Terminal Diagnosis: Wind & Solar Chaos Places Australia’s Power Grid On Life Support

Australia’s self-inflicted wind and solar calamity has just got serious; very serious.

Managing electricity grids is a finely balanced affair, requiring the ability to control what goes in and what goes out on a second-by-second basis.

The generation and distribution of electricity was relatively simple when synchronous, dispatchable conventional generation sources (in Australia, coal, gas and hydro) were the only game in town. Now, however, the erratic and chaotic and occasional delivery of large volumes of intermittent wind and solar has put paid to old certainties, and left grid managers struggling to prevent a complete grid collapse.

In this post STT takes a look at a brewing disaster waiting to happen. Precisely what this site has been predicting for the best part of seven years.

The first article comes from the Australian Financial Review, which has been a very solid platform for wind and solar industry propaganda over the last decade, or so.

Predictably, the AFR sides with whiny renewable energy rent seekers, who are now apoplectic about the restraints being placed on wind and solar, in order to prevent a complete and total ‘system black’ of the kind that made Australia’s renewable energy capital, South Australia the butt of international jokes.

The second article from Jo Nova provides a clear, critical and timely analysis of the consequences of Australia’s suicidal attempt to rely on the chaotic delivery of wind and solar.

Troubles escalate for renewables ventures
The Australian Financial Review
Angela Macdonald-Smith
6 February 2020

Production stoppages at wind farms with a collective capacity of more than 900 megawatts have added to problems plaguing renewable energy ventures in the National Electricity Market, due to grid bottlenecks and instability.

The latest interruptions, caused by a transmission line outage in western Victoria, affect the state’s giant Macarthur wind farm – owned by AMP Capital and Morrison and operated by AGL Energy – and Pacific Hydro’s Portland wind farm. Also temporarily out of action are Engie’s Canunda venture in South Australia and Infigen Energy’s Lake Bonney wind farm nearby.

They are expected to be required for about two weeks as Victoria’s transmission grid owner, AusNet Services, puts in place a temporary link around the six damaged transmission towers, which would allow the Heywood interconnector between Victoria and South Australia to resume operation.

A spokesman for Pacific Hydro said the company was “disappointed” with the situation.

“It serves as a reminder that a strong and secure power system is really critical to driving Australia’s transition to renewable energy,” he said.

Engie said it supported the Australian Energy Market Operator’s approach to maintaining a stable energy network, noting its other generators in South Australia, gas power plants at Pelican Point and Synergen, are available to supply if required.

The curtailments come as five other solar ventures in north-west Victoria and south-west NSW are entering their fifth month of output restrictions, after AEMO had to step in to keep the power system secure.

The market operator has been working with the solar power generators, equipment suppliers and network service providers Powercor and TransGrid to develop a technical solution that would allow the plants to resume full output. But in the meantime, other project developers in the renewables-rich area are queuing up to also connect into the grid.

AGL confirmed its 52MW Broken Hill solar farm was operating at half-capacity. Others affected include Wirsol’s Gannawarra plants, BayWa r.e.’s Karadoc venture and Foresight Solar’s Bannerton project.

Rob Grant, at the Clean Energy Investor Group, which represents investors including Macquarie and BlackRock, said it was “pretty unfortunate” AEMO had to restrict generation at a time when demand is high and supply is needed.

He said investors were frustrated, given all the five projects had individually secured regulatory approvals and operating licences, only to find that further technical issues had to be resolved once AEMO considered the combined impact of all the projects on the grid.

“It all goes to [the need for] better system planning and more investment in transmission backbones, but it impacts the projects and the consumers,” he said.

“We’re just hoping the fix will be as quick as possible.”

An AEMO spokesman said the scale and pace of solar and wind generation connected in electrically remote areas of the National Energy Market was presenting “unprecedented” technical issues that were affecting grid performance and operational stability.

He said the process to assess the technical changes required was inevitably slow, causing frustration as the energy sector transitioned towards greater reliance on renewables.

The spokesman noted the West Murray area continues to attract major investment despite the weakness of the grid there, with about 1200 megawatts of committed wind and solar in the pre-start-up phase, and about another 3000 megawatts still seeking approvals.

“Thermal and stability limits mean it will not be possible for many of these projects to connect or generate at full output ahead of significant investment in network infrastructure,” it said, pointing to work to advance the South Australia-NSW interconnector and the Keranglink project between Victoria and NSW, now renamed VNI West.
The Australian Financial Review

Australian grid has major near miss: SA Islanded for two weeks
Jo Nova Blog
Jo Nova
12 February 2020

Here in Renewables-World downunder, most people don’t know the grid has barely scraped through the last two weeks. We almost lost an Aluminium smelter, came close to a statewide blackout  and South Australia is (possibly) still islanded from the rest of the National Grid.

The AEMO held a crisis meeting yesterday but this trouble started Friday week ago in what was described as a “white knuckle event” by energy analyst, Paul McArdle at WattClarity. A storm knocked down six large transmission towers on the high voltage interconnector line in Western Victoria which left South Australia suddenly islanded. This time SA had 1,000MW more energy than it could use, so frequency in SA suddenly rose to a near disastrous 50.96Hz and briefly perhaps even higher. (Wait for the official reports). The system teetered but managed to stay running. Prices rocketed up to the usual spike to $14,500/MWh in both Victoria and South Australia.

It would have been nerve-wracking in the control rooms. The Portland Aluminium Smelter in Victoria, which is the largest single user of electricity in Victoria, had a near death experience. Both pot lines shut down immediately. It appears emergency workers only managed to get 50% of the power back up 3 hours and ten minutes later.  The future of the plant hung in the balance — after a few hours without power pot lines can freeze permanently solid. It’s referred to as a “near fatal event”. If those 1,000°C pot lines cool to 700°C the molten aluminium sets solid and that’s the end of the plant.

The smelter is on the SA side of the broken transmission line, so it’s now a part of the extended South Australian network. Though it is largely powered by Mortlake Gas generator — which is also in Victoria, but on the western side of the break.

SA is effectively still islanded without the main interconnector. The only line in or out is the small 300MW direct current”MurrayLink” line, which has been constrained to zero (meaning, left unused, ready for an emergency.)

UPDATE: Remember a DC or direct current line is not able to help with frequency much — it can’t do “FCAS” except in an indirect way to help match generation and load a bit better. Obviously DC power doesn’t run at 50Hz or any Hz or it would be AC.

It presents itself with a situation almost unique in the world – a state grid that is normally powered more than 50 per cent by renewables operating without any major links to another grid. — Giles Parkinson, Reneweconomy

The AEMO has scrambled to keep the system running. Because it has no control over rooftop solar power, the agency is instead comandeering the three batteries, and telling 23 different wind, solar and gas generators  that they will be constrained to zero output if South Australia’s minimum demand falls below 800MW.

In this situation, it is causing a headache for the grid operator, and it underlines why AEMO has been pushing for new measures and mechanisms that allows it to have some sort of control over the output of rooftop solar, now totalling more than 10GW in Australia on more than 2.2 million rooftops.

LATE NOTE: Rooftop solar doesn’t help with FCAS either. Another reason the AEMO would be concerned about it dominating the lunchtime slot.

Markets go haywire
Prices in SA have been zero or slightly negative in SA — there are just too many generators there. But what there isn’t is much stability — there are few big turbines. So the gas generators have been reaping in the maximum FCAS (Frequency Control Ancilliary Service) fees.

The share of renewables in the state’s grid has averaged 50 per cent since it became an energy “island”, with rooftop solar providing much of daytime demand, and wind energy playing its role at night time. Prices have been volatile, it’s been negative more than positive.

That has created more problems, however. AEMO has had to intervene to prevent an “excess of negative pricing residues” flowing between South Australia and Victoria, and causing price settlement issues in both states. It has also had to impose a price limit on the frequency and ancillary services market, after the various FCAS markets pushed the price to the market cap for several days running.

This is the result of the few gas generators capable of delivering FCAS in South Australia having no competition from interstate, due to the failed Heywood interconnector, and the lack of competition from local batteries otherwise seconded by AEMO.

— Giles Parkinson, Reneweconomy

Commenters at Reneweconomy are cheering at the thought of lots of renewables and cheap electricity. But they don’t seem to realize that investors might not be as enthusiastic.

Bidding games?
For the next day or so the national system balanced on the brink. Paul McArdle described his bafflement at some of the sudden volatility.  Far away in NSW an LOR 2 situation (that’s a Lack of Reserve) suddenly appeared on Saturday at 5pm without warning, out of nowhere. The margins were extremely tight. The whole state of NSW had a bare 350MW of extra capacity ready to go in a system that was generating 12,000 MW. Apparently in toto with imports NSW was using 13,717MW at 16:55. This is close to an all time high.

McArdle goes on to point out that the sudden loss of capacity was coincident with some very tricky bidding by Colongra Gas Turbines (Snowy Hydro) which suddenly withdrew capacity and then offered it back 28 minutes later after the LOR2 was called. They essentially invited the AEMO to direct them on, he says. Too tricky by half. Were they gaming the system to ensure compensation?

McArdle says he “can imagine that others would use a few different adjectives in relating their own perceptions of this sort of process, and participant behaviour.”

There could be some unintended consequences in fake markets where customers don’t get to choose the cheapest energy unless the wind isn’t blowing.
Jo Nova Blog

About stopthesethings

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


  1. This is some fantastic stuff right here, keep up the brilliant work.

  2. Reblogged this on ajmarciniak.

  3. The whole system seems to be working to Australia’s usual standard of kaos. Give a few more months and a lot more wind and solar the whole system should resemble an out of control Nuclear Reactor. Now who would have ever seen this coming with Audrey at the helm of the Titanic. Love you Australia no need to pay to go and see a comedian for a laugh these days.

  4. Where are the people on the inside who could collectively blow the whistle on this situation?

  5. unasveritas says:

    Can you get your posts on ‘LinkedIn ‘? Thank you

    Sent from my BlackBerry – the most secure mobile device

  6. Reblogged this on uwerolandgross.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: