A device that can measure wind speeds, waves and currents is about to become the first physical piece of offshore wind technology deployed in New Zealand.
The Floating Light Detecting and Ranging Device - or FLiDAR - is at Port Taranaki waiting to be towed into position 37km off the coast of Patea.
Taranaki Offshore Partnership's Giacomo Caleffi said when in position, it would provide data crucial for accessing the feasibility of its proposal for a 1 gigawatt, $5 billion offshore windfarm in the South Taranaki Bight.
"It will record wind speeds - that's the main thing that it does. So, it records wind speeds at various heights all the way up to 300m about sea level, and that will give as a very good reading of what kind of wind speeds we can expect if we have an offshore windfarm installed in that area."
Caleffi said the buoy, which was built in France, used laser technology to make its recordings that would give the partnership a "next level, more granular" understanding of wind conditions in the bight.
It has been built with the rough and tumble of the Tasman Sea in mind.
"It's been designed to some pretty rough standards and the North Sea is where offshore wind started, so there is a pretty good understanding of how bad the sea can get, but certainly South Taranaki is known for how rough the sea can get."
The FLiDAR will transmit live data via satellite or 4G and record it on a hard drive.
Caleffi said a technician would service the buoy every three months working out of the harbour at Patea, and one of their jobs would be to download that data.
It was proposed 60 wind turbines standing 230m would be erected in the bight, which would be comparable to some of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the country and capable of meeting more than 11 percent of New Zealand's current demand for electricity.
Caleffi said it would be a while before construction began.
"There's a lot of work still to do, we are still in the feasibility stage. This is a key aspect of feasibility - to understand exactly what the resource looks like.
"So, there's a lot more we need to do in terms of understanding the environment and the social acceptance of offshore wind as well.
"So, we are looking at - if everything goes very well - we could have turbines in the water by the end of the decade, but there's still a lot of work to be done."
He was however excited by the prospect.
"This is a very exciting moment for the sustainability journey for Aotearoa because this is effectively the first piece of kit that physically goes out there to promote this offshore wind industry.
"It's very important technology and it will form part of the mix of renewable energy that New Zealand needs going ahead."
Long-term investment outlook
The NZ Super Fund is investing $2.5 billion in the project. Investment director Brendon Jones said it was interested in offshore in as part of its search for commercial investment opportunities coming out of the world's transition to a low-carbon economy.
"We see the potential for attractive investment returns as well as the chance to do something that's positive for the climate - so it's a win-win.
"The Fund has a long-term investment horizon with no payouts until 2035, and even then no real material payouts till mid-century. So, we have the timeframe to take some development risk."
Port Taranaki chief executive Simon Craddock was also excited at the prospect of the work offshore wind could bring.
"It's incredibly exciting for the port, the region and the country. I mean offshore wind is potentially a huge part of our energy future.
"It's deliverable at scale in terms of gigawatt scale which is great for renewables and we're very excited about the prospects for the region."
Craddock said offshore wind could become an important part of port business in future.
"It's hard to say what share it would be, but it would be very significant. If we look overseas we can see the kind of scale of activity that goes through ports in Europe and it is a very significant amount of activity.
"We are very keen to support the developers get this industry off the ground and we're busy planning for that future now."
The FLiDAR would be towed into position once the wind in Taranaki dropped below 15 knots and the ocean settled after the recent storm.