After 2013, New Zealand power lines companies will be under no legal obligation to supply electricity to every customer – raising questions over the future of electricity supply in rural areas.

Farmers in remote areas of the country may well provide the answer, say researchers, as many are now at the cutting edge of technologies that enable them to generate their own electricity.

The gradual restructuring of the electricity sector in New Zealand has left rural users liable to quickly increasing costs – and despite attempts by Labour ministers to get supply guarantees from power companies, many will be unlikely to maintain energy lines after they are legally obliged.

Research teams from the crown science company’s Industrial Research group and the centre for energy research at Massey University have been investigating electricity generation on four farms across the country; at Kumeroa, on D’Urville Island, at Banks Peninsula, and at Massey University’s Limestone Downs research farm.

In the latest edition of the Industrial Research’s newsletter, Innovate, Iain Sanders from its subsidiary group Electrotec argued: “While it is politically unlikely customers in rural areas will face disconnection from the national grid after 2013, it’s in everyone’s interests – including power companies – that affordable, reliable power is easily accessible.”

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Sanders insisted however that presently the power production experiments are designed to reduce the farms’ reliance on the national grid, rather than replace it entirely.