Healthy Homes Standards Put Strain On NZ Power Grid, Alternatives Needed

Jan 5, 2023

New Zealand’s national grid will continue to experience serious strain even through summer in part as an unforeseen consequence of the new Healthy Homes Standards that put an over-sized air conditioner in almost every home.

The director of Vital Solar and a leading Auckland solar energy specialist, Cameron Dick, said today that following a few touch-and-go moments during the winter on 2022, national grid operator Transpower added additional capacity after a still-unexplained 3% jump in peak energy demand affected the grid over winter.

Now that summer is approaching a greater amount of electricity is still being used overall due to what Dick terms a “perfect storm” of factors.

“According to recent polls, more than 80% of Kiwis don’t trust the power supply to stay on at crucial moments during peak demand in winter. People are concerned about power consistency throughout the day while also looking at the rising costs of electricity,” he said.

Part of the issue is certainly the lagging upgrades to the national grid. But as grid operators fix their side of the bargain, Dick said electricity users must also recognise that they are consuming more energy than before. However, there are actions they can take to limit this new demand.

“Many people are switching to electric cars and while this is both a cheaper option and better for the climate, it does mean more electricity consumption as car owners tend to all charge their vehicles at the same times each evening.

“On top of this, more people are now working from home. The grid was set up with the assumption that electricity usage would be concentrated in the inner-city areas. But these days, more electricity is needed in the suburbs which adds to the strain on the grid,” he said.

Another factor of increased energy usage is an “unintended consequence” of the government’s Healthy Homes campaign.

Since this legislation passed in May and November this year, thousands of heat pumps are expected to be installed to warm houses during winter and keep them cool in the summer. Dick said some homes may end up installing two or more pumps situated in different locations of the same house.

“The Healthy Home standards dictated that each pump must have an energy output of 7.5kw. But most homes only need a 5kw pump. In other words, a lot of pumps are simply too big for the homes. As you can imagine, this will have a massive impact on the grid, particularly during peak times.

“This is all creating a perfect storm. Something needs to change before next winter,” Dick said.

Dick offered a few tips for limiting home energy use.

1. Heat pump strategy

Now that regulations demand heat pumps, homeowners and renters should consider calibrating how they can use these pumps efficiently. Dick said it is unfeasible for most people to keep their pumps on all day, like they would a heater, due to the expense.

“Thankfully, many heat pumps come with in-built timers so you can better schedule when they turn on and switch off. If they don’t have timers, the smartphone app will have a timer instead. These pumps will also be used during the summer to cool homes, so the same scheduling tactics should apply in the warmer months as well,” Dick said.

2. Avoid peak times

In the UK during the 2000s, the peak time for electricity usage tended to occur at about 7:15pm when the first advertisements were played in the middle of the TV drama Coronation Street. Millions of people would simultaneously boil their kettle to make a cup of tea. Dick said peak demand is still a major bottleneck today even in New Zealand, and for similar reasons.

“Owning an electric car is a great way to save money. But that means extra electricity is used when people charge the vehicles at about the same time after they get home from work. So, to avoid extra costs and putting pressure on the grid, try charging cars after 9:00pm each night,” he said.

3. Be a smart power consumer

Using timers and right-sizing heat pumps are great ways to limit energy usage and keep the national grid safe, but there are many other ways to be a smart power consumer.

“For example, when the sun is shining and a home has installed solar panels, that energy can be stored for use during peak times in a way that doesn’t put pressure on the grid.

“And if a home has collected more electricity than it needs, it can always feed it back into the grid as well, potentially earning money for the household while they do this. That’s a win-win for everyone,” Dick said.

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We selected Vital Solar for our PV solar install because Cam was the only one to come to our place to view the site and wiring prior to quoting, which gave us confidence in their approach. The Enphase system was also recommended to me by a longstanding friend who is an electrician and Enphase also undertake some of their R&D in Christchurch with students from the University of Canterbury. On the whole, we were really impressed with Maryann, Cam and the team from Vital Solar and would highly recommend them to anyone interested in installing solar to their property.
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