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Another Statewide Blackout: South Australia’s Wind Power Disaster Continues

September 29, 2016

By Paul Homewood 



Traffic in total darkness around the streets of Adelaide as residents are left without power on Wednesday night

Traffic in total darkness around the streets of Adelaide as residents are left without power on Wednesday night

Hard on the heels of a “near miss” in July when it narrowly averted widespread blackouts, South Australia was warned on Wednesday night to prepare for an extended loss of electricity in the wake of wild weather.

Described as a once in a 50-year storm, the statewide disruption prompted power companies to warn that users of medical equipment should prepare to use back-ups, and mobile phone users to conserve batteries.

“We are experiencing a state-wide outage which means we have no supply from the upstream transmission network,” electricity distributor SA Power Networks told clients late Wednesday.

In an unprecedented development, the state was cut-off from the national electricity network, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said “resulting in a state-wide power outage in South Australia”. As a result, the entire electricity market in the state had been suspended as it sought to work with electricity transmission company ElectraNet “to identify and understand the severity of the fault, as well as determine a power restoration time”.

There were no implications for other states from the extensive blackout in South Australia, the energy market operator said.

The extensive disruption follows the narrow avoidance of widespread blackouts in South Australia in July. At that time, the state government brought pressure to bear on a local power company for an idled power station to be restarted to avoid potential disruptions, following a lack of electricity generated from wind and solar sources at a time when it was unable to “import” sufficient supply from Victoria.

But Wednesday’s event will trigger renewed debate over the state’s heavy reliance on renewable energy which has forced the closure of uncompetitive power stations, putting the electricity network in South Australia under stress.

Earlier this week, the Grattan Institute warned that South Australia’s high reliance on renewable energy sources left it exposed to disruptions. It pointed to the fact that while the renewable energy target had encouraged the development of wind and solar generation, it had the potential to undermine supply security at a reasonable price, because it forced the closure of inefficient power stations without encouraging the construction of the necessary new generation supply sources.


I have not commented yet on South Australia’s black out yesterday, as the facts are still not clear.

Jo Nova has the story so far here, and Jennifer Marohasy adds her views here, commenting that wind speeds in the SA storm were not unusual in the context of Queensland and northern Australia.


The South Australia PM, along with defenders of renewables, has been spinning that the problem arose because of storm damage to pylons and other transmission infrastructure, although across the border in Victoria there seems to have been no problems.

But there is an interesting analysis on the Stop These Things website, which seems to go the heart of the blackout, and can be summed up with this graph, showing wind power output:




According to Stop These Things:


Thanks to its ludicrous attempt to run on sunshine and breezes, South Australia has just experienced yet another Statewide blackout. SA’s vapid Premier, Jay Weatherill and what passes for media in this Country ran straight to the periphery, blaming everything except the bleeding obvious (see this piece of infantile doodling from wind cult central – the ABC).

STT’s SA operatives tell us the blackout occurred during a blustery spring storm (heavy rain, lightning and surging, gusty wind). The power supply went down across the entire State at precisely the same time (a little after 3:30pm). It took more than 5 hours to restore power to a few parts of the State, and many regions remained powerless for much longer than that.

True it was that lines were damaged in the mid-North around Port Augusta, but that doesn’t explain why the whole State’s supply went down. Grids are designed with with a level of redundancy, and to avoid complete collapses by isolating damaged sections, in order to keep the balance up and running.

For those truly interested in the cause, what appears in the graph above – care of Aneroid Energy – gives a clue as to the culprit.

SA’s 18 wind farms have a combined (notional) capacity of 1,580MW.

On 28 September (aka ‘Black Wednesday’), as the wind picked up, output surges by around 900MW, from a trifling 300MW (or 19% of installed capacity) to around 1,200MW.

As we explain below, electricity grids were never designed to tolerate that kind of chaos, but it’s what occurs in the hour before the collapse that matters.

From a peak near 1,200MW, there are drops and surges in output of around 250-300MW (equivalent to having the Pelican Point Combined Cycle Gas plant switched on and off in an instant).

At about 2:30pm there is an almost instantaneous drop of 150MW (1,050 to 900MW), followed by a rapid surge of around 250MW, to hit a momentary peak of about 1,150MW.

Then, in the instant before the blackout, wind power output plummets to around 890MW: a grid killing collapse of 260MW, that occurs in a matter of minutes (it’s all happened before, as we detail below). That 260MW collapse was the deliberate result of an automatic shutdown of the wind farms based in SA’s mid-North, located in the path of the storm front: the final and total collapse in SA’s power supply follows immediately thereafter.

Wind turbines produce no power at all until the wind speed reaches a constant 5-6m/s; when the wind really gets blowing and hits around 25m/s – as it did on 28 September – turbines automatically shut down to protect themselves from permanent structural damage: 11 tonne blades being flung about the countryside isn’t just a PR nightmare, it tends to impact on the unit’s operational capacity thereafter.

In the aftermath there was plenty of waffle about the system shutting down to ‘protect itself’: indeed it did.

But it was SA’s mid-North wind farms that were in damage control. Neigbouring Victoria was also battered by the same storm, but -perhaps due to the fact that it chugs along with ample capacity from reliable coal-fired plant and has a tiny amount of wind power capacity by comparison with SA – didn’t suffer anything like SA’s date with the Dark Ages.

During the blackout and in its aftermath, STT’s site was inundated by hits from South Australians looking for answers (no doubt on half-charged smart phones, while sitting freezing in the dark); using search terms such as: sa blackout cause; sa vic interconnector problems; south australia blackouts; south australia in turmoil; sa blackout wind responsible; sa premier blackouts; and south australia electricity chaos.

For those South Australians still looking on the internet (power supply permitting) for answers as to why their grid collapses on a regular basis, here is a primer on power generation for dummies.

There are 3 electricity essentials – that the power source and its delivery to homes and businesses be: 1) reliable; 2) secure; and 3) affordable. Which means that wind power – a wholly weather dependent power source, that can’t be stored and costs 3-4 times the cost of conventional power – scores NIL on all three counts.

As the wind power calamity unfolds in South Australia, all comers (including mainstream media hacks) are starting to take an interest in electricity generation which – before South Australia’s recent experience of statewide blackouts, routine load shedding and skyrocketing power prices – was something that the last few generations of Australians have taken for granted.


There is a lot more technical stuff, well worth a read.

  1. Robin Guenier permalink
    September 29, 2016 5:03 pm

    Gulp – Paul, your posts (all excellent) are coming so thick and fast it’s hard to keep up. How do you find the time?

  2. September 29, 2016 5:31 pm

    Australia provides excellent public access to its electricity data, including MW output for every generator at 5-minute intervals, the files for the 28th September should be put online shortly, which will allow us to see exactly what happened and when, though that may not provide enough info, if for example everything vanishes at exactly the same time.

    • duker permalink
      September 29, 2016 11:57 pm

      What they mightnt show you, is the frequency and voltage. Wind power is asynchronous while your garden variety large generators whether powered by coal or gas are synchronous and able to maintain the AC frequency of the grid. The Frequency instability seems to be at the heart of their problems.
      There seems to be two interconnectors with Victoria, a AC one from the south and and DC one from Mildura across the middle to Adelaide.
      Could they have thought, we can sell our wind energy and buy thermal produced power when conditions permit, but forgotten without grid stability you are shutdown in an instant by computers

  3. markl permalink
    September 29, 2016 6:06 pm

    So first it was lack of water that prompted the environmentalists to force the government into squandering $Billions for desalination plants that have been since mothballed. Now it’s no power after squandering $Billions more on renewables demanded by the same environmentalists. Australia needs to get a clue, My bet is the UK is next to feel the consequences of the environmentalists who have morphed from keeping the world clean and safe for man to controlling mankind for their ideological goals.

  4. September 29, 2016 6:07 pm

    Paul, grid engineer TonyfromOz explained SA at JoNova’s. The key is your figure with the ‘instantaneous’ wind drop to zero. Wind turbines are asynchronous (they do not supplyngrid inertia). They rely on the rest of the grid’s inertia (synchronous spinning generators and reactive power synchronous condensers [essentially undriven spinning generator equivalents]) to maintain frequency by relying literally on the inertia of spinning generator momentum. The SA blackout was a classic rapid cascade. Some wind started to drop out as blades were feathered due to high wind speed. That is the drop in wind just before the fall to zero.The remaining system grid supply was insufficient for demand. It overloaded a little. That causes a voltage sag, which causes a frequency sag. (The common term is brownout). The system is designed to trip generators off line to protect them from physical damage when this fluctuation goes beyond design limits. So all the wind units then tripped off fairly ‘simultaneously’ to protect themselves electrically. As that process occurred, the rapidly growing overload would have also caused the interconnectors to trip off to protect the coal generators in Victoria. So SA went completely dark. Had SA had sufficient large spinning baseload generators, this would not have happened. But SA shut them all.

    In the major US/Canada blackout of August 2003, the initiator was a single generating unit in Cleveland that tripped off about 1300 because of mechanical issues. That was during peak demand on a hot summer day (air conditioning).That slightly overloaded a regional transmission line, which heated and sagged for about 60 minutes until it contacted untrimmed trees, shorted, and tripped off about 1400. There were frantic system efforts to contain the resulting overload locally to Ohio and vicinity, which progressively failed over the next two hours. The main cascade event started about 1600 and was over by 1611. Eleven minutes. Over 280 major generating units tripped off to save themselves over the total three hours, and everywhere from Cleveland to Pittsburgh to New York to Boston to Toronto was dark. People died. It took four days to black restart the Northeast grid.

    UK is very at risk this approaching winter. It has zero spinning reserve margin (grid inertia margin) and the slightest fault can initiate a rapid cascade just like SA. Thinking that demand curtailment or the switchon of thousands of backup diesel generators could save it shows a delusional lack of EE competence. The normal safe grid spinning reserve margin is 10-15% depending on details. Never ZERO. It is not the ‘no wind on a cold clear winter night’ that is the major threat per se. That can be managed to an extent by demand curtailment and backup diesel or OCGT or increased interconnector, because it is not a rapid event. It is the lack of any spare grid inertia margin that will do UK in. The whole country in just a few minutes. Black restart takes days. People will die.

    • September 29, 2016 7:54 pm

      The UK had plenty of warning of this on 27th May 2008. On that day a unit of Longannet coal-fired power station tripped, losing 345MW. Two minutes later Sizewell B tripped (a totally independent event) losing 1237MW. Grid frequency fell from about 50Hz to about 49Hz. The situation was stabilised, but then it is believed that several wind farms tripped (not metered or output not logged properly, so definitive cause not established) causing further frequency fall to about 48.8Hz, before the situation was finally recovered. Somewhere I have the report looking at the details of the event. Lessons have not been learnt, so if a similar event happened with today’s lack of inertia margin, there is no doubt that a widespread blackout would occur. I also understand that there is now much less plant available for a black restart.

  5. Bulaman permalink
    September 29, 2016 6:13 pm

    The pylons that fell look to have been under engineered for what happened (weather event). The pylons in New Zealand are much more massive than the pipe version that gave up in SA. When the back up fails or is not available then crash!

  6. Bloke down the pub permalink
    September 29, 2016 6:33 pm

    Am I the only one to think that perhaps an engineer somewhere helped this blackout along to high-light the situation. Certainly in the UK, the only thing that will sort out our crumbling grid is a minor disaster to concentrate the minds of those in charge.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      September 29, 2016 8:43 pm

      Unnecessary. The system is unstable and non sustainable. SA only gets away with that amount of wind capacity (not delivery) because of the interconnectors to Victorian brown coal supplies, and to a flow of subsidies (as in Renewable Energy Certificates) coming from the eastern States.
      It is not the first blackout, nor the last. It will be years before sanity prevails, and as that requires the entire State Cabinet, the federal opposition, the Greens and their propaganda arm the ABC, to be all booted out of any position of influence, it will take years before SA has a reliable electricity supply.

      • duker permalink
        September 30, 2016 12:06 am

        Yes. The computers monitoring the grid sent the instructions. It would happen so fast a person couldnt react in time.

  7. September 29, 2016 10:09 pm

    I’m hoping for many more wind-associated blackouts.
    Only repeated disasters like this will hammer the message home to the green zealots and dunce politicians.

  8. tom0mason permalink
    September 30, 2016 1:18 am

    Part of the problem may well be how to configure a grid system protection system when not only the load is varying but so is the supply side. Designing a graded protection scheme for varying load (in the real world) is difficult enough, doing the same with a very high amount of wind derived power, as in South Australia, must be a nightmare.

    I note that this region had recently closed a coal fire generation plant. Was the grid protection reconfigured correctly afterwards?

    • September 30, 2016 4:37 am

      Obviously not. Politicians and watermellons do not have any electrical engineering chops.

  9. yippiy permalink
    September 30, 2016 8:26 am

    Will we never learn from history? SA cannot rely solely on power supply from interstate.

    In the 1940’s SA was subject to frequent blackouts, as all power came from coal-fired stations in Adelaide. Problem was that the coal came from Newcastle on the East Coast by sea; consequently supplies were subject to the whims of unions in mining, docks and shipping. I am surprised that SA obtained any coal!

    Premier Playford decided that such intermittent supplies of coal were not acceptable. He initiated development of the Leigh Creek coalfield to feed a new power station at Port Augusta – Playford power station was commissioned in 1954. Thus, problems of disrupted fuel supply and electricity diminished considerably.

    Now, thanks to the headlong rush into “renewables” by idealists, we are once again dependent on interstate power supply for our baseload power; the rest of the story is more than adequately given above.

    It is just history being repeated by those who think they know it all!

  10. Joe Public permalink
    October 12, 2016 8:12 pm

    Remember ?

    I’ve only just remembered the reason for Nat Grid’s position:

    European Commission – Fact Sheet
    Connecting power markets to deliver security of supply, market integration and the large-scale uptake of renewables

    Brussels, 25 February 2015

    “What is the ‘electricity interconnection target’?

    “The European Council of October 2014 called for all Member States to achieve interconnection of at least 10% of their installed electricity production capacity by 2020. This means that each Member State should have in place electricity cables that allow at least 10% of the electricity that is produced by their power plants to be transported across its borders to its neighbouring countries.

    Why is it necessary that electricity grids of EU countries are connected with each other?

    When power plant fails or during extreme weather conditions, Member States need to be able to rely on their neighbours for the importation of the electricity they need. Without infrastructure it is impossible to buy and sell electricity across borders. Therefore, connecting isolated electricity systems is essential for security of supply and help achieve a truly integrated EU-wide energy market which is a key enabler for the Energy Union.

    Put simply with good connections between neighbours:
    – electricity systems will be more reliable and there is a lower risk of black-outs
    electricity grids can better manage increasing levels of renewables, particularly variable renewables like wind and solar.

  11. October 21, 2016 12:52 am

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.


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