HomeWorld RegionsAustralasiaCold snap threatens New Zealand power savings

Cold snap threatens New Zealand power savings

New Zealanders, who are being urged to cut electricity consumption to avert power cuts, face a cold snap which is leading to a surge in consumption, according to a power monitoring group.

Low hydro lake levels have led to the current crisis but the consumers, who have responded to requests to reduce consumption, may draw more power now that winter approaches. A southerly blast is beginning to sweep up the South Island, which will mean a rise in power use at a time when the country is trying to cut back at least 10 per cent.

Power levels monitoring group M-Co began tracking power savings a week ago, and by Wednesday they had hit 15 per cent. But since then they have steadily fallen to a low of just 1.8 per cent on Saturday, with Sunday’s savings being 8.4 per cent.

The onset of winter may lead to hot water rationing, according to some. “I think its time for the energy traders to say, ‘hey, let’s put some restrictions on the hot water’,” Energy consultant Alister Price says.

Power retailer Mercury Energy says it is the only way New Zealand can make decent power savings. “If we get to a situation where the lakes are drying up, it may be that control needs to be for longer periods which would in effect force people to have shorter showers,” spokesman Doug Heffernen. Mercury will now give its customers just two days warning of cuts to hot water.

Almost half the power used in an average home comes from the hot water tank, but the NZ$2 million ($850,000) power saving campaign launched on Sunday night ignores water heating. The campaign runs for a month.

The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, the government agency running the campaign, say the ads give tips on how to save electricity. But the authority says it wants people, especially the elderly, to be sensible in cutting their power use and not risk their health.

The government says the “switch the lights off” advertisement is just the beginning, and it warns the message could get tougher over the next few weeks. Energy Minister Pete Hodgson says he is pleased with current savings. Hodgson met the power industry again on Monday, and the government is adamant that it is too early to talk power cuts.