Power Crisis Panic: Australia’s Energy Regulator Warns More Renewables Means More Blackouts

Adelaide, SA: 28.9.16 – the day the lights went out on renewables.


‘Panic’ and ‘delusion’ sum up the results of Australia’s self-inflicted renewable energy disaster.

Panic at the threat posed by the occasional and chaotic delivery of wind and solar power to the grid; a threat already realised in Australia’s wind power capital, South Australia, which suffers the highest power prices in the world and is the only state in Australia to have ever suffered a complete, statewide blackout (see above). The cause of that disaster is laid out here: ‘GUILTY’: South Australia’s Statewide Blackout Caused by Deliberate Wind Farm Shutdown

In SA there have been numerous mass blackouts and load shedding events following complete wind power output collapses: Wind Industry’s Armageddon: Wind Farm Output Collapse Leaves 110,000 South Australian Homes & Businesses Powerless and Déjà Vu (All Over Again): Yet Another Wind Power Output Collapse Plunges 200,000 South Australian Homes into the Dark Ages and South Australia Powerless (Again): Sudden 1,000MW Wind Power Output Collapse Leaves 90,000 Families Boiling in the Dark

And it’s the inevitability that blackouts and/or load shedding of that magnitude are all but guaranteed in those states hellbent on following SA’s lead, that gives rise to a state of panic amongst those charged with the responsibility of delivering power, reliably, whatever the weather.

We’ll deal with the associated state of delusion in a moment, but here’s a taste of the sense of panic that’s gripped power regulators.

Renewables a threat to power security: report
The Australian
Andrew White
20 March 2018

The rise of renewables-based power is making the national electricity grid unstable and less ­secure, driving a near trebling of outages in the past three years, a report has found.

One of Australia’s peak energy regulators said the rise in outages was “particularly concerning” at a time when coal-fired power stations continued to close and were replaced by intermittent wind and solar generation.

The Australian Energy Markets Commission said there was enough generation capacity in the power system thanks to the rise of rooftop solar panels and an overall decline in power consumption.

However, the rise of renewables highlighted the need to integrate new technologies such as pumped hydro, batteries and other fast-­response energy sources into the market.

An annual report from the commission said the number of times the market dropped outside secure limits jumped to 11 times in 2016-17, including the September 2016 statewide blackout in South Australia and later load shedding — when power was cut off to 90,000 homes to preserve the ­security of the system.

There were seven outages in 2015-16 and just one in 2012-13.

The report said that when synchronous generators such as coal left the system, the risk of blackouts increased.

“This makes the system less stable, harder for generators to stay connected and harder for the market and system operator to manage disturbances to the power system and keep the power system within its technical limits,” the ­report said.

“Weather-driven generation has to be properly secured so the system could cope when the sun stops shining and the wind stops blowing.”

Commission chief executive Anne Pearson said the changing generation mix made the system harder to control and raised the risk of long-term damage to the network if it could not be returned to a stable state within 30 minutes of an outage.

Writing in The Australian today, Ms Pearson says there is no silver bullet for the increasing ­instability, with “many, small technical measures” needed to change the way the Australian Energy Market Operator managed the power system.

“The national electricity market is now a closely interconnected system of renewable and non-­renewable energy generation sources and technologies that need to interact effectively,” she says.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to ­secure the future of renewables and new technologies in this new-look grid.”

Changes already made to the market have included requiring new generators to pay for any new equipment or services needed to maintain system strength before they can connect to the grid.

The reports on performance and frequency are the latest in a ­series of reviews and consultations aimed at overhauling the national electricity market and comes as federal and state governments prepare to thrash out a proposed national energy guarantee.

AEMO has also asked the commission to restore its authority to order new generation capacity online as much as nine months out.
The Australian

So, what on earth could be creating so much chaos in Australia’s Eastern Grid? Could it have something to do with the weather? Could somebody please give us a clue?

While the answer stares the sentient being in the face, those in charge continue to avoid the obvious culprit and, when they eventually muscle up the temerity to confront it, start flubbing and fluffing with all manner of lame excuses. Here’s a run of them.

Gearing the system to handle changing energy mix
The Australian
Anne Pearson
20 March 2018

Today the Australian Energy Market Commission’s reliability panel of industry experts and consumer advocates releases its annual review of electricity market performance.

The report will surprise many. There is in fact enough generation capacity, or MW, in the power system over the short and medium term. Australia is not running out of electricity right now. But we still have a problem. The national grid has become more unstable with more weather-driven generation in the mix. The technical characteristics of power production have changed and we have to manage the power system differently.

In 2016-17 the power system dropped outside secure technical limits on 11 occasions, including South Australia’s system-wide blackout. This is particularly concerning. The electricity rules require the system to be returned to a secure state within 30 minutes after an incident. Failure to do so risks damaging equipment and can turn short supply interruptions into much longer ones. Eleven incidents within 12 months is historically high, up from seven the year before, four in 2014-15, and two and one in the years prior.

Fundamental changes are under way as old coal-fired power stations continue to close at the end of their operational lives. The past decade has delivered big volumes of capacity from weather-driven generation like wind and solar — all part of helping the nation meet its emissions reduction targets. The challenge is to make it possible for renewables, and any new generation, to be incorporated into the power system safely.

Power system frequency is less stable for technical reasons. The details are eye-glazing but in overall terms the changing generation mix is making the system harder to control. There is less time for the operator, AEMO, to recover the grid from sudden equipment failures before frequency collapses and blackouts happen.

But this problem can be solved. There is room for optimism and things are already improving.

The commission is prioritising new rules to help AEMO change the way it manages the power system. To date we have already made several rules to help the immediate situation, and there are more to come. Fixing system security is not a headline grabber. It involves many, small technical measures. Each on their own may not sound dramatic but they are vital to securing the system for consumers.

There is no silver bullet, but we are putting in place new and targeted grid management frameworks that address these issues.

These include new “last line of defence” schemes to help the operator prepare for emergencies and frameworks to maintain system strength above minimum levels identified by AEMO. And new generators now have to pay for any extra equipment or services needed to maintain system strength, before they can connect to the grid.

Some 10 steps have already been taken to tighten power system security arrangements and put more tools in the hands of the operator under the AEMC’s system security and reliability action plan. Another four major reviews of policy are being made this year.

We also release a second report today for our frequency control review. It notes trials of new kinds of wind farm technology that can help maintain grid security — a great example of how technology is responding to the economic and security needs of the power system. The report recommends ways of better enabling distributed energy resources like batteries to provide services that would help keep the power system stable. We are seeking community views on this next package of proposals to restore frequency performance.

The national electricity market is now a closely interconnected system of renewable and non-­renewable energy generation sources and technologies that need to interact effectively. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity right now to secure the future of renewables and new technologies in this new-look grid.

For customers, it doesn’t matter whether a blackout happens because there is not enough generation or demand side capacity available when needed (reliability) or technical stability (security). For those who operate, regulate and make policy, the distinction is vital to understanding the right priorities for keeping the lights on and prices down.

Meanwhile, we continue to work on the other most pressing issue in the market today: finding the lowest cost ways to restore system security by addressing the technical complexities brought on by changing energy technology.
The Australian

We started out this post referring to the state of panic and the associated delusion that’s resulted from Australia’s renewable energy calamity. Anne Pearson does her best to keep a lid on the panic, but it’s pretty clear she’s been overcome by an all-pervading sense of delusion (although she uses the term ‘optimism’, instead). It’s this kind of varnish that gives it away:

Power system frequency is less stable for technical reasons. The details are eye-glazing but in overall terms the changing generation mix is making the system harder to control. There is less time for the operator, AEMO, to recover the grid from sudden equipment failures before frequency collapses and blackouts happen.

There’s nothing ‘technical’ about the wind: it’s a natural phenomena, the vagaries of which are well-known to sailors and kite flyers, alike.

For Anne’s benefit, and concerned that her eyes might glaze over at the tricky detail, we’ve added some graphics care of Aneroid Energy, depicting nature’s forces at work across the entire Eastern Grid over the last couple of months (see above and below).

Connected to that Grid are turbines with a combined notional capacity of 4,675 MW, spread across four states: Tasmania, South Australia, Victoria and NSW (see above) and covering a geographical expanse of 632,755 km². That’s an area which is 2.75 times the combined area of England (130,395 km²) Scotland (78,387 km²) and Wales (20,761 km²) of 229,543 km².

Although she’s off with the fairies when she talks about “sudden equipment failures” (unless, of course, the “sudden equipment failures” she’s referring to are 1,000s of wind turbines failing to deliver when the wind stops blowing?) Pearson’s on the money when she talks about frequency collapses causing blackouts.

Electricity grids are complex beasts, best not left to people who think the details are ‘eye-glazing’. For those with more robust attention spans, we set out the technical stuff here: Why Weather Dependent, Intermittent & Unreliable Wind Power is as ‘Useful as a Chocolate Teapot’

But it’s not just the 1,000-2,000 MW sudden, precipitous and unpredictable collapses in wind power output that are destroying the Eastern Grid’s, hitherto, guilt-edged reliability, it’s the equally sudden and unpredictable surges of wind power output of the same magnitude being thrown into the Grid, whenever mere breezes turn to serious bluster.

The real giveaways about where her true loyalties lie, are when Pearson starts mumbling about “new wind farm technology” (she declines to define it, but perhaps it’s a new form of prayer to the wind gods?) and mega-batteries, saving the day.

So far, the only sizeable battery in the country cuts a lonely figure in a paddock near Jamestown in SA’s mid North; it doesn’t generate power; it stores a piddling 100 MW worth; it consumes power during each charge/discharge cycle, lost as heat energy; it cost taxpayers $150 million; and would satisfy SA’s minimum power demand for all of four minutes. On those hard numbers, anyone talking about batteries providing an economic solution to Australia’s energy crisis, is either delusional or hoping to sell them, to people like Pearson.

Then there’s her line about coal-fired power stations continuing to close, which suggests Pearson really hasn’t been paying attention.  AGL, the outfit that keeps telling us that they’re “getting out of coal”, is about to spend $200 million upgrading one of its coal-fired power plants in NSW, and has no intention of selling any of its other coal-fired assets, anytime soon.

With the National Energy Guarantee likely to become policy soon, retailers will be lining up to contract to purchase, in advance, every last MW of coal-fired power to avoid the whopping fines the NEG will impose, if they fail to deliver enough power to satisfy the customers’ needs on any given day.

Under the NEG, coal-fired power still has a long way to run in Australia.

Nowhere in her ‘analysis’ does Pearson mention the cost and time-scale of her purportedly ‘inevitable’ transition to an all wind and solar powered future. (Anne: if the tech savvy Germans can’t make it work, how do you think the dimwits Downunder ever will?)

What’s really going on, and what the likes of Pearson will never admit, is that the grid’s regulators have been quietly directing coal-fired power plants to maintain extra spinning reserve to accommodate the routine wind power collapses laid out in the pictures above and below. That kind of market intervention comes with a massive hidden cost; costs borne by all Australian power consumers.

The myth pumped up by the likes of Pearson is that, by some tweak of technology, the chaos delivered by Mother Nature can be integrated into a complex system, designed from the outset to deliver electricity as and when consumers need and want it. Well, here’s the news: Mother Nature has other ideas:

6 thoughts on “Power Crisis Panic: Australia’s Energy Regulator Warns More Renewables Means More Blackouts

  1. James Taranto of the Wall street Journal some years ago concluded: “[T]he First Rule of Liberalism: Government failure always justifies more government.”

    Meanwhile the heroes of our day are the engineers at the coal-fired power plants.

  2. Well done STT. Another great post. I have been studying aneroid.com over the last few windy days and it seems that SA’s 1820 MW of wind capacity is only allowed put around 1200 MW into the Grid at any given time.

    I do recall a few months ago the AEMO put a maximum of 1200 MW of wind power from SA. If this is correct why the hell are the ReeNooable RentSeekers hell bent on spearing more Useless Noisy Oil Leaking Windturbines into Rural SA.

    According to yesterday’s Adelaide Advertiser the Rent Seekers are lining up to Con the New Liberal Goverment into allowing the continued destruction of our once not so long ago Affordable Reliable Electricity Grid. More BS about Windfarms and the completely Useless Solar Thermal plant proposed for Port Augusta. I don’t Know yet weather new Energy Minister Dan Vanholst Pellekan is a Green in Liberal clothing or just plain Stupid. Hopefully not, but time will tell.

    1. Likely the second option. I was so looking forward to a returning Labor state government. The world needs an example; a carcass; a renewable roadkill, as a warning to others about the pitfalls of renewables. Germany is rethinking its strategy before it got critical. South Australia will continue its fascination and diddling with renewables…just in a more restrained manner. The economic implosion is coming. It’ll just take a little while longer while the Liberals fumble for a policy.

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