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27 May 2024

Where Is Our Electricity Going?

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Earlier this month (May 2024) there was an ‘electricity supply emergency’ with urgent requests for customers to significantly reduce their electricity use during the peak usage period at the beginning of the working day. Apparently there was an unexpected cold-snap. Was this an exceptional one-off, or a sign of things to come?

As this was a news-worthy event, and there was a pressing need to get the message out, there were various interviews and comments from appropriate people giving explanations and advice. Included within this information there were a few comments about data-centres proliferating, mainly in the Auckland region. A google search shows the distribution of these energy-hungry enterprises. Of course many are these will be New Zealand controlled and have a primary focus on serving the economic needs of this country but others will have a primary function of serving the overseas owner’s international customers. A significant incentive for establishing off-shore data-centres here is that it substantially supports the companies’ “Green Credentials”; an important public relations consideration.

I particularly noticed that when data-centres were mentioned there was never, that I heard, any mention of them reducing their electricity consumption, nor even an attempt to explain why they couldn’t make a contribution. I understand there is a logical explanation — the computers must have an uninterrupted electricity supply with instantaneous back-up. They also need substantial energy for continuous cooling of the many banks of memory storage which leads to the question of why locate in semi-tropical Auckland? The lower South Island would provide many sites where the much-reduced ambient temperature would offer significantly cooler air across the 24 hour day as input to the air-conditioning.

In my EBOSS Detailed blog of February 2022, “Are New Zealanders to Become Electricity Paupers”, I comment on the increasing use of our domestic electricity to drive overseas orientated data-centres. Don’t get me wrong; at the moment data-centres are a fact of life BUT are NZ citizens willing to forgo long-term security of supply for a period of short-term employment for construction workers as the centres are built? I don’t see any reason why the international companies cannot build, totally at their own cost (under NZ energy planning requirements), the electricity generation needed for their operations.

Another aspect of the ‘electricity supply emergency’ is the reminder it offers for the urgent need for the country to stay ahead of the upgrading of the domestic electricity infrastructure. Being realistic, presumably the ‘powers-that-be’ are not likely to take active notice of the current three-waters problems and consciously try to get and keep ahead of the exponential demand for electricity, be it network or locally generated. In the later paragraphs of my EBOSS Detailed blog of August 2021, “IPCC What Consequences Arise for the Building Industry”, I comment on a simple example of the inevitable street by street upgrading of the suburban electricity infrastructure necessary to cater for just car-charging and energy-efficient induction cooking appliances. This reverberates from local transformers, through sub-stations and district distribution right back to the generation.

A major action which is being taken now, but must be accelerated if ‘electricity emergencies’ are to be minimised, is to be deliberately more intelligent with electricity usage by all sectors of society.

Through EcoRate Ltd – Architect I provide objective independent passive solar thermal performance analysis and advice on sustainability matters, to Architects, Designers, Builders, Manufacturers, and others in the construction industry, included those proposing to build a new home.

For more information feel free to contact Keith at EcoRate Ltd on 021 890 251, [email protected], or our website

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