‘System Black’: South Australia’s Wind Power Experiment a Costly, Abject Failure


Living with another ‘system black’: Adelaide 28.9.16


No other two word combination strikes more fear into the hearts of the wind industry and its political backers than ‘South Australia’.

Rocketing power prices, routine load shedding and mass blackouts are the inevitable results of South Australia’s wind power experiment.

Tom Quirk trained as a nuclear physicist at the University of Melbourne. He has been a Fellow of three Oxford Colleges. In this article, Tom sets out the hypothesis, methods and conclusions of that experiment, the abstract of which simply reads ‘FAIL’.

Behold SA and Be Scared, Very Scared
Quadrant Online
Tom Quirk
11 February 2017

The latest Australian Energy Market Operator report on the state’s electricity market illustrates much more than the inevitable problems associated with integrating intermittent renewables, it also highlights the assault on logic that is part and parcel of the great green dream

The Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme is a splendid example of a policy cancer that, if not checked, will continue to inflict substantial economic damage. The green vision of the perfect, Gaia-friendly electricity-distribution system was introduced during the Howard government with the modest target of a mere 2% contribution from renewables. Since then the target has grown tenfold at the federal level while the states have gone much further, with the talk now of seeing renewables contribute as much as 50% by 2030.

The consequences have been dire: the wholesale electricity market has been distorted by the emphasis on and subsidies for roof-top solar and wind, impairing the financial basis for operating traditional and reliable sources of baseload power.

What follows is an examination of the lack of logic informing the RET scheme and uses South Australia as the textbook example of what not to do when mixing renewable energy into electricity-supply systems.

The logic of RET subsidies

Generators of renewable energy, mainly wind farms and solar, are being paid a subsidy of $85 per megawatt hour (MWh) for wind and $40 per MWh for solar, as well as state subsidies in the order of $20 per MWh.

These sources displace that generated by conventional power plants — the indirect equivalent of a carbon tax. If one MWh of electricity from black coal is displaced, that stops the emission of one tonne of CO2, meaning the carbon tax is $85 per tonne of CO2. For brown-coal electricity, with 1.5 tonnes of CO2 per MWh, the equivalent tax is $57. When we consider gas-powered turbines, things get seriously weird, with equivalent taxes of $170 to $213 even though gas is a lower emitter than black coal generation! The tax equivalents for these energy sources are shown in Table 1 for wind and solar PV.


The intention of having renewable sources in the electricity supply system was to drive out the highest emitters of CO2, but the cost structure of the wholesale electricity market is such that, while coal-burning power stations are the lowest-cost generators they have become more vulnerable and more likely to be being stood down.

So the wholesale market is distorted by energy from roof-top solar that simply varies the demand to be met by the wholesale market. Meanwhile, wind farm energy goes into the market to take the going price and, in addition, the RET subsidy.

This is the case for either non-dispatchable or semi-dispatchable wind power, as a suitable bid prices ensure the bid will be accepted. Finally, the RET scheme has a price structure that promotes the very opposite of the intention to drive the highest CO2 emitters from the market. Were that not the case, gas-powered generators would not be penalised more than those using both black coal and brown.

The example of South Australia

The latest Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) report on the performance of the electricity market in South Australia illustrates the major and inevitable problems associated with integrating intermittent energy generation into a state supply system.

South Australia has the highest installed renewable energy supply in Australia. This can be seen in Table 2, which shows where wind supplies 30% of demand and roof-top solar 6.5%.

The subsidies are paid to wind farms and solar suppliers, but these costs are passed on to all consumers. The average subsidy for the year was $72 per MWh for wind and $40 for solar PV. Spread over all consumers, this becomes $21.5 per MWh from wind and $2.6 per MWh from solar PV. This is the equivalent of a $24 carbon tax on CO2.


There are three problems that can be seen developing in South Australia, as shown in Table 2:

  • The coal-fired baseload power stations have low utilisation, with a capacity factor of 39%. The high capital cost of a coal-fired power station should have a capacity factor of about 80% so that it can supply low cost baseload power. But this is not the case in South Australia, where the intermittency of wind power has all but eliminated steady baseload power.
  • A consequence of the intermittent wind power has been the reliance on interconnectors to draw power from Victoria. This is also intermittent demand and can be as much as the interconnectors are capable of delivering. This stresses the Victorian power supply system.
  • Worse still is that, on those occasions when there is plentiful wind power in South Australia, the surplus is exported to Victoria where it adds supply variations to a system with the much larger demand of some 6000 MW, with some 300 MW from wind farms. These events tend to occur in the early morning, between midnight and sunrise, and can be as much as 200 MW, which is a substantial disruption of the best time for baseload generation.


Intermittent wind power in South Australia is correlated with wind power variations in Victoria. So if the government of Victoria has a renewable energy target similar to South Australia then that may — almost certainly will — lead to the destruction of baseload operations in Victoria.

The conclusion from this analysis is that renewable energy policies have not been well thought out and, if continued without some thoughtful modifications, may have severe economic consequences.

Capping the RET scheme now might dissuade green-minded state governments from encouraging and adding wind farms to meet their 50% renewables aspirations. That would be the logical response, hence an unlikely one from a political class in the thrall of “sustainable” visions.

As the great American journalist H. L. Mencken put it, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.” No one was talking about global warming when Mencken was in his prime but, were he casting his sceptic’s eye over the growing mess that is Australia’s power network, he would recognise such a condition and its consequences in an instant.
Quadrant Online

Crazy scientist. Young boy performing experiments

Where Tom Quirk left off, Alan Moran picks it up and runs with it.

Loon in, Turn on…Blackout
Quadrant Online
Alan Moran
11 February 2017

The first tragedy is that Australians, who not so long ago rejoiced in cheap and reliable electricity, now pay some of the world’s highest prices. The second tragedy is that the same green fantasists, ideologues and rent-seekers are bent on making things far, far worse.

South Australia, for the fourth time this year, offers a wake-up call to our perpetually dozing politicians and the energy experts they have hired. Ironically, the latest power crash came just two days after the chairman of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the network control authority, announced that the wind problem was fixed and we’d not again experience a breakdown like the one in October of last year.

At least they got the message in Western Australia, where the ALP is running like mad from its previous proud pledge to ape South Australia and get 50% renewable energy.

And the perpetrators of the demise? Oh, how they fulminate and search for new magic wands! In response to the crisis, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, advised by Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, said there was an “urgent need for more storage of energy” and , further, that the government was “certainly looking at pumped hydro”.

Pumped storage may have a place in energy systems but it involves buying energy to pump water uphill then releasing that water to provide power at a time when it is more valuable. It detracts from, rather than adds to, the amount available. And he is looking at battery storage which if a breakthrough arrives will not be made in Australia.

Finkel, an electrical engineer with no background in electricity markets, was commissioned to report on the future security of the electricity market. His preliminary report is so ill-grounded on facts and so peppered with fanciful assumptions that a government taking the advice would further grind the economy into the ground.

Nobody can seriously doubt that the malaise confronting electricity is a result of regulatory and tax-forced injections of wind and solar into the market. Not only, as events are proving, is this power source utterly unreliable but it costs three times as much as the coal that its subsidised provision displaces.

Nobody would buy wind and solar electricity unless they are compelled or bribed to do so. Yet the Finkel preliminary report says the market is being driven not by this but by consumer demand and technology. The credibility of the report is zero except to rusted-on ideologues, and the Prime Minister remains unfortunately among these.

Finkel also talks about the need for strong governance, by which he means more of the government oversight and regulatory controls that have converted an electricity market that just a decade and a half ago provided the cheapest, most competitive energy on the planet. Today that market plumbs the outer reaches of global prices. And in a series of community forums being held around the country the Finkel team is allowing the ventilation of additional claims for a more distorted market that commandeers production facilities, provides more subsidies to green power and to the less well off.

The Finkel “expert panel” even repeats the canard that Australia is a pariah because we over-emit greenhouse gases. They are unaware that this is only because, unlike other OECD countries, we export goods that embody carbon emissions – goods like farm produce and (the fast disappearing) aluminium; in terms of consumption of products in which carbon dioxide is embodied we are the same as the rest of the world.

But the Finkel panel is not alone.

Energy Networks Australia has fabricated a plan in an assumption-ridden set forecasts conducted by CSIRO “economists” which it is alleged will bring $414 a year saving in household electricity bills by 2050, while achieving net zero carbon emissions from the electricity sector. And we still have the recently retired head of taxpayer-funded Clean Energy Finance Corporation, Oliver Yates, calling for more papering over of a decaying electricity system’s cracks by the building of more transmission – as though this can be done for free and is not simply shifting power to the already strained areas from regions that, like Victoria after the looming Hazelwood closure, will become strained. Needless to say, all those experts hired by the government eagerly sought the closure of what they called the dirtiest power station, an action from which the next series of crises will emerge.

There is only one solution. We must unwind the subsidies and regulatory interventions that have created the problems. Governments spend or impose regulatory costs like the renewable subsidies that amount to about $5 billion a year. These are poisoning the economy as well as costing each household $500 per year.

We need politicians to announce that all subsidies to energy will be removed immediately and that there will no longer be any favouring of particular power sources. Only then will we see the supply system convalescing and recovering so that it once again provides the cheapest electricity in the world and all that entails for living standards.
Quadrant Online


South Australians get ready for another ‘system black’.

About stopthesethings

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


  1. 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 200 signatures and we need more support.

    You can read more and sign the petition here:


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

    Thankyou for your time.

  2. Jackie Rovensky says:

    Years ago I was told about a presentation of the academic kind, where the orator spoke of ‘research’ undertaken and findings. At the end of it they received resounding applause for their presentation and work.
    However, it was all a ‘scam’ what the orator had actually presented was a load of ‘old bollocks’ that did not make sense. This was an exercise and highlighted how these educated people could listen to anything and because it was presented in an academic environment and terminology with conviction it had to be good.
    What we are being presented with time and time again is just that, something that says nothing, that is waffle and we are expected to fall over ourselves with joy and admiration of their ‘findings’.
    Well lets see just a couple of ‘waffle’s’ to show what I mean:
    1. “set forecasts conducted by CSIRO “economists” which it is alleged will bring $414 a year saving in household electricity bills by 2050”, which has been well pointed out in the above as being ‘assumption-ridden’.
    2050 is 33 years away, if you divide $414.00 by 33 you get $12.50 per year savings.
    Really, will a savings of around $12.50 each year to 2050 be considered a savings, what will the price of energy be then if nothing is done to stem the increases we are facing now. Some people will be seeing that much increase before the end of next year if things aren’t properly and effectively controlled now.
    2. “Yet the Finkel preliminary report says the market is being driven not by this but by consumer demand and technology”. Where does he get this information from can he show evidence this is the case across each State and the Nation? What technology is he talking about do the people know enough about that technology to give an educated response, was the information provided by those developing or using the technology. Broad claims like this are not academically/rationally viable as there is no evidence provided to show sufficient numbers of people have been canvassed and the right questions asked.
    Any talk about building more transmission connection between States is a prime example of speaking without meaning or rational. We have a problem already with the grid, trying to keep it ‘safe’ from frying itself. How could anyone with any sense assume that building more at enormous cost could solve the problem, as it will include even more variable wind and solar being randomly pushed through it. Such twaddle talk gets us nowhere and needs to be curbed so rational acceptable and affordable solutions can come to the for.
    What is needed is for these intellectual twits to shut up and let the real scientists and workers get to grips with the problem without all the musings taking up air space.
    STT you are continuing to do a fantastic job providing people the facts and rational dissemination of the balderdash constantly thrust upon us.

  3. Divergent says:

    The reports and reviews seem to ignore irradiance pasterns that are easily obtained from the bureau of meteorology. These show that solar PV is a dead duck in winter. So, your battery needs to be twice as big and you have to have twice as many panels.

  4. Well our local member mummys Dan Tehan was asked a cyber security question he then spluttered on about intermittent power supplies. What a fraud he and his good mate Hamish Officer our so called neighbor are. Tehan’s down at Portland talking wind up then in Canberra he runs it down. Have some integrity or is that how Hawthorn’s finest operates.

  5. It must make the politicians happy to have a 1st rate nation descend in to 3rd world status.
    I was wondering what that does to food in a refrigerator? Is this where I buy my own 11kw Generator?

  6. Crispin Trist says:

    EDF Hinkley Point C UK Nuclear Power Station progress report and site link below. Makes for some interesting reading when compared to a wind project.

    EDF Hinkley Point C…


    Assessment reports…


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