Highlights from this year’s AWATEA Conference

Around 50 people gathered in Wellington on the 8th of May 2014 for the AWATEA annual conference. By all accounts it was a great success, even in these straitened times for renewable energy. A number of changes from past conferences played a role in this. The decision to move to a one day event, while it reduced opportunities for people to present, gave a heightened sense of critical mass and focused the quality of the talks. The new venue at the Royal Society was perfect and placed the meeting in the context of the focal point for much of New Zealand’s research and forward-thinking. We also made the conference dinner an integral part of the event and were repaid by you with great enthusiasm with well over 2/3rds of delegates coming along. Dinner was made all the more memorable with an impromptu performance by a visiting Philippine choir. Charlotte Sterck’s tireless efforts made the whole thing come together seamlessly, as did Rebecca McPherson’s AV support on the day.

Our own co-chair Professor Alex Malahoff and Gareth Hughes from the Green Party kicked things off with great talks about being bold and giving New Zealand a sustainable future. Dr Paul Behrens then presented the climate perspective on why renewable energy is serious business. Despite the travel involved, we had great uptake from international speakers with people literally coming from the other side of the planet. Dr. Louise Kregting, our member at large, gave an exciting précis of activity in the UK. Paul O’Brien from Scottish Development opened up the dialogue around cross-fertilisation of ideas and industries and how this can be taken to the marketplace. MBIE’s support for overseas travel was perfect targeted with a well-matched pair of talks from opposite sides of Australia, our closest neighbour and largest trading partner (Treasury numbers, 2011). Glen Ryan from Bombora Wave Power showed what is possible with a small, nimble and passionate company based around a unique approach. Keith Bowyer from Ocean Power Technologies talked about future plans in Australia looking to deploy relatively mature technology.

Homegrown research developments were strongly represented with talks from Otago, DHI, Styles Group and MetOcean, showing how capability was being nurtured despite the paucity of underpinning support. This was given an exciting international context by Professor Lee from Korean Maritime and Ocean University talking about the wide range of research projects underway in Korea. AWATEA board-member Nick Inskip from HERA delivered a timely overview of the proposed concepts for the New Zealand Marine Energy centre. It’s been a long time in the making, but the idea is developing a momentum and will form the spine for marine energy initiatives in New Zealand for the decades to come.

The business part of the day was rounded out by a really useful discussion period. AWATEA’s Co-chairman Dr. Craig Stevens had prompted the discussion with a wonderful image of Margaret Mahy inspiring a group of school kids. “Are we doing enough for these kids?”. Though he initially thought it might have been a bit glib, and vocalised such concern, the challenge was taken on by the panel who demonstrated that passion is not a dirty word – we have to be passionate and bold to improve our energy profile, not the least so that we can look future generations in the eye.