Renewable energy witch-hunt continues after South Australia outage

Renewable energy witch-hunt continues after South Australia outage

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Andrew Bolt and the fossil fuel and pro-nuclear lobbies were quick to blame wind energy for the outage in South Australia this week. But the only technology to fail that night was the transmission link to Victoria.

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The brief rolling black-outs that affected 100,000 homes in South Australia on Sunday night sparked the predictable backlash against renewable energy, and wind energy in particular.

And the backlash came from the predictable corners – climate deniers, pro-nuclear advocates, and the fossil fuel lobby – all of whom have a common enemy, the growth of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar in our electricity grid.

Andrew Bolt, the right-wing, climate denying News Corp commentator, declared “wind don’t blow, South Australia don’t glow” and proceeded to blame the outage on wind energy “because wind power did not supply energy because it often does not start until 3am.”

SA-Nov1 copyHere is a graph to show that wind energy output (in blue) was providing around 200MW at the time, and it remained pretty constant through the outage. And here is a link to another entertaining rebuttal of Bolt’s claims.

Nuclear advocate Ben Heard tweeted “It’s “Renewables II: Rise of the System Costs”, and trumpeted the fact that he had predicted such an outcome in a paper he wrote, presumably one of those attacking 100 per cent renewable energy scenarios. “REALLY coming true. SA lost interconector last night, had to shed load. Blackout,” he tweeted.

Hooray! Heard was followed up by Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood, who lamented the fact that nuclear – as proposed by labor Senator Sean Edwards – had not yet been considered as part of the solution to “intermittent” renewables.

And the fossil fuel industry got in there too. One of the industry’s favourite consultants, Danny Price, of Frontier Economics (the man credited with the design of Direct Action and a new Coalition government appointee to the Climate Change Authority) was quick to attack wind energy.

“Every time you put on a new wind generator, you’re kind of forced into a wall of having a lot more backup power – so it’s not just the extra cost of wind; it’s making sure that you have a reliable supply as well,” he told ABC Radio, in a refrain often adopted by climate deniers, the fossil fuel lobby, and nuclear supporters.

(Just for the record, South Australia now sources 40 per cent of its overall demand from wind energy and rooftop solar, and hasn’t needed any extra back-up generation. It already existed, to support the coal plants, but much of the gas plants held in reserve are closing because they are not needed so much any more).

Indeed, there was only one technology that abandoned its post on Sunday evening, and that was the massive transmission line linking Victoria and South Australia.

And it had nothing to do with – as the pro-nuclear advocates insisted – the lack of local generation. Indeed, as these graphs show, there was more than enough local capacity. Wind was stable and the Northern power station was pumping out more than 400MW.

But when the link to Victoria went, some customers could no longer be serviced. Around 140MW of load was shed, and so 140MW or so of supply had to be shed too. That came from Northern. And it quickly ramped back as the connector was repaired and demand returned. (Demand increases in South Australia at midnight because of scheduled hot water systems).

SA-Nov1 copy

Here is the graph on the Northern power station in more detail.northern blackout

As an AEMO spokesman told RenewEconomy, and in contrast to what is being put about by the pro-nuclear lobby, the fossil fuel lobby and their link-men in the climate denial industry, this had nothing to do with local generation. It was a fault with the link, and they are still trying to figure out what it was.

Another falsehood being peddled by vested interests is that South Australia has now become more dependent on the inter-connector for its power, and that puts the state at peril. That, too, is a nonsense.

Here are two graphs that Matt Zema – the man, who as CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, runs the Australian grid – showed at a conference just last week.

The first graph (below) is from the year 2000, three years before the first wind farm had been built in South Australia. Zema chose the random days – and it shows massive amounts of electricity coming from Victoria, adding to the massive amounts of brown coal generation in its home state. It was a cosy and secure arrangement for the fossil fuel industry.

aemo SA 2000

The second graph (below) shows what disruption from renewable energy looks like, and why the fossil fuel industry is really pissed off. It comes from selected summer days in 2015, with South Australia at more than 1.5GW of wind capacity and more than 500MW of rooftop solar.

aemo SA 2015

It shows much reduced local brown coal generation, and much reduced imports from Victoria. For much of the time, there were no imports.

The fossil fuel industry is dismayed. Alinta, the owners of the brown coal generators, are closing their plants by March next year. Not only are they highly polluting, they cannot make money any more with renewables in competition.

That will mean reliance on the inter-connector with Victoria. Indeed, South Australia may go back to importing nearly as much electricity as it did before the advent of renewable energy, although at times rooftop solar will look after all residential, commercial and industrial demand in the state.

As this graph (below) shows, also displayed by Zema in his speech, that could happen as early as 2022.

aemo solar SA

But Zema, himself, says that it will not affect the reliability of the grid.

But higher renewable energy penetration does have its challenges. It requires a focus on supply as well as demand. And that also means a smarter grid, one that we are not yet getting from our regulators.

The future, Zema and many others note, will be in dispatchable and flexible generation, and that smart technology that will enable immediate response.

The answer for South Australia is not to build more baseload generation, coal or nuclear, but provide flexible capacity through storage – be it attached to a solar thermal plant or as battery storage in key parts of the grid.

That will allow for more renewable generation and the ancillary services and grid stability that AEMO is looking for. And it would be a lot faster than a turbine plant. And, as Zema notes, if households and businesses add battery storage, so much the better.



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  1. Barri Mundee 5 years ago

    Unfortunately, vested interests and the Murdoch right wing noise machine do not fight fair. And a fight, a war even, is what we are seeing here.

    For some the facts are to be buried, denied or replaced with “facts” that suit their interests.

    • Mark Duffett 5 years ago

      It’s not just Murdoch, looks like Fairfax are in on the conspiracy as well:

      “South Australia’s rising share of renewable power could cause blackouts
      in the state if the Australian Energy Market Operator doesn’t intervene,
      the agency’s chief executive, Matt Zema, said.”

      Yes, that would be the same Matt Zema Giles cited above.

      “The signal in that market is you actually need more thermals in reserve,” Mr Zema told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Melbourne.

      “So if they are going to go completely renewable they are going to rely
      more and more on the interconnectors for system security.”

      He said the Energy Market Operator was purchasing frequency controlled ancillary services or FCAS “to stop SA actually going black if the interconnector drops out”.

      “How much do you want to pay for system security in SA because that’s what we are buying,” Mr Zema said. “If we don’t buy FCAS and the system trips, we lose the whole state.”

      Sounds pretty perilous to me.

      • Giles 5 years ago

        You’re a nasty piece of work aren’t you. Those quotes were from AFR’s own interview with Zema (it says so).

        I wasn’t there, but from Zema’s actually speech:

        “The expected withdrawal of both Northern and Playford B power stations by 31 March 2016 removes 786 MW (or 15%) of generation capacity from South Australia.

        While the revised closing date for Northern Power Station is not expected to result in Reliability Standard breaches in the three years modelled to 2017–18, it does illustrate the
        continual challenges of supply-side generation we face.

        “It must be said that we do expect that an efficient market will continue to adjust and respond appropriately to this latest information.”

        The AEMO release of the previous week said exactly the same thing. By 2020, they don’t expect the removal of Northern to get anyway near breaching the minimum standards.

        The point about the failure this week is that it would have had the same effect no matter how much coal or nuclear you had in the state. Are you seriously suggesting that South Australia overbuild to have its distinct grid? If so, you’re crazier than i thought. That will happen in communities, towns and suburbs, because micro-grids and local generation, mostly solar PV, make it a no brainer. But for bigger and broader grids, the more they are interconnected the better.

        Zema then goes to talk about the work of battery storage, and how critical that would be.

        No one, apart from the nuclear lobby, is talking about baseload generation in South Australia, and no utility would build it, or take the risk of doing so.

        As for frequency and ancillary services, Zema made clear this could be provided by things that were not “thermal”. That is where the US and European markets are heading.

        You see, what you guys won’t accept, is that the world is moving towards decentralised power, and flexible and dispatch able generation. Nuclear finds it tough to fit into that world.

        • Giles 5 years ago

          Oh, and by the way, the AFR is run by the same right wing, neo-con who used to edit the Australian. One of their leading columnists told me flat out this week: Renewables don’t work. That might make them friends with you, but it does not make them authoritative. (i worked at AFR for 10 years and was business editor and deputy editor at a time when the paper was not the official spokespeople for vested interests).

          • Mark Duffett 5 years ago

            You mean a publication’s output can’t be relied on because its editor has their own agenda, speaking for vested interests? Say it ain’t so, Giles!

        • Mark Duffett 5 years ago

          “AFR’s own interview with Zema (it says so)”

          I don’t see any mention of an interview. The only sourcing reference is ‘Mr Zema told a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Melbourne’.

          • Giles 5 years ago
          • Mark Duffett 5 years ago

            OK, so the reference to selective quoting was unfair (I used ‘apparently’ advisedly), I’ve deleted it. But surely you’re not suggesting Zema wouldn’t stand by the quotes attributed to him by the AFR, or even that the AFR made them up? (I’m guessing they’re from open Q&A after the speech hence not in the prepared transcript).

          • Giles 5 years ago

            I’ve worked with both the reporter and the editor. As a general rule, I have no illusions about the ability of journalists to get things wrong, to misunderstand, to get things out of context, or to quote selectively, or to fish for certain quotes. Maybe Zema did say that, in which case he has completely contradicted his speech and his organisation’s media release of the previous day.

      • Peter Grant 5 years ago

        “How much do you want to pay for system security”… well that is really the nub of the issue, isn’t it.

        At the AIE/APEX 2015 breakfast in Perth yesterday Robin McCormick (an ED of Ireland’s EirGrid) estimated a 400% increase in ancillary services costs from 60 to 235 million euros by 2020 to incorporate up to 70% wind on their grid.

        A large part of this expenditure will not be on thermal FCAS: demand response, batteries and re-configuration of wind generators themselves will all contribute to the cost/solution of increased renewable penetration.

        Increased costs for the ancillary service component of supply is not a “perilous” future – it is a a smart and predictable consequence of increasingly diverse generation sources as well as improved IT.

        More brains, less brawn.

      • Giles 5 years ago

        Perilous? I found the stats as provided by the AEM, in its assessment of the south australian grid. The removal of the last base load power from south australia increases the risk of blackouts from 0.0002 per cent to 0.0005 per cent. Yeah, real perilous.

        • Mark Duffett 5 years ago

          Presumably that assumes expenditure on all the extra infrastructure Zema (purportedly) indicated would be needed (not to mention Victoria continuing to crank out brown coal baseload).

    • john 5 years ago

      Truth has no credence with the mentioned outlets

  2. lin 5 years ago

    It is disturbing that so much of what is reported in the media is twisted truths or even outright blatant lies, and there is no effective mechanism in place to combat it.

    • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

      yes, someone with energy industry knowledge in a position of influence within the ABC would be worth her weight in gold. yet we’re left with the usual suspects and shows like The Business are left to run coal and mining junkets on-demand and taking regular advice on all things extending to climate mitigation from the regular stream of bankers talking their own book.

      especially for the next year or two as the wannabe nuclear industry has it’s last go at getting a foothold on generation in Australia before the door that has been slammed shut by renewables is locked firmly in place with capacity > 80% in at least one state to show the naysayers the sky don’t fall.

      • Jacob 5 years ago

        The ABC’s business shows are so boring!

        They mainly talk about interest rates, banks, mining, and sometimes Aussie retail.

        They basically never talk about disruptive technology.

        • Alastair Leith 5 years ago

          to me it’s the orthodox rich-persons or aspirational’s world-view that is perpetually reinforced, and only challenged in the correlating terms of Green Investment Economics, that is most problematic about that show. The idea that you can price nature and everything will be fine was aired the other night and went unchallenged by host Ticky Fullerton. Other hosts; same story.

          I watch it hear what that particular destructive part of society has to say, and what messaging they’re on.

    • Ian Cutten 5 years ago

      In times past we used to have ‘Editorial’ and reporting of the ‘News’. Editorial was accepted as the personal view of the Editor or of the Editor representing the views of the proprietor or business entity. Editorial bias was relatively easily identified. ‘Review’ articles and programs were substantial and largely well researched, based on the views of specialists in the appropriate field/s, and where necessary including the views of specialists with contrasting views.

      Today it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between ‘Editorial’ and ‘News’ and there are a diminishing number of substantial ‘Review’ articles and programs.
      Grass root demand for improvement in both these areas may be the most effective mechanism to combat the ‘twisted truths or even outright blatant lies’ mentioned by Lin.

      • Petra Liverani 5 years ago
      • Petra Liverani 5 years ago

        And, of course, if it’s not coal we need, it’s nuclear. How about this waffle with a misleading description of Alan Finkel as a “prominent nuclear advocate”?

        • lin 5 years ago

          Yes. It was very interesting watching what the media on the “Right” and the so-called “Left” all making loud noises about how Alan was leading a nuclear renaissance in Australia, when all he said was that it should be considered, “..but stressed the cost of building the required infrastructure would be large” and that “it’s not the only way forward, with enough storage we can do it in this country with solar and wind”.
          Very telling, I thought, that all the media owners seem to be backing the existing players or big nuclear in the generation and distribution space over the option of distributed generation and lots of small players contributing to the overall mix. Money talks and the citizens get screwed. “Democracy” in action!

  3. Mark Potochnik 5 years ago

    Exactly why Tesla has such a huge opportunity in Australia for power storage. (batteries)

  4. Jacob 5 years ago

    The 2nd last and 3rd last graphs are very low res. Any chance of graphs being uploaded in high res?

  5. Malcolm M 5 years ago

    What is most surprising about this incident is that it took over an hour before peaking plants were started up. Peaking power stations (such as Mortlake in Victoria) can be started remotely and achieve full power output within 5 minutes. If this incident occurred under a former ETSA management system, they would just have flicked a switch in the central control room and turned on (say) the Dry Creek power station, and within 5 minutes there would have been another 156 MW of generation. Instead, after about an hour 80 MW of capacity at Ladbrook Grove in the South-East was added, which fortunately was not constrained by the original problem at the SE terminal station.

    But what happened in the intervening hour ? Was AEMO trying to phone their contact person for the peaking generators, who (in the dark) then had to contact someone else to start the generator ? If there’s one good thing that comes out of this incident, it is that AEMO should be able to turn on generators from their central control room without adding the time delays of contacting employees of the asset owners.

    Data below show the price, demand, dispatchable generation and net interchange before and after the incident (at 22:00 NEM time). This is from the AEMO website.

    Date-time SA price Vic price SA demand Dispatchable Net interchange
    ($/MWh) ($/MWh) (MW) generation (MW) (MW)

    1/11/2015 21:55 28.73 16.20 1306 1023 -283
    1/11/2015 22:00 2173.93 16.15 1149 1065 -84
    1/11/2015 22:05 25.93 16.15 1077 1047 -30
    1/11/2015 22:10 31.72 16.15 1134 1093 -40
    1/11/2015 22:15 27.95 16.15 1130 1053 -76
    1/11/2015 22:20 10759.20 16.15 1136 1063 -73
    1/11/2015 22:25 54.99 16.15 1110 1040 -69
    1/11/2015 22:30 24.99 16.15 1090 1065 -25
    1/11/2015 22:35 29.54 16.15 1096 1034 -62
    1/11/2015 22:40 23.46 16.20 1087 1041 -46
    1/11/2015 22:45 23.11 16.17 1098 1055 -43
    1/11/2015 22:50 21.82 16.20 1095 1083 -12
    1/11/2015 22:55 22.25 16.15 1126 1099 -27
    1/11/2015 23:00 22.80 16.15 1154 1147 -7
    1/11/2015 23:05 21.50 16.76 1158 1199 41
    1/11/2015 23:10 22.46 16.20 1179 1256 77
    1/11/2015 23:15 21.82 16.87 1186 1284 98
    1/11/2015 23:20 21.19 16.60 1179 1311 132

    1/11/2015 23:25 21.44 16.60 1194 1310 116

  6. Chris Fraser 5 years ago

    It looks like, in a short while now, SA would be fine with a outage in Heywood. The outage was about 30 minutes late at night … so what ? Sooner than we think renewable batteries will be enough to cover it and much more. The true value of interconnectors is sending all that lovely wind energy back to us the other 99.99% of the time.

  7. Malcolm M 5 years ago

    Chris, the outage was at the SE terminal station, not at Heywood. There’s not a lot to go wrong with the 275 V supply at the SE station apart from switching gear – power comes in at 275 kV and goes out at 275 kV.

    The MurrayLink interconnector (200 MW) was out of action at the time, I believe for planned maintenance. If it had been operational, it should have automatically continued the 150 MW of supply from Victoria.

    The Heywood yard is being upgraded to 680 MW of interconnector capacity through a third 500/275 kV transformer with a capacity of 190 MW. There was a photo of it in the Portland Observed recently. It weighs 250 tonnes and had to be transported on 2 18-axle trailers hauled by 3 prime movers. If it’s at the site now, perhaps the project is running early and it could be energised earlier than the target of July 2016. This will bring the total interconnector capacity to 880 MW.

    An incident like this helps AEMO and the network owners develop operational plans and control algorithms to reduce such incidents in the future. Nothing like an outage like this to bring unco-operative asset owners into agreement, and it’s better this occurred while the Northern power station was still operational and before the third Heywood transformer goes live.

  8. Mark Duffett 5 years ago

    “Another falsehood being peddled by vested interests is that South
    Australia has now become more dependent on the inter-connector for its
    power, and that puts the state at peril. That, too, is a nonsense.”

    But then only a few paras down we read that closure of baseload generators will mean “reliance on the inter-connector with Victoria”.

    Which is it? Or are we to take it that existing baseload thermal capacity reductions have somehow not increased interconnector dependence, but more will?

    • Giles 5 years ago

      Keep trying Mark. It is obviously the “putting the state in peril” which is nonsense, and which is argued by your fellow nuclear boosters. AEMO says this is simply not the case. And many say that S.A. reliance on interconnection has increased in last few years, where the AEMO graphs quite clearly show that is not the case.

  9. GreyLah 5 years ago

    Solar Updraft Tower people- It has been ignored by Australia while being looked at in USA, India and Middle East. South Australia (as well as many other parts of Australia) has perfect conditions to be able to use this Utility Scale Technology… which also has the advantage of no water requirement and it is patented by an Australian company.

  10. David Leitch 5 years ago

    it is interesiing to note that baseload futures for South Australia for FY17 are at $89 more than double the level in Victoria and higher even than in QLD ($59). Not only is the Northern Power station being closed but Pelican Point is also not running, and its a “relatively’, modern combined cycle gas station. The older and least efficient piece of TIPS will also be closed.. I think it is fair to say that South Australia will provide some early insights into how eneriewende is going to impact us all.

    • Matt 5 years ago

      Also interesting that the CAL19 prices are nearly $30 less than CAL18. What is driving that? More renewables coming online and storage opportunities?

  11. Humanitarian Solar 5 years ago

    Lobbying for the happy, intelligent and harmonious grid paradigm. The problem is finding someone who cares.

  12. Steve M 5 years ago

    Basically south Australia has been notorious over the past 10+ years for power outages during heat waves, when PV came on board this reduced significantly and was reported on. Changes to South Australian policy to solar have reduced installations with increased population growth and now there are outages again, the answer seems simple, don’t rely on the failings of transmitting and produce energy locally.
    South Australian outages always happen in summer when there is ample sun, battery storage will solve this.

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