South Australia is, thanks to its attempt to run on sunshine and breezes, an international laughing stock.
Its chaotic power supply and crippling power prices are driving its few remaining profitable businesses to the wall, with many of them contemplating packing up shop and leaving South Australia for good.
The panic stricken members of the wind-cult – which includes Labor MPs, like SA’s vapid Premier Jay Weatherill, his witless Energy Minister, Tom Koutsantonis and former union bully boy, Federal member, Mark Butler – have been working overtime to deflect attention from South Australia’s unfolding power supply and pricing calamity. Blaming everything except their beloved deity, of course.
In a ‘courageous’ move, Tom Koutsantonis even turned fire on business leaders themselves, blaming them for the disaster; as if Arrium, BHP and Nyrstar were actually responsible for carpeting South Australia with thousands of these things: producing power at the whim of mother nature; which, as a result of its chaotic delivery, has no commercial value – wind power outfits literally pay the grid manager to take its occasional product. But, due to REC subsidies earned under the Federal LRET, still pocket fixed and guaranteed prices under power purchase agreements, in the order of $110 per MWh (see our post here).
The PR problem for the wind industry and its worshippers is all of their own making.
You see, if you’ve been crowing about the wonders of wind for more than a decade; telling all and sundry that, it’s not just competitive with conventional generation sources, but ‘free’ – and getting cheaper all the time; that it’s not ‘intermittent’, just ‘variable’; and that any ‘perceived’ problems can be overcome by simply doubling down and spearing a few thousand more of these whirling wonders across the countryside, it’s a little hard to overlook the facts and consequences when they inevitably and predictably emerge.
For years, the Clean Energy Council, yes2ruiningus and Ruin-Economy have waged a propaganda war, in which South Australia is given exalted status and venerated as the “wind power capital” of Australia, if not, the world.
Now that the mainstream media has caught up with the scale and scope of the disaster unfolding in South Australia, the wind industry’s spruikers are having a very difficult time of it. Massaging data, cherry picking results and spinning away consequences, becomes a nightmare when everybody in Australia is talking about South Australia’s wind power output collapses coinciding with the spot price surging from $70 per MWh to $2,000, $4,000 and, on plenty of occasions, all the way to the market cap of $14,000 per MWh.
The mainstream press have got a hold of those facts; and are not about to let them go. Add in thousands more South Australian homes being disconnected from the grid (struggling families unable to pay their rocketing power bills); top it off with furious business leaders in charge of the State’s biggest employers (miners, mineral processors, manufacturers, food processors, etc) and SA’s wind power debacle is no longer a sideshow for the media, it’s the main game.
The days of the Clean Energy Council whipping out a few slick press releases and quelling any unhelpful criticism of the wind industry are well and truly over. The CEC and its fellow travelers are no longer in control of the game, but fighting a bitter rear-guard action; which they must know is lost.
With the simple facts about the economic and social disaster playing out in Australia’s “wind powered capital” common knowledge, it’s now become wholly fashionable to deride South Australia for its ludicrous attempt to power itself on sunshine and breezes.
Instead of being politically ‘correct’ and circumspect about criticising wind power, it seems that a fast-growing number have worked out that the only people pushing wind power are the pig ignorant; or those little piggies with their trotters firmly planted in the wind power subsidy trough. Plenty now apparently regard anyone still talking up the ‘merits’ of wind power as either a fool or someone with a financial interest in it. For confirmation of that assessment take a peak at the hundreds of comments that feature on stories about wind power costs in SA carried by the online version of The Australian (as here, in relation to the article below).
Among those who helped push the wind industry in South Australia is Matthew Warren. A few years back, Matthew was in charge of Wind Energy Australia (which later morphed into the CEC) and had plenty to say in favour of these things (as he was, of course, paid handsomely to do). However, whoever pays the Piper calls the tune. Nowadays Matthew is CEO of the Australian Energy Council, a lobby group apparently in favour of meaningful power, rather than mediaeval nonsense.
Here’s Matthew singing from a slightly different hymn sheet.
Canary in the coalmine shows way on renewables
25 July 2016
Wind generators can only be guaranteed to run at a fraction of their name-plate capacity in heatwaves.
South Australia is discovering the harsh realities of being the world leader in integrating high levels of intermittent renewable energy.
In the name of action on climate change, that state is an accidental experiment in how far you can push technologies such as wind and solar photovoltaic into the grid before something breaks. It is, quite possibly, the most important energy story in the world.
The popular rhetoric around big renewable ambitions is now being tempered with the long-warned-of realities — higher costs and increased risks around reliability, or, as our parents used to say: “It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.”
Those getting hurt are, of course, the state’s industrial customers, who are reeling at the higher cost of electricity in South Australia, and behind them households who are facing steep increases in energy bills.
It is a crisis that has been years in the making, like getting run over by a steamroller. Suddenly the inevitable blame game begins. Popular targets include the privatisation of energy assets, the National Electricity Market, high gas prices, unreliability in the interconnectors between South Australia and Victoria, or all of the above.
The simple reality is this: increasing intermittent renewables at scale reduces emissions but ultimately increases prices as well as reliability risks.
More than 41 per cent of South Australia’s generation now comes from wind and solar. This is very, very high compared with most large industrialised grids. Until now, the only big renewables regions were, like Vancouver in Canada or Tasmania, powered predominantly by controllable hydro-electricity. Denmark talks big on its wind energy, but when the wind doesn’t blow it can import almost all of its power needs from neighbouring Sweden or Germany.
South Australia, by contrast, sits at the edge of Australia’s NEM. It is connected by two transmission lines, which can supply about 25 per cent of South Australia’s maximum demand from Victoria. The rest has to be generated inside South Australia.
In the pre-renewables days, power was supplied by brown-coal generators at Port Augusta and gas power stations located around the state. It was much like the rest of the Australian electricity sector: cheap, stable, and high in greenhouse emissions.
As solar and particularly wind increased capacity, they intermittently took more market share from the conventional power stations. Instead of running all or most of the time, as they were designed, the conventional fossil-fuel generators have increasingly jumped in and out of the market.
This reduced emissions, but it also reduced the viability of these generators. At low levels of renewables, they could afford to operate. At higher levels, they have begun to exit the market permanently. The coal generators have now gone, and half of the gas plants of Torrens Island and Pelican Point were scheduled to be mothballed, the first step to permanent exit.
As it is, South Australia is now more reliant on a smaller group of gas-fired generators to meet demand, along with high levels of renewables in the grid. Higher gas prices have exacerbated recent spikes in electricity costs but, even allowing for this, the underlying trend in South Australia is more expensive base-load power. Large industrial customers could and probably should have done more to sign on to fixed-price contracts for their future power needs. They probably didn’t sign on because they thought the prices on offer were too high. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
But wait, there’s more. As if this wasn’t enough, there are more potential challenges facing South Australian electricity customers in the future.
First, there is the threat of a looming gas shortage in southeastern Australia, exacerbated by a moratorium on new gas fields in Victoria. The risk here is the ability and cost of South Australia’s increasingly peaky gas generators to operate in the teeth of a supply crunch.
Second, there are question marks now and into the future about South Australia’s ability to supply power during times of peak demand, like we saw during the extended heatwaves of 2014 and 2011.
Wind generators can only be guaranteed to run at a fraction of their nameplate capacity, if at all, during these times. This looks even more perilous after 2020, as the Victorian government’s plan to drive its own aggressive renewables targets means its ability to supply surplus electrons into South Australia may be impaired. The market operator is currently forecasting a decline in supply from Victoria after 2020.
Third, there is the less understood but critical issue of maintaining power quality (voltage and frequency) at times of low demand. It was a power quality event that resulted in the Adelaide blackout on November 1 last year.
Electricity systems are complex. Decarbonising them, particularly in places such as South Australia, is challenging. We shouldn’t stop the transformation the minute it gets difficult. But the sooner we can return to a co-ordinated national approach to energy policy, and away from populist state targets and symbolism, the better.
Matthew Warren is the chief executive of the Australian Energy Council.
Well, at least Matthew is no longer blatantly pushing the wonders of wind power.
We do, however, have one or two minor quibbles with statements such as:
“Wind generators can only be guaranteed to run at a fraction of their name-plate capacity in heatwaves.”
Why pick “heatwaves” as a condition of wind power delivery? There are literally hundreds of occasions during the colder months when SA’s 17 (now 18) wind farms are generating absolutely nothing at all:
The other piece of nonsense dished up by Matthew is his statement that “increasing intermittent renewables at scale reduces emissions”.
The wind industry has never produced a shred of evidence to suggest that wind power actually reduces CO2 emissions in the electricity sector. Indeed, the actual evidence shows that increasing the proportion of wind power in a predominantly coal and gas-fired grid increases CO2 emissions.
Perhaps the reason that the wind industry has never produced a shred of evidence to show that wind power has reduced CO2 emissions in Australia’s electricity sector is simply because it can’t. Running counter to wind industry claims about wind power abating CO2 emissions, the result of trying to incorporate wind power into a coal/gas fired grid is increased CO2 emissions (see this European paper here; this Irish paper here; this English paper here; this American article and this Dutch study here). For more on the topic: Wind Industry’s CO2 Abatement Claims Go Up in Smoke
South Australia is now screaming for more interconnector capacity, all of which will tap into coal-fired power, from plants located in either Victoria or New South Wales.
One study concluded that the CO2 emissions from power generation – which trouble Matthew and which South Australians are responsible for – can only rise from here: South Australia’s Wind Power Chaos: Victoria’s Coal-Fired Plant its Only Salvation
Matthew then gets a 5/10 for this observation:
“Third, there is the less understood but critical issue of maintaining power quality (voltage and frequency) at times of low demand. It was a power quality event that resulted in the Adelaide blackout on November 1 last year.”
The first sentence on its own scores full marks: maintaining voltage and frequency is absolutely critical to maintaining a functioning electricity grid: Why Weather Dependent, Intermittent & Unreliable Wind Power is as ‘Useful as a Chocolate Teapot’
However, the second sentence wipes out the credit earned for the first, when he says that SA’s statewide blackout on 1 November last year was “a power quality event”.
The correct answer is that the almost statewide blackout Matthew refers to was the result of “a power quantity event”:
During the first part of the day – 4am to noon – SA’s wind farms were producing generally less than 100 MW (or 6.7% of total capacity), falling to a derisory 10 MW around 10am – barely enough to power a few fridges and kettles across a few suburbs.
As an afternoon coastal breeze whipped across the state, output managed to briefly spurt (for around 60 minutes) to 700 MW (or a whopping 47% of total capacity). And that was the ‘best’ output they could muster: less than half of total capacity for barely 1 hour out of 24 – or 4.16% of the day.
As the briefly benevolent sea breeze worked itself into a tree-tickling zephyr, output plummeted to around 150 MW by midnight; an interconnector killing drop in output of 550 MW, over a span of less than three hours. With the most rapid drop of 250 MW seen in the 20 minutes before 9pm; and a further 150 MW drop from that point to midnight. For the full story – see our post here.
That little ‘experiment’ resulted in 110,000 homes and businesses being left powerless for hours.
Welcome to your wind powered future.