The seas off the West Coast are being targeted by a Scottish company seeking to develop more environmentally-friendly renewable energy.
Ocean Power Delivery has built wave farms in Scotland and
Portugal using a pelamis - a giant steel tube which waves pass
through and create hydraulic pressure that a generator
then turns into electricity.
A wave farm of 30 converters would power 20,000 homes.
Ocean Power Delivery is in talks with Auckland-based firm Power Generation Projects (PGP) and local manufacturers will soon be asked for quotes to build up to 140 machines.
"I think the first wave farm could be fully commissioned in New Zealand within the next two-and-a-half to three years. And that would be operational, feeding power direct into the grid," says PGP director Chris Curlett.
"There's no question that New Zealand's got the most marvellous wave pattern for marine energy all the way up the west coast."
The plan is one of 14 marine energy projects being investigated in New Zealand to harness the ocean's power.
Crest Energy has applied for resource consent to plug into the powerful tides of the Kaipara Harbour, where it plans to sink 200 of these 20m-high turbines to generate enough power for "all of Northland and the top of Auckland", according to director Anthony Hopkins.
Neptune Power plans to anchor turbines in Cook Strait, while another group is experimenting with wave-energy conversion in Lyttleton Harbour in the hope of reducing the relatively high cost of marine energy.
"Eventually, people will develop devices which are smaller, and therefore cost less, and therefore have a lower cost of electricity," says John Huckerby of Power Projects Limited.
The government has put up $8 million for early deployment of marine-based electricity, but Hopkins - whose Crest firm plans to invest $600 million - believes the state can "step up a bit more".
"They're a bit behind the game at the moment," he says.
Huckerby hopes that more home-grown research will lead to the development of world class technology that could be exported, rather than imported.
"There are opportunities, intellectual property opportunities, in devices, in projects, in deployment, in operations and maintenance procedures - all of which New Zealand could take advantage of," he says.
Marine energy experts are holding a conference in Wellington on Thursday to discuss how to accelerate development, and will also try to convince the government that more support is needed to tap into this supply of renewable energy.