit load of money building a 4 gigawatt wind farm in far west Texas. The first gigawatt will be on line in 18 months. The shortest lead time of any form of energy.

    For those who can't read a map west Texas is 300-600 miles from the population centers where the energy will be sold. That's bigger than New Zealand, though not mountainous. Then again electric towers can be strung across mountains just fine.

    And yes, wind power does drop out at the most embarrasing times which is why you waste the energy necessary to pump up your hydro lakes. It makes a small, <10% impact, on overall cost and guarantees steady supply.

    When one of the worlds richest oil men starts building wind farms wake up and smell the... wind?


    Hydro is pretty much fully developed in the world already and is severely impacted by weather changes. Ask the folks in the USA Pacific northwest. PS Weather is not to be confused with climate. If you talk about a change over 5 years it's weather. If you are talking centuries it is Climate.

    Tidal (wave) power is not really feasible except in a few rare locations.

    Solar is too damn expensive until better panels come along and only generates 8-12 hours a day.

    Nuclear takes 10 years to get a plant on line if you are lucky.

    Coal is the DIRTIEST source of energy on the planet. The coal ash piles emit radiation and heavy metals like lead and mercury leach into the water supply, not to mention the amount that gets airborne.

  39. Grant

    three terrestrial channels - pants

    Terrestrial Freeview here now; but kiwifreeview != uk freeview which is a shame.

    There is plenty of potential capacity; but an ex All Black hooker, didn't want a nice big wind farm in the middle of nowhere spoiling his view when he went for a drive... so we don't have enough wind-farms.

    Not to mention people stopping more hydro being built - they just wanted the dam's for the irrigation thanks. Arrrgh - bring back the 70's when governments just whacked giant hydro dam's where-ever they felt like, whenever they felt like it.

  40. Rich

    Anatomy of a media beatup

    What the headline says: electricity rationing, powercuts.

    Further down the story: people asked to turn the lights out

    Yet further down: people asked to turn out lights *they're not using*

    Which I would have called entirely reasonable. There's been a drought, the water levels are getting low, people are being asked to economise a bit, That's a long way from powercuts.

    There is an agenda behind all of this. The NZ right want more fossil fuel powerstations and have fantasies of a nuke (hopelessly impractical - it would comprise a huge percentage of our power capacity - when working we'd have more power then we need, when out for service, all the lights would go out).

  41. Lorenz Kahl

    @ Nimbys

    In fact, there are large wind farms, one of the largest at Manawatu, on the North Island - over 150 turbines in total - with many more under construction or planned. There is also a lot of Geo-thermal energy produced on the North Island around Rotorua.

    Now I've emigrated to NZ there will be energy enough so long as we keep out any more Brits! ;>)

  42. BillPhollins


    The problem is lack of water in the lakes in the South Island - that'd be the one furthest from the equator- the weather there is like blighty - cold and wet mostly (and snowy in bits). And most people live in the North Island anyway.

  43. Snake Plissken

    It is all my fault

    I was touring round the South Island a couple of weeks ago. I think I might have left the light on.


  44. Anonymous Coward

    Other solutions offered by my NZ parents and old school friends

    - Burn the unemployed to release their (wasted) energy

    - Re-forestation to attract more rainfall

    - Rain dancing (not the album by Chris Rea)

    - Blame the Labour goverment (theirs, not the UKs)

    - Cut the Cook Strait cable ("Free the South!")

    - Sailing winches on street corners to allow public to "grind" some energy back into the grid

    - Leave it alone to achieve a natural balance (Old people will ration themselves rigourously, die of cold-related illness and free up their spare capacity for others)

  45. Bruce Sinton
    Paris Hilton

    It will be alright- I think!

    Heavy rain is predicted and we are assured that panic can now be avoided.

    We did have a very good electricity planning and construction of power projects- Ministry of Works and Electricity Dept. But politics ,changed that, it all got privatised . You know to give us assured low cost , reliable power supply!

    Re Comalco , the big (for us ) Aluminium Smelter, the reason it exists is that the Manapouri Hydro project was specifically constructed for it. The Govt. wanted to get some heavy industry in the arse end of the South Island.

    There will be some legal undertaking by the Govt.. to provide the electricity to Comalco .

    Perhaps (after uthenasia )cremating Greenies would provide a short term energy source , and also help raise the IQ of the country.

    Icon of my idol.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    Re: @[But won't their TVs be off already?]

    OK - four channels. It's still total pants though. But then I don't think I detected a counter argument there, did I?

    Pants it is, except for flight of the conchords.

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