26 May 2016

Transpower predicts line failures as solar takes off

1:22 pm on 26 May 2016

The country's power grid operator is predicting a massive shake-up in the electricity sector, including the failure of some line companies.

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Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

Transpower has released a report outlining scenarios for the electricity sector, including the rise of technology such as solar and battery storage. It is predicting the failure of some lines companies amid a big uptake of "disruptive technologies" such as solar energy.

In one scenario, it says the installed capacity for solar photovoltaic generation will increase by a massive 38,000 percent - from the current 5.5W per person to 2100W per person by the middle of the century.

But Transpower says there will still need to be a central grid to keep up with winter power demands and electricity for those not investing in their own power and storage systems.

And it says its role will eventually change from providing real-time balancing of electricity supply and demand 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to providing a "resilient battery charging service".

The company's chief executive, Alison Andrew, told Nine to Noon such developments would change the industry, as people start producing their own power.

Ms Andrew said some of the country's 29 electricity distribution companies, especially those in remote areas with falling populations, will struggle with the transition to the new model.

And she agreed the transition to solar was challenging.

"I don't see a battery that can store summer sun for winter peak evening demand."

She said New Zealand currently has no grid storage, but that would need to change as solar power becomes more and more popular.

In relation to what some solar power users see as being punished for feeding power back to the grid, Ms Andrew said it was "only fair to pay a fair cost" for staying connected.

But she said people feeding power back to the grid was an important part of Transpower's planning.

"In the past our model has been very much pushing power if you like, from generators to us in our homes. And now they're talking about 'prosumers' as opposed to consumers - so consumers that are both producers and consumers."

Ms Andrew said the way was open for a comprehensive reform of the electricity sector as a result of the changes brought about by new technology.