17 July 2014 - A team of Kiwi engineers is lending its expertise to develop wind, solar and hydro power projects around the world, most recently in South Africa.
Led by Blair Walter, the global head of renewable energy at Aurecon, the Wellington-based group has garnered international respect for its niche expertise, and is now eyeing new opportunities in Asia and South America.
Five years of hard work will shortly culminate in the commercial operation of South Africa’s flagship wind project – the $NZ250million, 140MW Cookhouse Wind Farm, which is now nearing the end of construction.
This wind farm is the largest project from Round 1 of the South African Government’s renewable energy procurement programme, developed by African Clean Energy Developments and constructed by Indian turbine supplier Suzlon Energy. It has a total of 66 turbines, with a combined installed capacity of 138.6 MW, enough to supply around 100,000 average South African houses.
By comparison, the West Wind farm near Wellington has 62 x Siemens 2.3MW turbines (142.6 MW capacity) and can supply around 70,000 average New Zealand homes.
“We worked with the developer in the early stages of the project to finalise the technical details, contracts and financing for the project. We then assisted the developer in bidding the project into the first round of the South African Government’s procurement process for renewable energy projects, before moving into a construction management role.”
Why New Zealand?
Walter says New Zealand is recognised for its world-class wind energy expertise.
“Even though our installed capacity of wind in New Zealand is relatively small (600 MW supplying around 5% of total annual generation), we have some of the windiest and most complex wind sites in the world.
“Our existing wind farms are highly productive by international standards, generating double the amount of electricity that traditional wind areas in Europe produce.”
New Zealand is also regarded as cost competitive in international markets, particularly compared to European and even Australian engineers.
“I think that Kiwis are generally well regarded wherever we go and we can engage successfully with clients anywhere in the world and provide a valuable service. Our willingness to assist and flexibility overcomes the challenges of time zones and distance,” Walter says.
“In my case, my work day involves phone calls and work in the evenings when my international clients are online.”
Walter says governments all around the world are embracing wind energy as a key strategy for reducing carbon emissions from the electricity sector as international focus on climate change intensifies.
“Wind energy is a mature, cost competitive and environmentally benign power generation option that can be rapidly developed and installed in many locations.
“Innovations in turbine design are continuing to open up even more areas for wind development using turbines suited to moderate and low wind speeds.”
The market is massive. In 2013, 35 GW of wind capacity was installed worldwide taking total installed wind generation to 318 GW. In 2014, an additional 51 GW of wind is expected to be installed. New Zealand’s total power generation capacity is around 10 GW.
Walter says a major driver for wind generation in developing regions such as Africa and Asia is energy supply security.
“By using domestic wind energy resources, countries can reduce dependence on imports of fossil fuels and electricity from their neighbours, increasing certainty in both the availability and price of electricity, which is essential to underpin economic growth.”.
“It’s easy to attract finance for wind projects, both private sector and donor funding. The World Bank recently announced that it was stopping all financing of coal-fired power generation projects and other funding agencies are following suit.”
Since starting with the Cookhouse Wind Farm in South Africa, Aurecon’s renewable energy team has advised on several other wind and solar projects in South Africa.
And over the past 18 months, it has become involved in projects in other parts of Africa such as Kenya, where it has helped a client to buy two late stage wind development options. The first of these is the 60 MW Kinangop Wind Farm to the north of Nairobi. It is the first major independent wind farm in East Africa to go ahead.
Aurecon is providing similar roles on wind projects in Asia, primarily Thailand, and will shortly turn its attention to South America.
Aurecon’s renewable energy team in Wellington has specialist skills in wind resource assessment, layout optimisation, turbine selection and energy yield prediction. Combined with these technical skills, it has considerable experience with development staging, contract strategy and financing so it can provide a comprehensive support package to renewables developers, even those based in remote locations.