Remember the ‘South Australian’ power failures? The ones that Prime Minister Turnbull and Energy Minister Frydenburg still claim was due to the over-reliance on renewable energy? The first happened in September 2016. At the time, the ABC published an account and timeline on how and why it happened
. The failure was due to various parts of the system shorting out to protect itself during a severe storm combined with an inter-connector that distributes power across the grid that was out of service for maintenance.
In an article that slammed the SA Government by claiming
The fragility of South Australia's electricity supply with the rise of renewables is an open secret
the ABC’s then Political Editor, Chris Uhlmann, admitted
It is important to note that the Australian Energy Market Operator [AEMO] says the damage to the system was so catastrophic that it would have shut down no matter what the energy mix was in South Australia yesterday.
“Initial investigations have identified the root cause of the event is likely to be the multiple loss of 275 kilovolt (kV) power lines during severe storm activity in the state," it said in a statement.
In the inevitable investigation that followed, it was ‘discovered’ that the pseudo (because Western Australia & the Northern Territory are not connected) National Grid systems did actually do as was intended. The system noted that part of the system had gone ‘out of synch’ and dropped below the 50-hertz frequency required to keep electricity flowing across the network. The system then dropped off the malfunctioning area to protect the majority of the system. SA’s internal power generation system couldn’t take up the slack on a moment’s notice due to damage from the severe storm so the system fell over.
On 8 February 2017, SA again had power problems when there was insufficient power available to meet the demand. On this occasion, according to the SA Government, the problem was due to AEMO not requesting a power generator in SA to commence operation. We looked at this early in March 2017 on The Political Sword
while we were discussing Turnbull’s apparent about face from environmental crusader while Opposition Leader to climate change denier as Prime Minister.
After the widespread blackout event in March 2017, SA Premier Jay Wetherill announced a raft of policy and infrastructure investment designed to bolster the self-reliance of the SA electricity system. They included the addition of some gas generation capacity, more renewables and somewhat controversially, an agreement with Tesla to supply and install what was at the time the largest storage battery in the world. The battery was to be connected to a windfarm to ‘time shift’ the electricity production to times of high demand. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, promised it would be operational in ‘100 days or it’s free’.
During July 2017 we discussed the mechanics of grid-scale battery storage and looked at how it was being implemented in California
, as well as pondering why conservatives such as Turnbull and Bernardi either had or were considering battery storage on their domestic renewable energy systems, but rubbished the SA Government for implementing renewable energy storage at a grid level.
Just before Christmas, a number of media outlets carried stories provided by the NSW ‘Energy Security Taskforce
’ of catastrophic disruption for days if Sydney was affected by a similar power failure that occurred in South Australia in early 2017. The SA experience is not unique and the Union of Concerned Scientists have listed 13 of the largest power outages and their causes on their blog
going back to 1977. It is interesting to note that they all affected more people than the number that live in the Sydney basin and
In the summary of 13 power outages . . . notice how the weather and the operations of the grid caused the blackouts. Coordination and better information, rather than more old-fashioned power plants, are the recurring need for more reliable systems.
While the power issues in SA were serious (and there would be severe dislocation in Sydney if the worst case came to pass), the 8.2 million people across 17 states and District of Columbia in the US as well as parts of Canada who suffered power outages for up to two weeks after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 probably have discovered the world does move on. The logistics of recovery would have certainly been greater in the US and Canada than the identified problems around Sydney due to the scale of the disruption and different environments – such as Sydney lacking anything like the 30km of underground walkways and shopping arcades that would have to have been evacuated in Toronto’s PATH
when the power went off.
However, vested interests and some politicians will tell you time and again the reason that there is the potential for instability in the ‘national’ grid is the lack of new coal fired power stations. In reality, the ALP state governments in South Australia, Victoria and Queensland are attempting to do the research, development and installation work for substituting renewable energy into the existing system while the Federal Coalition government is deliberately tearing down the same options for political reasons.
If you do believe that the vested interests are correct and Australia needs more coal fired power generation capacity, there is a land of pain and hurt coming your way. Remember Tesla offered to build a grid connected storage battery in 100 days or it was free? Well – it happened with time to spare. The battery went on line in November 2017 and it literally made news around the world. Apart from Fairfax media in Australia
, it was reported in the USA here
, as well as coverage in the UK here
while the US Financial Times produced a video
giving a short history of the initiative.
Every time Turnbull and Frydenberg have rubbished grid scale storage battery, events have proven it has turned out to be hot air at best and deliberately misleading at worst. The battery is in, working and SA justifiably received a bit of publicity around the world as an innovator and thinking outside the box. Assuming there are no systemic power failures this summer, it’s all good and Turnbull will come up with some spin to ‘explain away’ his multiple positions on energy security if he is ever asked the question.
Well, maybe not.
Alan Pears, a Senior Industrial Fellow at RMIT University wrote an article recently in The Conversation
that discusses energy-related politics as we enter 2018
Looking forward, the coming year will be shaped by some key issues, some of which are already playing out at a frenetic pace. Consider a small sample of many recent events:
Meanwhile the federal government has released energy modelling to underpin ongoing negotiation on the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) that is simply irrelevant and embarrassing. The Energy Security Board’s involvement in this has undermined perceptions of its independence, especially when it is contrasted with the vision AEMO is discussing in its paper.
- As mentioned, AEMO has released a discussion paper framing a very different electricity future, and including a low-carbon scenario.
- The new battery in South Australia has delivered remarkable outcomes, helping to stabilise the grid in ways that few imagined.
- The Victorian Essential Services Commission has proposed a new “time of day” feed-in price for rooftop solar that reaches 29 cents per kilowatt-hour in afternoons and evenings. If approved, this will be a game-changer, as adding battery storage to rooftop solar will become far more attractive.
- The Energy Networks Association, not the gas industry, has released a zero emission gas strategy at last.
- The annual report on the National Energy Productivity Plan (remember that?) shows we’re falling behind even the government’s weak target: not surprising given the miniscule resources allocated.
While the states have agreed to continue discussion on the NEG in April, there are some major hurdles. Primarily, states must be allowed to set and achieve their own energy targets: the federal energy minister has put the blame for problems on the states, and they now have to be seen by their voters to act.
There are a few notable points here, the Australian electricity regulator (AEMO) is actively and opening discussing a low-carbon energy provision scenario. In their report, AEMO has identified a number of Renewable Energy Zones
from Far North Queensland with its open space and copious sunshine (the number plates say ‘Sunshine State’ for a reason) to Tasmania with its hydro systems that can be fed through a cable in Bass Strait to the mainland.
Probably the most interesting point for discussion is how the Tesla grid scale storage battery in SA is delivering ‘remarkable outcomes’. On 14 December 2017 one of the largest coal fired power generators in Australia, Loy Yang A
, located conveniently near a source of environmentally disastrous
brown coal near Taralgon in Victoria, tripped early in the morning causing a sudden loss of 560MW to the National Grid. This sudden loss of generation capacity caused the supply to drop below the required frequency of 50 hertz and could have caused a cascade of failures as demonstrated in South Australia early in 2017. But it didn’t
Even before the Loy Yang A unit had finished tripping, the 100MW/129MWh [Tesla battery system] had responded, injecting 7.3MW into the network to help arrest a slump in frequency that had fallen below 49.80Hertz.
Data from AEMO (and gathered above by Dylan McConnell from the Climate and Energy College) shows that the Tesla big battery responded four seconds ahead of the generator contracted at that time to provide FCAS (frequency control and ancillary services), the Gladstone coal generator in Queensland.
But in reality, the response from the Tesla big battery was even quicker than that – in milliseconds – but too fast for the AEMO data to record.
Importantly, by the time that the contracted Gladstone coal unit had gotten out of bed and put its socks on so it can inject more into the grid – it is paid to respond in six seconds – the fall in frequency had already been arrested and was being reversed.
Gladstone injected more than Tesla did back into the grid, and took the frequency back up to its normal levels of 50Hz, but by then Tesla had already put its gun back in its holster and had wandered into the bar for a glass of milk.
So why did the Tesla big battery respond when not contracted?
One reason is because it can, and so it did.
The other reason is less clear, but more intriguing. It is contracted to provide such grid services by the South Australia government.
that power stations trip without warning regularly. Apparently, there were four ‘unexpected trips’ around the national grid network in the week after Loy Yang on 14 December. While the SA battery system can’t always ‘fix’ the problem by itself, it certainly assists in energy stability and security.
Unsurprisingly, neither Turnbull or Frydenburg have been working the media in the past few weeks recanting their pillory of the wisdom of the SA Government using renewable energy or installing the battery system. It seems that 2018 will bring some more embarrassment to the coal lobby. Turnbull’s NEG is beholden to the states to implement and as such various state agencies will hopefully subject it to scrutiny to determine if the proposal is logical and worth implementing. The Tesla battery seems to be working better than expected, the case study of the positive benefits to the system will be studied and used in other installations around the world, potentially including other locations around Australia that have considerable wind or solar installations.
While this is occurring, the risk of coal mines and other infrastructure becoming stranded assets
increases all the time. Perhaps those with interests in the future use of coal should be looking for uses such as Whitby Jet jewellery
which is made using lignite
, a precursor of black coal (and closely related to brown coal). With the amount of coal we apparently have available, Australia could control the Jet jewellery market for the next millennia.
Until then, we have failed politicians promoting failed energy policies without regard for the future of the environment because they don’t have the courage to question the status quo.
What do you think?