Geothermal Energy & Electricity Generation

Geothermal energy produces about 13% of New Zealand’s electricity supply. Most of New Zealand’s installed geothermal generating capacity of about 750 MWe is situated in the Taupo Volcanic Zone, with another 25 MWe installed at Ngawha in Northland. The temperature and conditions of a particular geothermal reservoir determine which type of generation technology is used: dry steam, flash steam or binary cycle.

Cooling tower at Ohaaki geothermal power stationWhen the first generator was commissioned at Wairakei in 1958, it was only the second geothermal plant in the world to begin large-scale commercial operation and the first to exploit a wet (rather than dry steam) geothermal resource. The impetus for the development of Wairakei came in 1947 from severe electricity shortages following two dry years which restricted hydro generation, and a desire by the New Zealand Government for the electricity supply to be independent of imported fuel. New Zealand has recently faced similar situations

There are currently six fields used for geothermal electricity generation, which is dominated by Contact Energy Ltd (a listed company) and Mighty River Power (a State Owned Enterprise). A significant factor in recent geothermal projects has been the high level of commercial participation by Maori-owned enterprises.

Historical Changes in NZ Geothermal Electricity Generation Capacity

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* Although Ohaaki still has 114 MWe of plant installed on site, one high pressure turbine is now decommissioned and other turbines operate on restricted duty. The station generates around 45 MWe due to field limitations.

The following table indicates upcoming developments.

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