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Empowering Energy Innovation in the Communities of Aotearoa

Since the electricity grid began connecting more and more areas of Aotearoa New Zealand, we have been relying on technology that was fit for purpose for a 1980s future. In the last ten years, the New Zealand power system has seen an increase in non-dispatchable generation and an accelerated rate of electrification, creating supply and demand volatility. Aotearoa New Zealand uses more electricity in homes, cars, factories, and devices than ever, yet the generation currently installed around the country is not increasing at the rate of usage or predicted usage. As a result, the national grid operator, Transpower, runs closer to constraint limits on cold evenings every year, has recently been fined over handling a low-generation event in 2021, and subsequently has been issuing more Customer Advisory Notices (CAN) than ever before. Through a combination of technology-driven development and energy infrastructure, the energy sector has the potential to find new ways to access more electricity through the use of existing generation, or through infrastructure predicted to exist, in more innovative and efficient ways. While companies are working on specific solutions, many of these are required to have an economic benefit for the company by bringing in revenue, as opposed to providing relief to the communities these companies operate in and have been supported. Technology-driven change should support these communities. This research focuses on how technology driving change in the energy space can be used more effectively to provide security of supply to communities that have yet to be considered when energy policy was written. The first phase of this research analysed small-scale and medium-heat processes in a beverage factory with solar panels to understand and show how solar generation can be used to offset a factory’s electricity load from the grid. Case Study One analysed how this approach could reduce demand and reliance on the grid by allowing electricity to go where it is required on cold evenings. A monitoring system was custom created for Chia Sisters as a way to provide a deeper understanding of their electricity and solar usage. The system has been available as an open-source project on GitHub for use by other companies in a similar position to Chia Sisters. The second phase of this research simulated the electricity storage potential in electric buses by applying Vehicle to Grid technology advancements to school buses in the Wellington region through Case Study Two. This simulation took advantage of stationary school buses, which sit idle during school hours and evenings. Nationally, school buses are changing and are required to become electric in the next decade, with electric school buses expected to be a part of the transport system by 2035. By combining these two community-centred approaches to improving ex- isting infrastructure, smaller communities have potential to gain generation opportunities through a deployable system that would monitor microgrids and monitoring systems. The theorised Community Energy Management System (CEMS) looks at all the inputs (generation and electric vehicles), usage times, and electricity usage trends in remote, rural, or isolated communities to allow electricity to be used more effectively in our communities. These communities often need to be at the forefront of legislation planning. Such a system shows how supply and demand has the potential to change in communities across New Zealand over time by using a community management system. Approaches such as the CEMS theorised have been seen in emergency climate response situations already in New Zealand, so by applying these more resilient microgrid systems with generation stemming from factory roof solar, storage from school buses, and being used in communities, this overall process could become a crucial part of our energy future.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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