Plans are in place to construct the country’s largest network of solar power generating stations.
New Zealand generation company Lodestone Energy will initially develop five solar farms built across the upper North Island, delivering enough electricity to power a city the size of Hamilton.
The $300 million development will provide solar energy to Whakatane, Edgecumbe, Whitianga, Dargaville and Kaitaia.
The farms will cover 500ha and comprise 500,000 solar panels at a height of about 2.3 metres in lines about 10m apart, allowing livestock to graze underneath and tractors to move in between.
Plenty of power
“These farms are a game changer for the electricity market and will increase New Zealand’s current solar generation eightfold,” says Lodestone Energy managing director Gary Holden.
“Together, the five solar farms will act as one giant generation plant, using the power of the sun to inject sustainable renewable power into our electricity grid during the daytime and helping reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.
“Solar costs have fallen sharply in recent years and we are now at the point where grid-scale solar power, if well-located, is the most economic form of new electricity generation. Also, because it delivers power during the daytime period, it has the highest value to the market.”
Combined, the five farms will generate approximately 400 GWh of clean renewable energy, enough to power 55,000 homes or the equivalent of more than 150,000 electric vehicles.
Lodestone Energy hope to advance New Zealand’s national energy goals, contribute to lower power prices for consumers and help address climate change.
“Solar energy needs to play an increasingly important role in delivering New Zealand’s renewable electricity,” says Gary.
“This is how we’ll meet our future energy needs, as well as complement the country’s hydro, geothermal and wind resources to help achieve the Government’s goal of 100 per cent renewable generation by 2030.”
Along the sunbelt
Each of the solar farms will contain between 70,000 and 170,000 solar panels. The panels move to track the sun across the sky and electricity will be produced from both sides of the panel, capturing light from both the sky and reflected from the ground.
The Whakatane site is located in the Waiotahe Valley. The 85 GWh solar farm is in one of the sunniest locations in New Zealand and will contain up to 115,000 solar panels.
The Edgecumbe site is a 52 GWh solar plant, the farm will include up to 70,000 panels and will supply electricity to 1700 residents and other nearby commercial and industrial users.
While the farms are designed to meet morning and late afternoon peaks in electricity demand, rapid developments in battery technology mean that in the near future the farms should be able to store electricity generated during the day for distribution in the evening peak.
“We have selected each site so that it is located in the country’s sunbelt, between the 34th and 39th parallel, placing them at the equivalent latitude of the Mediterranean and Southern California, where solar generation is common,” says Gary.
The Kaitaia site will be consented first. Construction is scheduled to start later this year.