Vector Lights for World Energy Day: Historic Milestones

Innovation Vector Lights

In celebration of World Energy Day, Vector Lights on Auckland Harbour Bridge will light up this week with a story about New Zealand’s pioneering energy past, and our hope for a new energy future. Visit to play the show’s narration.  

To mark our journey towards a carbon neutral energy supply, every day this week we will take a look at some of the key moments from New Zealand’s energy history.  

Historic Milestone #1

Bullendale hydro-station nestled high above Skippers Canyon is the birthplace of industrial hydroelectricity in New Zealand and an historic site of international significance. It is among the world’s first hydroelectric stations, and was the very first to transmit energy over a distance in New Zealand. Commissioned in 1886, Bullendale was borne from a need to power the stamper battery at the Phoenix mine - one of the most inaccessible gold mines in the country.  Our forebears built the station with imported and repurposed motor equipment, and formed power lines using number 8 copper wire which transported energy over the steep ridge to the mine 3 kilometres away. Before long, hundreds more hydroelectric systems shot up in surrounding mining areas. Today, the site has been converted to a DOC hut to give refuge to intrepid hikers exploring the rugged Otago back country.   

The dynamo powerhouse in operation (left) Electric motor at Phoenix Battery House Bullendale (right)  ©Lakes District Museum & Gallery, Arrowtown.  

Learn more about Bullendale hydro-station by watching Episode 1, The Powerboard of Fame by Stephen Batstone and David Reeve (from 6 mins 35) 

Sources: Department of Conservation, Bullendale hydro mine
Powering New Zealand, The Powerboard of Fame, 

Historic Milestone #2

Glasgow-born and New Zealand-raised Peter Seton  Hay was a pioneer in the development of hydroelectric power generation in New Zealand. An engineer with a reputation for his powerful intellect, Hay travelled from Wairoa in the north to Monowai in the south to complete his comprehensive 1904 report looking at the hydroelectric potential of sites across the country. His report is regarded as the blueprint for every major hydrostation we have today and his visionary ideas have stood the test of time, with many of the systems he proposed still remaining in place.  Hay truly saw the potential in hydroelectric power, concluding in his report that “water-power will remain as a national asset as long as the climatic conditions and the mountains endure”. 

Learn more about Peter Seton Hay in Episode 2, The Power of the State, by Stephen Batstone and David Reeve 

IMAGE: Hocken Collections - Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago, Peter Seton Hay, n.d., P2010-011/1-024


Sources: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand,
Powering NZ, The Power of the State,


Historic Milestone #3


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was growing public and political opposition to nuclear testing and to nuclear-armed and nuclear-powered ships visiting New Zealand.  When Labour swept to power in 1984, New Zealand started to emerge as a bold leader of the anti-nuclear movement. An early and significant move by Prime Minister David Lange was to deny entry to navy ship USS Buchanan when the United States refused to confirm whether the warship had nuclear capability.  Then in 1987, Labour passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act and the territorial sea, land and airspace of New Zealand became nuclear-free zones. Although the Act does not prohibit nuclear power plants, these events, along with the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in 1985, firmly set the nation’s psyche against nuclear power, and our major political parties still currently agree there is no need for New Zealand to develop nuclear power.

IMAGE: Horowhenua Historical Society 

Sources: New Zealand History,


Historic Milestone #4

In 1969, the huge  Maui gas field was discovered in 110-metre-deep water off the coast of Taranaki.  The 157km² field was considered large even by world standards (it was the eighth largest gas field in the world at the time), and with reserves of gas estimated at 3830 billion cubic feet, it made New Zealand self-sufficient in gas.

However, it took a further 10 years after its discovery before the Maui platform began operating, as there were considerable technical complexities to developing the field and the infrastructure design was beyond anything ever previously attempted.  Despite the development of offshore gas fields being novel on a worldwide basis and completely unknown in New Zealand, Maui was at the cutting edge of international practice at the time. A second platform (Maui B) was built in 1993, which led to the discovery of significant amounts of previously undetected oil.

IMAGES: Doug St George,

Maui, together with the discovery of the Kapuni field 10 years earlier, revolutionised the petroleum industry and played a significant role in New Zealand’s economic development – as an energy source for industry and households, contributing to the chemicals industry, a valuable export, creating jobs, and as a source of revenue for the Government.

Maui spurred development of other large energy projects, including several gas-fired electricity generation stations, an ammonia-urea plant at Kapuni, a chemical-grade methanol plant at Waitara, and a large gas-to-gasoline (synthetic petrol) plant at Motunui. 

Ministry for the Environment:
Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment:
The Encyclopedia of New Zealand:


Historic Milestone #5

Mass-produced electric cars first went on sale to the New Zealand public in 2011, with latest figures showing there are now more than 10,000 registered electric vehicles (EVs) in the country. (Ministry of Transport)

There are both financial and environmental ‘drivers’ (if you’ll pardon the pun) for many EV purchasers – most notably, that charging an EV costs the equivalent of paying around 30 cents a litre for fuel and that EVs allow for pollution-free driving.  

In line with the growth of EVs on the road in New Zealand, Vector has experienced a 190% increase in the volume of charging sessions taking place at its 18 rapid EV charging stations in the 12 months to June this year.  There were 590 megawatt hours of electricity consumed during those 66,000 charging sessions, which is enough energy to drive your average EV to France and back 87 times (at the speed limit, and as the crow flies).

With the rate of EV adoption accelerating, it’s clear EVs are going to be central to achieving a clean energy future for New Zealand. Globally, the number of EVs on the roads last year hit a record high of 3.1 million, with predictions by the IEA that there will be 125 million EVs on the road by 2030.


Forbes Global Electric Vehicle Market Looks To Power Up In 2018, 
Vector News, Electric Vehicle Charging Sessions Sky Rocket
Ministry of Transport,


Historic Milestone #6


New Zealand’s first ever net zero energy commercial building came about in 2013 with the installation of 48 solar panels on the roof of the Ecostore premises in Freeman's Bay, Auckland.

The system was designed to generate 17,500 kWh a year - enough to meet the building's entire electricity requirements and potentially allow it to be a net positive energy building.

By combining solar panels with battery storage and a smart control system, the energy produced from the solar panels is stored and used both when it is needed in the building and during times of peak network demand. The solution was designed to offset the tenants' electricity usage during the day when usage will be at its peak and have the option, through the battery storage, of being able to use solar power when the sun isn't shining. 

The batteries are a Lithium-ion battery pack – the same technology used to power electric vehicles.  The batteries also provide a back-up option in the case of a grid outage.
The project was an initiative of Ecostore's not-for-profit arm, Fairground Foundation, Vector and the building’s landlord.

One recent estimate by a researcher suggested that if we retrofit 1,200 of New Zealand’s largest commercial buildings (sized over 3500m²) to net zero energy, the savings would be equal to the annual electricity generated by all wind turbines in New Zealand.

There are currently more than 70 net-zero  certified buildings across New Zealand.

New Zealand Herald, NZ's first solar-powered commerical building
Radio NZ, The push for net zero buildings
Beca, A Net Zero Energy NZ Commercial Building Stock


Historic Milestone #7

When the Paris Agreement came into force in 2016, New Zealand joined almost every nation around the globe to make a firm commitment to take action on climate change. 

It was a landmark accord that set a collective goal of keeping global average temperature rises well below two degrees. 

Each country also submitted its own climate action plan for achieving these goals – New Zealand committing by 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels.  

With industry and individuals needing to play their part to achieve this ambitious goal, this year a group of 60 CEOs from New Zealand companies (including Vector) formed the Climate Leaders Coalition with the purpose of taking action in their own organisations to reduce the country’s emissions.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius - President of the COP21 climate change conference - raises his hands along with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Francois Hollande on December 12, 2015, after representatives of 196 countries approved a sweeping environmental agreement during a multinational meeting at LeBourget Airport in Paris, France. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

New Zealand Herald, 60 leading Kiwi CEOs commit to climate action
Ministry for the Environment, About the Paris Agreement

Vector, in partnership with Auckland Council and in collaboration with the NZ transport agency, is excited to be lighting the Harbour Bridge with smart energy technology.  

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