New Zealand turns away from fossil fuel boilers

by Ned Lupson
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Auckland

Decarbonisation developments have been announced this week for the stationary energy of major New Zealand institutions.

Climate minister James Shaw announced yesterday that all remaining coal boilers will be removed from public hospitals and tertiary institutions by the end of 2025. This move coincides with Auckland Airport announcing the transition of its air conditioning system from gas powered to electric, as New Zealand, one of the highest per capita polluters of greenhouse gases, aims for net zero by 2050.

“The burning of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, is the primary cause of climate change, while polluting the air, and harming health, so ensuring our places of learning and our hospitals kick this habit is the obvious choice,” says Shaw.

The end for coal boilers

Over $78 million NZD will co-fund 38 new government decarbonisation projects, from fleet electrification to heating and cooling, and efficient lighting projects, with the bulk being committed to health sector projects. The announcement includes $38 million NZD support for Te Whatu Ora’s (Health New Zealand) plan to reduce New Zealand hospital emissions by around 230,000 tonnes over the next ten years.

The removal of 14 coal boilers that supply energy across eight different public hospital sites is set to reduce emissions in the health sector equivalent to removing 8385 cars from the road in that period.

Energy minister Megan Woods says health is one of the largest emitters of carbon emissions in the country’s public sector, specifically praising the decarbonisation projects in Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital of a chiller replacement, a heat pump and an LED lighting upgrade.

“This is the kind of energy transition we need to take us toward a low-emissions economy,” says Woods.

Towards electric heat pumps

The installation of electric heat pumps is now a prominent trend. New Zealand’s climate minister’s announcement also includes commitments to aid a number of universities in replacing fossil fuel boilers, with a portion of the decarbonisation investments coming from university budgets.

One of the biggest air conditioning systems in New Zealand will also transition to an electric replacement, as Auckland Airport seeks to eliminate its use of natural gas, which it has identified as a leading contributor of the airport’s carbon emissions. 

On Monday 1 May, the airport’s chief sustainability and master planning officer Mary-Liz Tuck announced six natural gas boilers worth 6.5 megawatts of heating will be replaced by electric air-source heat pumps.

“We are currently testing leading edge technology that can cool one area within the terminal but take the heat that’s been extracted in the chilling process and pump it into a space that needs warming up,” says Tuck.

“A traditional HVAC system would just vent that air as waste, so it’s doubling the efficiency and giving you a lot of bang for energy buck.”

As New Zealand sees a wave of heat pump installations, Australia seeks to achieve the same. Australian adoption of heat pumps has been slower than other countries, the Federal Government recently encouraging businesses to replace existing air conditioners through a grant program.

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