Chatham Islands (New Zealand) vs. Great Barrier Island (New Zealand)

Let’s make this a quick comparison and start with the local government. Chatham Island’s local government is allegedly unique within New Zealand, as it involves a council established by its own Act of Parliament, the Chatham Islands Council Act 1995 (Statute No 041, Commenced: 1 November 1995). The Chatham Islands Council operates as a district council with regional council functions, making it in effect a unitary authority but with not quite as many responsibilities as the others [source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatham_Islands]. Obviously the way to go but we won’t see any of that here on Great Barrier Island, Auckland Council’s power and administrative arm is ever increasing and will certainly do its best to stay in charge of all interests in the city of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.  

While the Council and Mayor keep chasing that vision of being the most livable city in the world (btw, my home town in Germany, Münster has won such an award at least a few times Münster is the most livable city world-wide), New Zealanders still regard and describe publicly Auckland as the big smoke. I presume these titles and awards are similar to having 27 World Heavy Weight Boxing Champions at the same time anyway.

Do I hear you ask how the electricity is generated for the circa 650 residents? Well, put your seatbelt on, it appears that despite the significantly more remote location of the Chatham Islands in comparison to Great Barrier Island, and the lower population density there is an electrical grid, wind generators and something that is called the The Chatham Island Wave Power Project. Come to think of it, I should spend time inquiring what it takes to set up a grid. Taking into account that we don’t need an island wide electricity grid on Great Barrier Island, but instead three or four individual, smart ones for each settlement, which can be maintained by local residents, it might actually be a very affordable and feasible project.

However, that will only be true if the right people are put in charge and that will take a few attempts I’m afraid, but that is another story. Let’s go back to the Chatham Islands. Yupp, I bet it’s beautiful there and the people will be nice, too!

Check out Energy Development in Island Nations, yet another example of the fact that all resources, know-how and case studies have been available for a while. Get out of your offices, stop having all these redundant meetings, sharing visions and bending grass to make it appear neater, professional engineers, business people, scientists, all of this is available, we DO NOT HAVE TO REINVENT anything and then muck it up because we focus less on doing it properly and cost-effectively but more on celebrating ourselves and advertising. It’s more than just okay to follow good examples, it is perhaps and ethical question; we can still be proud, learn from others’ mistakes and do a better job!

Apropos wrong people – as I always say, the results will ultimately count not the intentions – you should be wary when reading that a council or government endorses and supports a worthy project but upon closer inspection see that it remains a one-off media advertisement and endorsement with no follow-up information. In 2010 the Chatham Island Wave Project got governmental backing, you will find this in a Google search repeatedly in different formats and then nothing. The official Wave Project is very entertaining to say the least.

“lt seems the engineer engaged by Chatham islands Electricity to “independently” peer review our project is promoting his own  scheme on the island – growing an exotic grass on the island, turning it into biogas to run the old diesels.” [source: http://www.chatwave.co.nz/index.html] That’s the old story, when you receive tax payer funding you must be accountable for it even if it is mismanaged unintentionally. 

Check out the technology behind creating energy from wave power (http://www.chatwave.co.nz/TheTechnology.html). Nothing novel in terms of technology but still a surprise to have something like this installed in New Zealand and hardly hearing anything about it. An alternative solution might be to use the tidal rise and fall, having a 100 sqm pontoon out in Tryphena for instance that rises and falls with the tide and a gear driven mechanism driving a generator.

Just like the Chatham Island wave project no mechanical parts will be necessarily in contact with the corrosive sea water.

If I understand the diagram correctly [http://www.chatwave.co.nz/Background.html], the wave energy flux is more than 100 kW/m for the west coast of Chatham Island. That is for every wave of a height of 1 m, thus roughly 500 times the power that one 200 W solar panel produces. Watt is the physical quantity for energy per time, in other words power. To get back to the quantity of energy you need to multiply Watts with time, if you do it in terms of hours you end up with kWh.

In addition, there are two 225 kW wind turbines installed on the island, the Department of Conservation has a 5.8 kW photovoltaic solar array, that puts excess electricity into the grid, and put your second seatbelt on, it sells surplus electricity to the Council. This is a good thing for DOC, create wealth instead of just relying on tax payers funding! I just would love to see DOC do more things like this.

They call it a case study for sustainable energy, I would say it is way too small, your average German private farming household will produce easily twice as much. If I’d have the money, I’d install a 2 kW photo voltaic and a 1 kW wind generator on my property for my own use. But hey, its a start. DOC on Great Barrier Island has a similar array, too, I’ll have to inquire about what happens with surplus electricity and will report on that.

My final point to make is that when it comes to renewable energy, a good (business) plan needs to be put in place in combination with all the competent people you need. The plan should allow for the renewable energy source and storage to be transferred fully to the public or community after set up and maintenance costs have been met.

You’ll always find a good public speaker who can endorse it, don’t worry about that person. The politician, unless being a scientific expert on renewable energy, should only play the background role.

And, just because it is renewable energy doesn’t make it a great investment, especially if you could achieve the same output with half the investment, therefore follow up detailed information should be provided publicly regularly. We should read between the lines and don’t just celebrate new renewable initiatives.

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