What Are The Top Energy Sources In New Zealand?

Mar 17, 2021
By Staff writer

Energy is vital to our day-to-day lives. It elevates the quality of our home and work lives, transports essential goods all around NZ, and helps us get from one place to another. In fact, half of New Zealand's energy consumption goes to transport alone, while the quarter is used in the form of electricity. The energy comes from renewable and non-renewable energy sources.

So let's take a look at where our everyday energy consumption comes from.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy, also known as clean energy, comes from natural sources that are constantly replenished in a short amount of time. These sources are considered sustainable and good to the environment and will never run out if properly used and managed. Some examples of renewable sources are sunlight, water, geothermal heat, and wind.

What is non-renewable energy?

Non-renewable energy comes from a non-renewable resource, and unlike renewable resources, they have a limited supply. They cannot be easily replaced by natural means at a quick pace. Oil, coal, natural gas — called fossil fuels — and nuclear energy are the four major types of non-renewable resources.

What are the top energy sources in New Zealand?

In New Zealand, about 60% of the energy supply comes from oil, gas, and coal, while 40% comes from renewable energy sources. Based on the records, this is the highest proportion of renewable energy in the country so far.

Today, about 84% of New Zealand's electricity is generated through renewable sources, but only 67% of this is from clean, renewable sources.

Energy use per sector

Industry 34%
Transport 36%
Domestic 11%
Commercial & Public Services 9%
Agriculture, Forest, Fish 4.7%

Consumer energy demand

Oil 48%
Electricity 24%
Gas 12.5%
Other renewables 9.7%
Geothermal 1.3%
Coal 4.1%

Energy use in households

Heating 34%
Refrigeration 10%
Lighting 8%
Oven 6%
Other appliances 13%

Electricity consumption

Residential 32%
Commercial 24%
Metals 16%
Other industry 3.9%
Wood pulp 6.7%
Agriculture, Fish, Forestry 5.9%
Food 7%

Here are the leading New Zealand energy sources, from most to least used.

1. Oil

If you’re wondering what the main source of energy in New Zealand is, it’s oil.

Oil comes from plant remains that died hundreds of millions of years ago. It's currently the largest source of energy in New Zealand. It's obtained from several areas in the Taranaki region, and the Maari and Pohokura fields make up over half of the domestic oil production. 


How it works:

Oil can be extracted and refined to make diesel,  gasoline, petrol, and more, which are mainly used in vehicles. Apart from that, it's also used to generate electricity.

It is formed when heat and pressure compress the remains of prehistoric plants, animals, and aquatic life under the bed of the sea or lakes for millions of years, thus becoming fossil fuel. Oil is drilled and pumped from giant underground pockets or oil wells and processed through distillation.

Pros Cons
Produces high energy output Emits carbon dioxide during combustion, which is terrible for the climate
Easier to transport Too much oil consumption can cause serious environmental problems
Significant impact on the global economy Can cause water pollution

2. Gas

Natural gas is a highly combustible odorless and colorless hydrocarbon gas composed mainly of methane. It's created almost similar to oil, which includes processes that act upon organic matter over millions of years. In New Zealand, natural gas is sourced from the Taranaki region.

How it works:

Natural gas can be used to generate electricity, fuel vehicles, power industrial furnaces, heat buildings, and more. There are fields all over New Zealand that produce gas, such as Kapuni, the oldest field, the Maari Field, and Pohokura and Maui fields which dominate the total production. There are also processing stations in the Taranaki that process raw gas.

Pros Cons
70% less carbon dioxide compared to other fossil fuels Not renewable
Helps improve air and water quality Limited source
It does not produce ashes
Cheaper than coal

3. Geothermal

Geothermal energy is a type of renewable energy taken from within the Earth to generate electricity and provide heat. About 17.5% of New Zealand's total electricity supply comes from Geothermal energy sources. It's a low-cost option that's capable of meeting the country's growing demand for electricity.

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How it works:

Geothermal fluid is piped from wells several kilometers deep and turned into steam at power stations that drive turbine generators to produce electricity. It's also used for drying all kinds of foods, and some countries use it to heat greenhouses.

Pros Cons
More consistent and reliable since it's not weather dependent Needs to be managed carefully to prevent land subsidence and depletion
Produces less greenhouse gas emissions While it produces fewer emissions, it has still increased 180% over the last 10 years

4. Hydro

Hydropower or water energy is a renewable energy source that relies on the inflow of water into storage lakes upstream of a dam. It has been a major part of New Zealand's energy system for more than 100 years and supplies more than 50% of its energy needs.

How it works:

The raw energy from the controlled release of large torrents of water from dams is used to spin electricity-generating turbines at some 80 hydroelectric power stations in New Zealand. 

Pros Cons
Expands irrigation Dam building can be very costly
Provides drinking water Sometimes involves relocation to build the infrastructure
Supplies hydroelectric energy May cause flooding

5. Wood

Wood energy is considered one of the most important sources of renewable energy. The energy generated, also known as wood fuel, is commonly used for cooking, heating, and electricity.

How it works:

Wood energy is generated through combustion processes using wood or wood-derived products. In New Zealand, wood biomass is the main source of wood energy, often from firewood, wood chips, bark, crops, shaving, and more.

Pros Cons
Renewable Can cause environmental effects such as deforestation if exploited
Accessible where forests and woodlands exist Burning of the energy sources can cause air pollution
Ash can be used as fertilizer

6. Coal

Coal is a black or brownish-black sedimentary rock that contains a high amount of carbon and hydrocarbons. It's considered a non-renewable energy source because it takes millions of years to form. Today, it currently generates over a third of the world’s electricity and has long been used in New Zealand for its practical use, accessibility, and affordability.

There are currently more than 16 billion tonnes of in-ground coal resources in New Zealand, most of which are lignite.

How it works:

Coal production is centered in Waikato (for several major industrial users and power stations, including Huntly Power Station, the largest thermal station in the country), West Coast (for export), and Otago/Southland (for local industrial markets).

Domestic coal use is mainly used for electricity generation, while industrial coal is mainly used for cement, lime and plaster, meat processing, wool, timber, and more. Commercial coal is used mainly for heating accommodation and service buildings in central and local government, etc. 

Pros Cons
Versatile and can be used in many forms Can be a source of pollution (emits waste, ash, Nitrogen Oxide, etc.)
Suitable for recreational use Liquification and gasification requires large amounts of water
Inexpensive High water content reduces heating value

7. Wind

Wind is considered the fastest source to generate electricity. It doesn't require fuel and is cheaper than any other form of new energy generation.

It contributes to a level of 0.9% to New Zealand's energy needs and 5% for electricity generation. Each turbine can provide enough power for around 1,500 households for a whole year.

How it works:

Wind turbines turn wind energy into electricity as it passes through the turbine blades. The faster the wind, the faster the blades spin, and the more electricity is generated.

Pros Cons
Environment-friendly since turbines don't contribute any greenhouse gas emissions Some people do not like its visual impact on the rural landscape
Turbines are easy to build Can be noisy, depending on the kind of turbine used

8. Biogas

Biogas is a renewable fuel produced by the breakdown of organic matter like food scraps and animal waste. At present, New Zealand has a growing biogas sector that's been recognized internationally for its success. Most biogas in New Zealand is used for electricity generation, and the total biogas capacity in the country is currently estimated at 57 MW from more than 30 biogas generation sites.

How it works:

Biogas is produced through anaerobic digestion, a process wherein bacteria break down organic matter without oxygen in an enclosed environment. It can be used in various ways, including vehicle fuel, for heating and cooking purposes, and electricity generation.

Pros Cons
Eco-friendly Less suitable for dense metropolitan areas
Reduces soil and water pollution Contains impurities

9. Waste Heat

Waste heat is the unused heat given to the surrounding environment (in thermal energy) by a heat engine in a thermodynamic process. It converts heat to useful work and occurs in almost all thermal and mechanical processes.

How it works:

There are many ways to utilize waste heat, such as:

  • Cogeneration - uses both heat and electricity for beneficial tasks
  • Turn waste heat into electricity - there are several methods to do this, like using a thermoelectric device.
  • Greenhouses - can use waste heat to heat greenhouses, especially in colder climates.

New Zealand produced around 51-gigawatt hours of electricity from waste heat generated from chemical processes in 2019. 

Pros Cons
Cost-effective Can be low quality and difficult to utilize

10. Solar

Solar energy comes from the sun, which is converted into thermal or electrical energy. It's considered the cleanest and most abundant renewable energy source that can be used all over the country.

Throughout the years, solar has become the go-to option for many domestic households and commercial buildings, including schools. Solar power in New Zealand operates in a free market. Residents can have one installed at their places through one of the country's many energy companies with no intervention from the New Zealand Government.

How it works:

The energy from the sunlight can be converted into electricity or be stored in batteries through solar equipment and technology such as PV panels. 

Pros Cons
Helps you save on power bill and combat the rising electricity costs High upfront costs
Ability to become energy independent and self-sufficient over the long-term Weather dependent 

11. Biofuel

Biofuel is a renewable energy source derived from biomass such as plant, algae material, or animal waste. Some biofuel producers today have also turned to waste products that don't have many uses. Plant-based biomass is often used for heating, while waste-based biomass tends to be liquid and used in vehicles.

Bioethanol and biodiesel are the two main types of biofuel.

How it works:

The way they make alcoholic drinks is much similar to the process of making ethanol. The alcohol produced is refined to make it usable in vehicles. Biodiesel, on the other hand, is a combination of alcohol and vegetable or animal fat.

In New Zealand, tallow or waste cooking oil are the most common sources used to produce biodiesel and whey for bioethanol.

Pros Cons
Renewable source Can be laborious to make
Fewer carbon emissions Bioethanol cannot be used in cars unless engines are modified first
Reduce our reliance on fossil fuels

Now that you have an idea of the many sources of energy in New Zealand, find out your renewable options to help in preserving our natural resources and save the environment from global warming.

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