South Australia’s ludicrous attempt to run on sunshine and breezes hit a ‘black spot’ on 28 September this year, when – yet another – totally unpredictable collapse in wind power output plunged the entire state into Stone Age darkness: ‘GUILTY’: South Australia’s Statewide Blackout Caused by Deliberate Wind Farm Shutdown
Many parts of the State remained without power for days and thousands of businesses together suffered multi-$million losses. The biggest of those losses were suffered by Nyrstar’s lead and zinc smelter at Port Pirie, BHP Billiton’s gold, copper and uranium mine at Olympic Dam, Oz Mineral’s Prominent Hill copper and goldmine and Arrium’s steel works at Whyalla: collectively, the losses suffered by SA’s miners and mineral processors are in the tens of $millions.
With litigators breathing down their necks, nervous wind power outfits are running confused and desperate interference over the (now, well-known) cause.
The latest wheeze is that the loss of around 445MW of wind power in the minutes leading up to the statewide blackout was caused by a “software glitch”. That’s a furphy that we will return to in a moment.
Another myth being peddled by South Australia’s hapless Labor government – and other fellow-members of the wind cult – was that the storm itself was of biblical proportions. However, the Bureau of Meteorology says that the “storm was a pretty standard southern low-pressure system”.
Wind system, not the storm, cut South Australia’s power
20 October 2016
Two things are clear in the wash-up from last month’s costly and embarrassing statewide blackout in South Australia.
First, the storm that ravaged the state’s electricity infrastructure, causing uproar in renewable energy circles and among climate-change advocacy groups, was neither unprecedented nor particularly unusual.
Second, unlike the thermal generators operating at the time, most wind farms were unable to ride out the effects of the storm.
To be fair, the reason 445 megawatts of wind energy disappeared in a chaotic 88 seconds on September 28 was due to the sensitivity of settings, which is being addressed.
Yesterday’s updated report from the Australian Energy Market Operator says nine of the 13 wind farms online at the time of the event did not ride through six voltage disturbances.
Preliminary discussions with wind farm operators suggest this was because of settings to disconnect or reduce turbine output when between three and six disturbances are detected within a defined period. AEMO says thermal generators remained connected until the South Australian system disconnected from the rest of the national electricity market.
This has indeed been a learning opportunity for South Australia, which boasts of having world-class penetration of renewable energy — in a not fully backed-up grid.
It is a wake-up call that reliability of electricity supply should not be taken for granted.
Following evidence from the Bureau of Meteorology to the federal Senate environment committee this week, it is possible also to put some of the alarmist claims about the storm into perspective.
AEMO already has said most of the damage to transmission towers happened after the blackout began.
And the BOM’s evidence to the committee, led by the bureau’s new head, Andrew Johnson, was that the storm was a pretty standard southern low-pressure system. These systems result from interaction of moist tropical conditions in the north with cold conditions in the south.
According to the bureau, the depth of the low was significant but “in terms of a weather event, it was not in the order of a 20- or 30- or 50-year event”.
The effect of the storm was more severe because it happened where there was infrastructure to damage.
Contrary to the popular narrative, the bureau says there is nothing to suggest there has been any increase in the trend in thunderstorms or in these kinds of winter storms.
For the record, last year was the quietest cyclone season since satellite measurements of the tropical systems began. And southern Australia has just had its wettest May-to-October period on record.
Notwithstanding claims that wind turbines were operating right up to the point of the total grid collapse, wind farms had been shut down much earlier in the day, as wind speeds approached 25m/s (90km/h), as at Trustpower’s Snowtown 1:
That deliberate shutdown (at 10:30am and beyond) had nothing to do with a “software glitch”; rather, the Suzlon S88 turbines used at Snowtown 1 did precisely what they were designed to do: automatically shut down to prevent damage caused to blades, gearboxes and bearings due to wind speeds likely to damage components, if not to destroy them altogether:
While wind industry spin masters and their political patrons will continue peddling propaganda aimed at deflecting any attention from the true cause of the calamity on 28 September, what many seem to miss is the fact that wind power output routinely collapses in South Australia (and across the entire Eastern Grid) on a total and totally unpredictable basis.
Whatever the “software settings” are on wind turbines, meteorological software settings are stubbornly fixed on delivering utter power generation chaos:
What’s depicted in the graphic above – showing the output from SA’s 18 wind farms in July – runs entirely counter to the National Electricity (South Australia) Act 1996.
Which, ironically, is a piece of South Australian legislation that applies nationally; and is referred to as the “National Electricity Law”. Section 7 of the Schedule to the National Electricity Law sets the “National electricity objective”:
The objective of this Law is to promote efficient investment in, and efficient operation and use of, electricity services for the long term interests of consumers of electricity with respect to –
(a) price, quality, safety, reliability and security of supply of electricity; and
(b) the reliability, safety and security of the national electricity system.
Just how on earth any person equipped with the normal faculties could claim that South Australia’s obsession with wind power satisfies that objective is somewhat of a mystery.
The wind industry, its parasites and spruikers have always had plenty of ready-made answers capable of defying logic, facts and evidence; and, to that end, have been working overtime to keep a lid on the facts behind South Australia’s Black Wednesday.
However, all the spin and PR polish employed by wind power outfits will offer little hope for salvation once plaintiff lawyers, insurers and litigation funders get to work.
Lawsuit looms over South Australia wind shutdown
Rebecca Puddy & Annabel Hepworth
20 October 2016
South Australian businesses left without power could form a class action after it was revealed yesterday nine of the state’s 13 wind farms tripped or reduced output during last month’s storms because of a “software issue”.
Litigation funder IMF Bentham said the statewide blackout was on the company’s radar as state Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis warned of “lawyers at 20 paces everywhere”.
The Australian Energy Market Operator yesterday released an update to its preliminary report on the September 28 blackout. It identified six voltage disturbances which occurred in the network and also downed transmission towers, triggering the “ride through voltage” systems of nine wind farms.
The wind farm systems tripped as a result, causing them either to shut down or to reduce their output, pushing 445MW of electricity demand on to the Heywood interconnector linking South Australia to Victoria.
With the sudden rush in demand, the interconnector shut down to protect itself and isolated the state from the national grid.
Mr Koutsantonis blamed the turbine shutdown which triggered a “black system” event, or total generation shutdown, as “a software issue, not a generation issue”, but questioned AEMO’s preparedness for the storm.
“We knew this storm was coming, could there have been better preparation? I think so,” Mr Koutsantonis said.
The turbines affected remained on the factory settings and were installed unchanged, he said. “It wasn’t wind energy per se that caused this black system; it was a software glitch.”
The Institute of Public Affairs seized on the report. “The report shows that the five operating thermal generators powered through the storm, in contrast to the wind turbines that turned themselves off,” said Brett Hogan, research director at the free-market think tank. “Australia is a land of heat, cold and other weather extremes. At these times in particular, households and businesses need safe and reliable electricity.”
IMF Bentham investment manager Justin McLernon said the fund was awaiting further information from the numerous inquiries under way at state and federal levels. “We are always interested in assisting claimants who have suffered a loss in these types of cases if there is wrongful conduct or someone to blame,” Mr McLernon said.
“Certainly it is on our radar and we will be taking a look at it.”
Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the blackout “was a wake-up call that underlined the importance of energy security to all Australians”.
Australian Energy Council chief executive Matthew Warren said South Australia was a “living experiment” in how to manage high levels of renewables in modern energy grids. “While the blackout was caused by a cascading set of events from extreme storms on the day, the most important thing is that we learn from this experience and do everything we can to prevent it reoccurring in the future,” Mr Warren said.
Neoen Australia managing director Franck Woitiez, whose turbines at Hornsdale wind farm shut down as part of the system trigger, said the statewide blackout was caused by the storm. With his wind farm now back in full operation, he cautioned against a kneejerk response to the black out. “Battery storage has a huge part to play in our system going forward and we need to keep viewing renewables as part of our energy mix,” Mr Woitiez said.
Oz Minerals, which has a copper and gold mine in the mid-north of the state, will reveal the financial impact of the blackout in its quarterly report tomorrow.
Manufacturing Australia executive director Ben Eade said it was too early to apportion blame and he was awaiting Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s independent review. But, he added, there were inherent vulnerabilities in the energy mix.
Nyrstar spokeswoman Gayle Bartel said the smelter was a customer of SA Power Networks and had already registered a loss of about $7 million due to the prolonged outage solidifying slag in its blast furnace, which took two weeks to rectify.
The administrator of Whyalla’s steelworks, KordaMentha, said it was working with insurers to assess the loss to the business.
One of the state’s major wind farm operators, AGL, said it was conducting its own investigation into the events of September 28.
Pacific Hydro, which owns Clements Gap wind farm, whose system tripped during the storm, said it would work with AEMO to ensure all of its assets met network requirements.
The Clean Energy Council said there was no evidence to show the power system would have stayed running if wind farms had not tripped off in an unsafe electrical environment.
The agency pointed to the finding in the AEMO report that five transmission line faults resulting in six voltage disturbances on the network “led to the SA region black system”.
CEC policy manager Tom Butler said wind turbines were built to withstand all but the most extreme operating circumstances. “AEMO has put no standard in place to manage consecutive system faults,” he said.
STT has to hand it to Tom Koutsantonis with his line that the mass turbine shutdown was “a software issue, not a generation issue”.
Whether it was caused by aliens or other intergalactic forces, a 400 plus MW wind power output collapse is absolutely “a generation issue”. That generation issue saw voltage and frequency levels drop below the required settings: the precipitous State-wide collapse in wind power output overloaded the interconnectors with Victoria, which hit their thermal limits and caused them to shut down in an instant. There followed the worst blackout in South Australian history.
Another fantastic piece of wind industry, ‘hey, quick, look over there’ spin was that pitched up by French owned Neoen Australia’s Franck Woitiez about its Hornsdale wind farm shut down and the blackout that followed, claiming that “Battery storage has a huge part to play in our system going forward and we need to keep viewing renewables as part of our energy mix.”
There is absolutely no battery storage at the Hornsdale wind farm and there is no battery storage in South Australia, either. Indeed, there is no grid-scale storage of electricity anywhere in the world: storing electricity in bulk is little more than a pipe dream.
Running to the periphery and dishing up such desperate drivel will not save Neoen – or any other South Australian wind power outfit – from liability for tens of $millions of perfectly avoidable losses – Pacific Hydro among them:
Pac Hydro’s spin doctor claims that its Clements Gap wind farm “tripped during the storm”. However, the storm front that purportedly killed the whole system did not hit until 3pm that afternoon. By that time, the turbines at Clements Gap had, from Noon, already spent a couple of hours laying idle; or, perhaps, there were several major ‘trips’ (see above)?
On 28 September 2016, the one thing that South Australia was not short of was wonderful, “free” wind energy. The claim about wind turbines being “built to withstand all but the most extreme operating circumstances” by Clean Energy Council spin master, Tom Butler is simply risible. 90km/h winds are enough to shut wind turbines down as an automatic self-protection mechanism: hardly evidence that these things withstand “all but the most extreme operating circumstances”.
The operational “software settings” of turbines are all aimed at the same ends: protecting the turbine from self-destruction, above all – they have nothing to do with generating power during storms. Why risk permanent damage to a machine worth $3-4m for the sake of dispatching another 3MW to the grid for an hour or so (worth around $110 per MWh), especially when there is no penalty paid by the generator for failing to deliver?
The ability of a turbine to protect itself from strong winds depends upon its internal control systems. Faced with increasing wind speeds, the turbine will automatically ‘feather’ its blades (ie turning them such that their leading-edge faces directly into the wind, allowing wind to pass over the blade while creating minimal pressure on it).
Simultaneously, the yaw control ensures that the nacelle is facing directly into the wind and the brakes are applied to prevent the turbine from spinning out of control (the turbine in the video above exploded due to a failed yaw control – its nacelle was at right angles to the wind and the pressure on its blades was too great for the brakes to hold them in place).
The blade pitch control system, the yaw control and the braking system all consume substantial volumes of power and require constant delivery of that power from the grid to manage and operate those systems.
The “software glitch” being used as an excuse for wind power’s pathetic performance on 28 September was no such thing. The on-board systems that control blade pitch, yaw and braking are powered with electricity from the grid (the power does not come from the turbines themselves).
Like every other appliance or machine running on electricity, wind turbine control systems require relatively stable voltage and frequency. The on-board software systems are programmed to identify any loss of voltage or change in frequency which would indicate a loss of power or an unstable frequency capable of threatening the turbine’s ability to control its blade pitch, yaw or brakes.
Without a stable power supply from the grid a turbine faces the prospect of catastrophic, self-destruction simply because it can no longer feather its blades, ensure that the nacelle is facing directly into the wind and ensure that its brakes will work.
All of this and more is about to come under the forensic microscope of teams of lawyers aiming to recoup tens of $millions in losses suffered by their South Australian clients; losses caused by a sudden wind power output collapse that drained the grid and plunged the whole State into darkness – parts of it, like BHP’s Olympic Dam, for over 2 weeks.
In the cut and thrust of litigation – particularly where there are $millions at stake – fluff, spin, lies and propaganda count for little.
One bright note from all of this is that, irrespective of whether claims are pursued, and irrespective of whether they are successful, no sensible investor and no sensible commercial financial institution is likely to consider backing wind power ever again.
The one thing that investors and bankers hate most is ‘risk’.
With the threat of multi-million-dollar lawsuits imminent, resulting from South Australia’s date with the Dark Ages, the wind industry in Australia is practically toxic. As it always was, and it will always be.