Can we fix it? The answer is blowing in the wind

In a regular section called Can We Fix It? Idealog and Kiwibank explore some of the world’s biggest – and, in some cases, most intractable – problems and then showcase some of the clever people trying to tackle them. Award-winning New Zealand company Windflow is at the forefront of its field and serves the market locally and abroad. Here's why...

If you turned your television on in the early ‘90s there’s a good chance you would have heard Captain Planet promising to take pollution down to zero. Wind turbines can have a similar feel of days-gone-by, with the first being built in 1888. But harnessing the wind, as Captain Planet encouraged, is becoming an increasingly viable way to power our world.

Although the power sector is still the highest emitting sector globally, accounting for around 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy is growing steadily, making up 24 percent of worldwide electricity generation.

Over the last few years prices have dropped and efficiency has increased as more products come to market, and the wind industry has played a big part in that.

Award-winning New Zealand company Windflow is at the forefront of the field and serves the market locally and abroad. Geoff Henderson started Windflow after returning to New Zealand in the ‘90s from working in the wind sector overseas. He had an innovative turbine design idea, but found he was slightly ahead of his time – a reality that led him to raise money and build it himself. What resulted was the Windflow 500, a 500 kW turbine.

The bulk of the wind market is served by large 2.5+ MW turbines, but smaller markets including islands and weak grids, sensitive landscapes and mid-sized windfarms need smaller machines. That’s where the Windflow 500 fits in.

In many areas, wind is either competitive with or less expensive than coal-generated electricity and it is predicted to soon be the cheapest source. Investment in offshore wind was almost $30 billion in 2016, 40 percent greater than the prior year, and an increase from 0.1 percent of world electricity use to four percent by 2050 would reduce emissions by 14.1 gigatons.

An increase in onshore wind from three to four percent to 21.6 percent by 2050 could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 84.6 gigatons, the Drawdown report states.

It was obvious 20 years ago global warming was the biggest threat to the world and renewable energy had to be employed to prevent catastrophe, Windflow mechanical engineering manager Richard Trudgian says. The threat still rings true today.

“Emissions awareness is high, but the incentives to reduce emissions have so far not been enough.”

He says New Zealand is uniquely positioned to source all of its electricity renewably and there’s no reason it can’t. 

Individuals and businesses need to focus on reducing their own footprints and make it clear to their leaders the country needs to as a whole, he says.

Getting New Zealand to net zero emissions will mean moving towards a 100 percent renewables grid, the GLOBE-NZ report states. Wind is only one part of that equation, with solar, energy storage and other practices playing major roles. But, unlike damming rivers and irrevocably changing ecosystems, wind has little impact on the environment, meaning that it is now more globally accepted than hydropower. And this modern resurgence of an old technology is something Windflow has harnessed. 

Check out part 1 here.

Check out part 2 here.

The 'Can We Fix It?' series, which looks at how we're using innovation and ingenuity to try and solve some of our thorniest problems, is brought to you by KiwibankKiwibank is passionate about the future of New Zealand, and about making Kiwis better off. They’re 100% Kiwi-owned, which means their profits stay right here in New Zealand.

Idealog has been covering the most interesting people, businesses and issues from the fields of innovation, design, technology and urban development for over 12 years. And we're asking for your support so we can keep telling those stories, inspire more entrepreneurs to start their own businesses and keep pushing New Zealand forward. Give over $5 a month and you will not only be supporting New Zealand innovation, but you’ll also receive a print subscription, an Idealog t-shirt and a copy of the new book by David Downs and Dr. Michelle Dickinson, No. 8 Recharged (while stocks last).