Wind Power Chaos: South Australia Bound to Suffer Summertime Blackouts & Victoria’s ALP Government Determined to Follow Suit

jay weatherill

Jay Weatherill: you’re only as good as your next blackout.

***

Given the scale and scope of the calamity, the media’s continued forensic focus on South Australia’s recent Statewide blackout is thoroughly justified.

However, what occurred on 28 September this year (aka ‘Black Wednesday’) is not the first time that a precipitous collapse in wind power output in SA has caused a widespread blackout (see our post here), led to routine load shedding (ie deliberate regional blackouts) or caused inherent grid instability (see our post here). And, by no means, will it be the last major blackout caused by a sudden wind power output collapse.

The fundamentals that took effect in July 2016 – that led to South Australians paying spot prices of $14,000 per MWh for what normally costs around $70 (see our post here) – were evident in July 2015 (see our post here) – and they haven’t somehow magically disappeared.

SA Jul 16

Wind power output collapses occur on a routine, total and totally unpredictable basis in South Australia (just like everywhere else in the world) and conventional generators – seeking to recover losses caused by their inability to dispatch regularly to the grid – extract prices from the grid manager that would have made the thieves that ran Enron blush (see our post here).

Wind power output collapses not only guarantee rampant price gouging opportunities, they guarantee load shedding and mass blackouts.

STT is eagerly awaiting the first serious summer hot spell in South-Eastern Australia: a week of 40°C temperatures across South Australia and Victoria, air-conditioners set at full throttle in Adelaide and Melbourne and little or no wind across both states.

In that sort of weather there will either be no wind – due to a large high-pressure system centred over both states – or daytime maximum temperatures will exceed the safe thermal operating limits of wind turbines: if there is any wind power output at all, it will be of little more than annoyance value to the grid manager.

As STT followers are well aware, these things have a notorious habit of bursting into flames as bearings overheat, setting 1,100 litres of gear oil and tonnes of toxic plastic and other materials ablaze (along with the surrounding countryside).

Texas turbine fire 01

To avoid such pyrotechnic spectacles (and litigation from the owners of burnt out properties) their operators deliberately shut them down as temperatures exceed 40°C.

Either way, there will be little or no wind power output in South Australia or Victoria and both will be dependent upon conventional generators; spot prices will quickly rocket to the market regulated cap of $14,000 per MWh, the grid manager will be forced to shut down whole regions on the grid (ie load-shedding) and there will be an exponential increase in the risk of widespread, if not total, blackouts.  The same scenario played out in January 2014 (see our posts here and here).

For the political idiots who created the wind power calamity in South Australia – and who doggedly continue to champion the wind industry – there is no escape (the adage about reaping what you sow springs to mind).

What occurred in South Australia is little short of criminal.  For a take on what was for South Australians (and for many States still is) a perfectly avoidable social and economic disaster, we’ll cross to Alan Moran.

Requiem for a failed electricity system
Cattallaxy Files
Alan Moran
6 October 2016

The trouble with wind

South Australia has on average over 40 per cent of its internally generated electricity derived from wind.  This is one of the highest levels in the world for a load with a relatively small interconnection with other sources (the two interconnectors with Victoria have a capacity to supply about 20 per cent of the state’s needs).

Wind/solar generation has two features that are of concern.

The first is that it is intrinsically high cost.  As a mature technology, it will remain three times the cost of coal powered generation in Australia.  It can only compete because it is subsidised by a regulatory charge on the consumer (thereby also not facing the same scrutiny if its support was through the Budget).  It receives the subsidy whenever it runs, hence wind has an incentive to generate whenever it can, forcing established fossil fuel plant to be placed offline.

Wind’s additional capacity depresses prices in the short term.  Because most of the costs of existing fossil fuel plant are sunk, they will continue to operate.  But once major repairs are necessary the established coal plant is scrapped.

Gradually the electricity price will rise to reflect the higher cost wind generation that is being substituted for the non-subsidised supplies.  But this rise is muted as the higher prices will cause high energy intensive industries to close, reducing demand.  Already we have seen the Point Henry aluminium smelter close and the Kurri-Kurri smelter mothballed.  The same outlook appears imminent for the Portland smelter.

Secondly, wind/solar is inherently less manageable than fossil, nuclear or hydro-generation.  It requires its fluctuating supply to be shadowed by counter fluctuations.  This requires additional costs and careful management.

South Australia’s electricity system breakdown

The preliminary report  of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) on the south Australian blackout was published October 5.  It summarized the position as

Generation initially rode through the (weather induced) faults, but .. 315 MW of wind generation (then) disconnected .. result(ing) in … the Heywood Interconnector overloading,, tripping the interconnector. In this event, this resulted in the remaining customer load and electricity generation in SA being lost (referred to as a Black System)

Actually the AEMO had already spilled the beans.  In its Market Notices system amidst some the 30 or so routine operating statements that AEMO posts each day came Notice 516103 on 3 October.  This not only said the collapse in wind generation had caused the system to black-out the whole state but went on to redefine nine wind farms as unreliable generators.  AEMO basically said that the event is not a one-off contingency but that the cascading effect of a state wide South Australia blackout as a result of losing some pylons was intrinsically likely to re-occur.

This finding did not prevent the promoters of wind and other sources of power from placing themselves in denial.  Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute wrote an article in the Australian headed, “Don’t blame renewable energy for the state’s plunge into darkness”.  Many other apologists for the renewable industry were scathing about those like Minister Frydenberg who suggested wind had played a part.  And even after the publication of AEMO’s report, the industry’s propaganda journal, RenewEconomy, was claiming it “raises questions answers none”.

Who’s to blame?

AEMO itself as an entity is not immune from criticism.  On many occasions its engineers have said that operating a system with high wind share is technically feasible.

In public has drawn attention to problems of integrating more wind but expressed confidence in doing so and been hopeful that this would be further facilitated by advances in battery storage technology.  But, as Brendan Pearson’s quote of the Chief Scientist Alan Finkel makes clear, this is overly optimistic.  The Chief Scientist estimated that “if we retrieved all of the batteries made for use in mobile phones, laptops, cars and industry in 2014 and used them as back-up for the electricity system, we would have enough energy to power the world for just nine seconds.”

And in its submission to the Senate in July of last year AEMO, while expressing some concerns about high wind penetration in South Australia, said

Based on experience to date and analysis of likely future outcomes, AEMO considers that it is technically feasible to integrate the renewable energy likely to emerge from the RET while maintaining the security of the power system. In the longer term if even higher levels of renewable generation eventuate, there is likely to be some additional grid support costs to maintain system security and to meet frequency standards. (Select Committee on Wind Turbines Submission 469)

The former head of AEMO Matt Zema (who, sadly, has since died, hence his private counsel is no longer confidential) was less sanguine at least in private.  Mr Zema during the course of a private briefing in April of this year the former head of AEMO, made the following comments

The renewable developments and increased political interference are pushing the system towards a crisis.  South Australia is most vulnerable with its potential for wind to supply 60 per cent of demand and then to cut back rapidly.  The system is only manageable with robust interconnectors but these operate effectively only because there is abundant coal based generation in Victoria.

Wind, being subsidised and having low marginal costs, depresses the spot price and once a major coal plant has a severe problem it will be closed.  New coal plants cannot be built because governments are hostile and banks will not finance them.  Wind does not provide the system security.  But the politicians will not allow the appropriate price changes to permit profitable supply developments from other sources.  In the end the system must collapse.

Mr Zema thought that once network collapses occurred, Ministers would search for a fall-guy and would plump for AEMO.  In the light of the agency’s guarded public statements,  AEMO may have cause to fear being accused of culpability in the collapse.

The political landscape on energy is littered with cant.  It is conditioned by a public persuaded that global warming will bring untoward harm and that the costs of substituting wind and solar (both of which are depicted as fundamentally free) will be, at worst, trivial.  This is powered by rent-seeking businesses, conventional energy suppliers included, which see a path to greater profit from investments which have their risks underwritten by governments to give assured returns.

The PM and his colleagues energy minister Frydenberg, industry minister Hunt and South Australian frontbencher Christopher Pyne have been forthright in hitting their political opponents.  In the main this has been because of inconsistency between state plans and incentives. The ALP remains a supercharged romantic wedded to a 50 per cent renewable target by 2030.

But the Coalition has been little less supportive the patronage-rich renewable industry. Indeed, South Australian wind farms were built on the back of federal and not state subsidies and few demurred at their level until the earlier near miss blackout in July of this year.

In fact, the Coalition, while criticising the ALP’s goal of 50 per cent renewables by 2030 itself has a goal of 23.5 per cent renewable share by 2020.  Given that hydro cannot be increased, this means it is looking for 15 per cent from wind and solar by 2020.  That implies a massive and unachievable expansion from those sources’ present contribution of six per cent.

Aftermath

Each state has reacted differently.

In Victoria energy minister D’Ambrosio is powering ahead with increased renewable programs and supplementing this with prioritising battery storage.

This entails horrendous additional costs.  But the state is passing down the same de-industrialisation path as South Australia and if wind expansion causes Hazelwood power station to close will be partly offset by mothballing the Portland smelter, hence immediate price effects will be suppressed.

The South Australian government is shell-shocked at having moved from the frontier of a Brave New World to third world status and, for its part, Queensland is now saying its absurd 50 per cent renewable goal was just aspirational.
Cattallaxy Files

lily-dambrosio

Lily D’Ambrosio & Daniel Andrews make a
pledge to send Victorians back to the Dark Ages.

***

South Australian blackout: it was, in fact, caused by the windfarms
Cattallaxy Files
Alan Moran
21 October 2016

Though the wind-farmers’ propaganda machine regaled the media with fallen pylons as the cause of the South Australian 28 September blackout, the latest AEMO release refers to the pylon collapse as a cause of the State blackout only in a footnote. (“It is not yet clear whether those conditions potentially contributed to the line faults or whether the transmission towers collapsed after the Black System”).  However available information (including to the Australian’s Graham Lloyd)  is that this was irrelevant:

  • First, the towers collapsed after the wind farms had failed to perform as required, which involves shutting down without short-circuiting the entire network.
  • Secondly, even if the tower collapse had occurred prior to the wind farm failures, the effect would have been localised – Adelaide and almost all the state outside the north west would have operated normally.

Of the state’s 18 windfarms,(thirteen operating at the time) 10 were not capable of shutting down in a way required of generators throughout the world – that is by not, in doing so, taking down the whole network in none-too-rare events like that on 28 September.  All of the gas stations (the South Australian subsidies to wind having already closed the coal stations) operated safely.  Those wind farms that could not operate safely are essentially derated and may potentially be taken out of the system.

The problem has been termed a “software glitch” which prevented the safe closure when sequential problems arise.  Five of the ten unreliable wind farms have now given adequate assurances that this has been rectified.  It is however more than a glitch, which is why one manufacturer, Suzlon, is resisting.  All generators suffer less damage if they can close immediately on facing a shock.  The faulty wind generators were designed to allow only three such events to take place before abruptly closing down.

The latest report brought windies’ spin merchants into full scale damage limitation.  The Climate Council is blaming AEMO for not anticipating such loss of generators (AEMO will doubtless respond that it is implicit on receiving a licence that a generator is able to operate safely).

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.

AGL, which owns four of the wind farms that proved unreliable, is also positioning itself against lawsuits arguing that the reduction of wind generation alone was not sufficient in scale to cause the system to black out and that a third of AGL’s wind generation at the time in South Australia continued to operate until the system blackout.

Only a month previously, seeking to get special payments for his firms’ coal plant, AGL CEO Andrew Vesey had said, “the rules governing the National Electricity Market need to be overhauled to deal with the unreliable nature of renewable energy sources to ensure a stable supply of power to businesses and households”.  He re-iterated such views in the aftermath of the most recent South Australian crisis.

There would be hundreds of millions of dollars in damage caused by the blackout – it’s cost Arrium’s already troubled Whyalla steelworks alone $10 million and it shut down the BHP Olympic Dam with an even greater cost.

All litigation vulnerable parties will be seeking to shift the blame.  These include the South Australian transmission business Electranet.  AEMO itself not in the clear – not only will wind farmers say it should have asked them about their ride-through capabilities, but some will say it should have been able to control the Heywood interconnector so that it could have rapidly shed power and allowed an ordered selective series of localised short term black-outs.

What emerges are the following conclusions:

  • A non-unique event can force the simultaneous closure of many wind farms
  • Once wind is a major component of the electricity supply, if those farms do not have the same fail-safe closure mechanisms as other generators, they could short-circuit the entire system
  • Application of such mechanisms increase maintenance costs and probably shorten  generators’ lives
  • Providing cover for the loss of wind generation to counteract “credible contingencies” like that experienced by South Australia entails additional back-up costs

Requiring the wind generators to have the same safety mechanisms as other generators further increases their cost disadvantage.  This, in addition to their inherent disadvantage of weather dependency, puts them at three times the cost of coal generators even in South Australia where coal resources are inferior to those in Victoria, NSW and Queensland.
Cattallaxy Files

blackout

If it’s any consolation, your Victorian
neighbours are keen to join SA’s wind power club…

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

  1. Sent: Thursday, 27 October 2016 1:25 PM
    Subject: KAPUNDA – TWIN CREEKS WIND FARM ARTICLE IN GAWLER BUNYIP NEWSPAPER
    https://www.bunyippress.com.au/winds-of-change/
    Looks like there is No end insight ….

  2. estherfonc says:

    Hi,

    I started a PETITION “SA PREMIER JAY WEATHERILL : Demand the RESIGNATION of the Energy Minister for HIGH POWER PRICES CAUSING SA’s JOBS CRISIS and 15,000 household POWER DISCONNECTIONS, frequent POWER BLACKOUTS and the JULY 2016 POWER CRISIS” and wanted to see if you could help by adding your name.

    Our goal is to reach 100 signatures and we need more support.

    You can read more and sign the petition here:

    https://www.change.org/p/sa-premier-jay-weatherill-demand-the-resignation-of-the-energy-minister-for-high-power-prices-causing-sa-s-jobs-crisis-and-also-15-000-household-power-disconnections-frequent-power-blackouts-and-the-july-2016-power-crisis?recruiter=135406845&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

    Please share this petition with anyone you think may be interested in signing it.

    Thankyou for your time.

  3. When are sufferers from low frequency noise from all causes going to be listened to by the AMA and Authorities?

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