Renewables Reality Bites: Wind & Solar Power Chaos Threatens Complete Grid Collapse

The Australian summer is a few weeks away and with it comes the threat of mass blackouts, caused by the chaotic delivery of wind and solar.

As temperatures soar, so does the demand for electricity, as businesses and households crank up their air conditioners to make life more tolerable indoors.

When demand spikes in Australia these days, grid managers are more concerned about whether or not the wind is blowing or the sun is up.

As the sun sets on a breathless 42°C summer’s day, demand hits the roof and wind and solar output hits the floor.

The last two summers saw numerous near misses in NSW, Victoria and SA. The wholesale collapse of the Eastern Grid was avoided more by luck than good management.

Under the euphemistic ‘demand management’, dozens of energy hungry businesses were simply cut from the grid; even hospitals were forced to power-down in Victoria: Australia Closes Coal-Fired Power Plants: Hospitals Forced to Cut Power Use & Power Prices Rocket

This summer the threat of a full-scale system black is even greater.

As we reported in last night’s post, talk about the ‘inevitable transition’ to an all wind and sun powered future has given way to the sober reality that the chaos that pair brings to the grid is a recipe for widespread disaster.

The threat hasn’t been lost on Australia’s power generators.

Renewables threaten volatile power supply, says AGL, Origin bosses
The Australian
Perry Williams and Matt Chambers
10 October 2018

Power giants AGL Energy and Origin Energy have raised concerns over a surge of wind and solar generation creating a new wave of volatility in Australia’s electricity grid due to a lack of firm capacity to back it up.

“I think there is increasing risk within the national electricity market because the lack of a good mechanism means the firming generation that’s needed is not being built as quickly as the renewable generation is being built,” AGL’s interim chief executive Brett Redman told The Australian.

“That does start to drive towards a lot of volatility in the market and volatility is the enemy of existing baseload generation.”

While the power operator is confident of how the energy landscape will look in a decade, it warned of potential “choppy” markets in the interim.

“The next 10 years will be dictated by the quality of planning and quality of policy that goes with it and there is increasing risk that we’re going to see choppiness over the next 10 years,” said Mr Redman.

“And choppiness or turbulence is a different way of saying higher cost.”

Origin chief Frank Calabria said $10 billion of large scale solar had been approved as of the end of last year, noting that a new solar firm can be permitted in three months and built in 18 months, compared to about a seven-year period for coal plants.

But the Origin boss said this was a problem because it had not been coupled with a policy that recognised the intermittency of renewables, as recent problems in South Australia had illustrated.

“We still don’t have a policy that promotes either existing firm generation staying in the market or new investment in firm generation,” he said.

“Firm” generation produces energy that is guaranteed to be available.

Mr Calabria warned that a wave of renewable energy that had led to the exits of the Hazelwood and Northern power stations was still putting pressure on coal plants.

“Lower-cost renewables tend to push the higher-cost sources of dispatchable power – coal and gas – out of the market early,” Mr Calabria said.

“Today, we see several markets where the prices are hollowing out, sometimes to zero, in the middle of the day …this is exactly what we say as a lead-up to (the closure) of ageing plant like Hazelwood and Northern.”

He said renewables were putting a lot more power into the system than expected under the renewable energy target.

“Only several years ago we thought that target might not be met,” Mr Calabria said.

“It’s now going to be met with such a force that it will have at least the equivalent of Hazelwood, 1600MW, (extra) by 2020.”

Queensland Resources Council boss Ian Macfarlane said today there is no firming capacity for a renewable market currently.

“Until the politicians realise that to get to those targets they need a firm firming capacity – and they are nowhere near that at the moment – the market will be in chaos and that’s where it’s at.”
The Australian

… and the problem would be?

10 thoughts on “Renewables Reality Bites: Wind & Solar Power Chaos Threatens Complete Grid Collapse

  1. AGL is going around in circles fast enough to generate some energy I would think by the comments they have been making. Yes they want firming but NO they don’t want to keep Liddell open, or let someone else take it over and keep it going.
    How much longer is our Federal Government going to let them talk with ‘forked’ or is it twisted tongues.
    Pull the plug on their control of Liddell so we can have this firming energy source while others are installed.
    The danger faced can be clearly seen when you look at how much NSW relies on its coal plants AND the rest of the Grid, as most days they are generating (from all sources) far less than the States demand. They are backed up by the other States and in particular Queensland’s coal which continually generates more than they need, so are able to top up other States when need. (just think SA is considering created another interconnector to NSW so we can share our abundant wind and solar with them and they can send us their excess coal energy – what a costly mistake that’s going to be).
    But can this situation go on forever, I doubt it when the demand starts to rise across the other States as summer arrives will they be able to generate enough for everyone when the wind stops blowing and the sun stops shining across the Eastern Grid – something that would create a nightmare for this Grid and its dependents.
    The idea of the Grid was to ensure everyone had energy when they needed it but as we now know it is on the verge of failing, just because those who should have known better were more interested in visiting a ‘Daydreamers World’ than living in the here and now – the real world.
    How could so many so called educated people fall for this high pressure sales pitch, how could they not see the dangers or even lend an ear to those who were warning them of the dangers?
    At every stage they shut themselves off from reality and what a mess they have left behind NOT ONE OF THEM will be remembered in a good way – they have left too much of a mess behind them.
    We now need people to come forth and accept the reality of our situation and be ready to do something about it. Without any desire to keep any past policies which led us down this path.
    We want leaders who lead for our sake and not their own. We want to see progress not tomorrow but today, we want to see costly renewable projects not yet installed cancelled and for our leaders to move confidently to bring this Nation back from the brink, letting it shine day and night to show the world we are again open for business and able to meet their needs as well as our own. Able to conduct business and meet orders affordably and on time.
    We have coal and we have the requirements for nuclear at our disposal lets start to using.
    They say it will take years to build such plants – well it won’t take any less time the longer its left before we start, and there are plenty of the type of plants we need already designed and operating they just need the plans to be purchased and the building to commence.

  2. Reading between the lines, Australian policy makers and electricity providers: AGL and Origin, are getting closer to their “Come to Jesus” moment. They’re tiptoeing around the elephant in the room: renewables are grid disrupters and not grid augmenters. Which is going to hit first: major east coast grid collapse or outright political and business rejection of unreliables? They’re trying to play the PR card and minimize the inevitable allocation of blame if (or when) the grid collapse eventuates. My suggestion is that they start looking for Fall Guys to take the blame. They shouldn’t be hard to find.

  3. I hope that this experiment proves that we should be building Nuclear Power Plants instead of the Unreliables.
    Why would anyone with any common sense think it is going to be economical to build three times as many Wind-turbines AND three times as many Solar panels as their name plate purports along with thousands of acres of batteries (good for just a few hours) rather than Nuclear Power Plants, at half the total cost which will actually LOWER the amount of CO2 emissions from power generation and could replace gasoline in automobiles through the use of battery operated vehicles, including trucking, lowering CO2 even MORE.

    1. I am curious if a Nuke could receive the those lovely ‘carbon free renewable energy’ certificates at $80 per MW/h.

      With no carbon emissions and providing reliable power 24×7, a 3GW reactor like Hinkley C being built in the UK could pull in about $2.1 billion a year (24hr x 365days x 3000MW x $80) in subsidies before even selling the electricity.

      Of course such an abundance of reliable power would drive the REC value into the ground and force solar and wind carpetbaggers to bail out and look for another sucker.

  4. When “bigshot” decision makers get that queasy feeling that they are on the wrong tack, their instinctive reaction is not to change tacks, but to double their bet, if only to make themselves believe that they were right all along. That, to believe Barbara Tuchman in ” The Guns of August “, her analysis of the start of the first world war, is how the human psyche turns mistakes into catastrophes. No amount of pumped storage will turn green energy into gold.

  5. Politicians have to acknowledge the fact that renewables cannot be relied upon to produce electricity when we want to use it.
    Once they acknowledge that, they then have to concede that we also have to have so-called ‘firming’. Firming is real electricity generation, generation that can be relied upon 24/7.

    Once the above 2 points are conceded, they then have to answer this question…. why do we need renewables if we also have to have ‘firming’? If we have ‘firming’ we don’t need renewables so we are effectively paying for 2 electricity generation methods.

    Politicians are dumb, dumb, dumb!

    1. Politicians are not dumb enough to be that stupid.
      They are under the control of the purse string holder the City of London Corporation: Read about it and weep. What else was the ALP/NLP economic consensus of the 1980s about?

      The Australia Acts 1986 made the Commonwealth a sovereign nation state over nothing – as citizens, we have the right to do as we are

  6. What is the point of society and technology if we can’t live in affordable comfort?

    As to what Angus Taylor is saying, I’ll wait a few years to see what eventuates, that’s if the housing bubble doesn’t bust first.

    Don’t forget, if there are deaths from heat stress, then the ‘known or should have known’ internationally recognised legal standard should apply with the appropriate penalty on those responsible; being politically recognised MPs.
    And it’s not as if the warnings are not coming from energy providers.

    Where goest thou? Back to horse & cart or reliable nuclear?

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