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South Australia blackout: renewables don’t cope with rapid change report finds

December 16, 2016

By Paul Homewood


h/t Joe Public




From The Australian:


A new report by a national electricity regulator has found that, as occurred during September’s statewide blackout in South Australia, renewable power sources cannot cope with rapid or large changes in frequency, leading ultimately to a “black system”.


The Australian Energy Market Commission today released its interim report on its review of power system security in the national electricity market.

The report found the nation’s power system is secure when voltage and frequency are maintained within defined limits, which is achieved by instantaneously balancing electricity supply against demand.

Large deviations or rapid changes in frequency can cause the disconnection of generation, potentially leading to cascading failures and ultimately a “black system”, the report warned.

Spinning generators, motors and other devices synchronised to the frequency of the electricity system have naturally provided the inertia necessary to allow the system to cope with uncontrolled changes in frequency.

But new technologies such as a wind or solar have no or low inertia. Currently they have limited ability to dampen rapid changes in frequency.


“Finding new ways to provide inertia and respond to frequency changes is where work is required,” AEMC chairman John Pierce said.

AEMC is currently working on five rule change requests to address both immediate concerns in relation to emergency protection, particularly relating to South Australia’s current frequency issues, as well as new mechanisms to allow security to be maintained across the entire system.

Despite numerous warnings to the South Australian Labor government about the risk of frequency problems and increased load shedding, brownouts and blackouts, the state has pursued a renewable energy policy that has seen around 45 per cent of its generation come from wind and solar.

The state’s last coal-fired baseload power station was forced to shut in May because of the rise of renewables, with Premier Jay Weatherill and his Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis both declaring “coal is dead”. The state is now reliant upon an interconnector with Victoria to import coal-fired baseload power.

It has today emerged that a plan by the owners of the Northern power station and transmission company ElectraNet to reopen the power plant as a converter to stabilise the state’s wind-vulnerable grid was abandoned because of the red tape involved.

The power station would be demolished within one to two months but it would have taken at least a year for a full study and assessment on the reopening proposal under government regulation, before a decision could be made on funding.

While there has been no cost estimate released, such a move would likely be very expensive.

ElectraNet is urgently looking at options to stabilise the state’s grid in the absence of the Northern power station.

Mr Pierce said there were challenges ahead in managing system security, which was essential to allow reliable electricity supplies to be provided to customers.

“The changes that need to be made centre on the physics of energy supply, transmission and meeting demand,” Mr Pierce said.

“Many different technical options are emerging in today’s electricity sector and we want to encourage further innovation — rewarding the best options that may mature over time.

“We also need market mechanisms that reward the best outcomes while keeping consumer prices as low as possible over the long term.”

The AEMC interim report suggests changes that include new measures to enable provision of additional inertia for the system most likely through synchronous machines and development of fast acting frequency response services, which might be provided via invertor-based generators such as wind turbines, by energy storage devices and by demand-response schemes.

“This review puts an umbrella over many issues being raised by stakeholders in relation to the power system’s ability to keep the lights on while maintaining its frequency at a constant level,” Mr Pierce said.

“The review will consider both policy mechanisms that are in place now; and analyse how any of the feasible emissions reduction policies may impact the future power system.”

He also said that a more efficient gas market would improve the power system’s ability to integrate renewables like wind and solar by providing fast-start backup for intermittent generation.

“Making it easier to buy and sell gas helps lower supply costs for gas-fired power stations which are now replacing coal generators,” he said.

Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the Turnbull government welcomed the draft AEMC report.

“The increasing amount of solar and wind is creating a real challenge to the security of our nation’s electricity market, as they are non-synchronous generation technologies,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“As Bill Shorten and his mates in the Labor states chase unrealistic high renewable energy targets they have failed to take into account the fact that the increasing amount of solar and wind power they are encouraging into the system is reducing energy secruity across the National Electricity Market.

“In contrast, the benefits that hydro, gas and coal have provided, essentially for free, to keep the electricity system secure have been taken for granted.”

“As more intermittent generation comes into the grid, new markets are going to have be created for things like inertia which are essential to energy security.”

He said these issues will be considered by the Finkel Review and the AEMC.

South Australian Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said there is an “urgent need for national policy reform that better integrates renewables into the national energy market”.

“The current lack of federal leadership on this issue is seeing coal-fired power stations exit the market in an unplanned way with no investment in generation to replace that which is lost,” he told The Australian.

“The most efficient way to create a market incentive for more base-load generation is through an emissions intensity scheme – a base line and credit scheme which forces dirty generators to pay cleaner generators to operate in the market.

“There are numerous reports from the nation’s best minds sitting on the Prime Minister’s desk recommending an EIS as a way of better integrating renewables into the market and provide more system security”


Whatever the exact cause of the blackout in South Australia, it is becoming increasingly obvious that we cannot rely on renewable energy to run our grids.

Meanwhile the South Australian Energy Minister ties himself in ever greater knots by complaining that the Federal Government is not providing enough reliable generation, whilst at the same time wanting to penalise the coal fired capacity which is all that is keeping the country going at all.

  1. December 16, 2016 10:56 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

  2. Jack Broughton permalink
    December 16, 2016 10:56 pm

    It looks like Australia are at least avoiding the UK policy disaster of demolishing their coal fired stations. Ferry bridge is about to be demolished reducing our chances of keeping energy prices sensible.

    • Hivemind permalink
      December 17, 2016 11:46 am

      Actually, that is exactly what South Australia did. Victoria is slated to be next, and they will only be able to keep the lights on if their aluminium smelter closes.

  3. stuartlarge permalink
    December 16, 2016 11:19 pm

    They are only learning this now! it has been obvious for many years to anyone who works in the electricity industry.

    • Robert Christopher permalink
      December 17, 2016 1:00 pm

      Why on earth would you include anyone from the electricity industry to plan future development in the electricity industry? 🙂

  4. markl permalink
    December 16, 2016 11:36 pm

    Oh my, who’d have thunk? Unintended consequences strike the environmental ideologists again. How much longer do you need to put up with their half baked demands before you can tell them to stuff it? It looks like the US time comes up in January 🙂

  5. Graeme No.3 permalink
    December 17, 2016 6:37 am

    What is not remarkable about silly comments form the SA Minister for Energy (in his spare time from being Treasurer) but the determination of the State Premiers of SA, Vic. and Qld. to increase the amount of renewables in their respctive States even in the light of this disaster.
    Unfortunately these States have fixed terms for governments with SA and Vic. not going to elections until the first half on 2018. The damage these fools** could in the meantime will be immense.

    ** strongest term I think I can get away with.

  6. Graeme No.3 permalink
    December 17, 2016 6:38 am

    from not form. Forming silly statements is what “Silly Koot” is good for.

  7. December 17, 2016 6:42 am

    “Finding new ways to provide inertia and respond to frequency changes is where work is required”. Why do we need new ways? The old ways using synchronous generators have worked perfectly well for all my life. All that needs to be done is to disconnect all asynchronous generators from the grid.

  8. tom0mason permalink
    December 17, 2016 6:50 am

    If anyone still believes that grid connected ‘renewables’ (aka unreliables) are anything but detrimental to grid integrity then go and live in South Australia or Tasmania. Just do not expect any industrialization, large scale refrigeration, health and social services, or a reliable electricity supply.

    Mass ownership of electric cars being charged from the grid?

  9. December 17, 2016 7:26 am

    “The increasing amount of solar and wind is creating a real challenge to the security of our nation’s electricity market, as they are non-synchronous generation technologies”. This has been repeatedly stated in the UK, but successive Government policy is the opposite – it is claimed by DECC (and now by BEIS) that asynchronous wind and solar increase our security of supply. Even the International Energy Agency claims that wind power “improves security of supply”, but then the IEA is in the pocket of Governments.

  10. December 17, 2016 8:45 am

    Just get the wind to blow all the time and the sun to shine 24/7. Obvious really 😉

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      December 17, 2016 10:16 am

      Don;t we need climate change to achieve that?


  11. Mark Hodgson permalink
    December 17, 2016 8:47 am

    Meanwhile you’ll search in vain for this story on the BBC website – nothing on their main news page, nothing under “science & environment” and nothing under Australia.

    • December 17, 2016 11:39 am

      Perhaps ironically the bbc seems to be the only mainland news site covering the renewable heat incentive scandal. Just searched for it on google under ‘news’. Irish Times, Belfast Telegraph, and BBC were the only coverage that popped up.

  12. Athelstan permalink
    December 17, 2016 9:55 am

    It’s the sheer arrogance of it, the idea that because “we think know more than the previous generations”………… ‘modern’ human technology will solve some crisis which is only a figment and that by some fudge, lies, fashioning some delusional boondoggles, so that, all will be well, fingers crossed ‘n’ all ………..

    and by the time I leave office I’ll have my knighthood and some other fekker will take the blame – natch!

    We know well what our predecessors thought of wind power, when they harnessed steam power. all the water/windmills in Britain overnight were made redundant. Thus, I beg why, why is it that we have to revisit the mistakes of the past [and present see above for South Australia] again and again?

    And then, the specious lies about birdmincers, PV arrays – being ‘green’? Total bollocks, if one factors the production processes from mining the ores to the industrial production and shipping, construction, erection thereof and the fact that in the cases of many of the PV arrays – very useful arable land is covered over.


    The bloody things are eyesores, get in the way of the nature and avian life most particularly. I oft’ wonder, concerning offshore whirlygig gullchompers how deep do the pilings have to be [not least, all along the East coast]. Then pollution gone mad, the bioturbidity of construction – must affect marine life – deleteriously doubtless – though lots of bivavles will be fairly happy…………. Bird choppers to boot are frikkin useless and asynchronous read “crap”.

    Only a ****wit would champion them, in a line from tony, gordon gloomo, Hillary Benn, Ed miliband, Dave, chris huhne, ed davey, amber rudd and now the current idiot driveller greg wotshisface

    I rest my case.

  13. December 17, 2016 10:04 am

    The Australian govt has commissioned a so-called “independent” report about future electricity security, but this is a scary Green Blob production, worship of “The Transition”, which apparently CANNOT BE REVERSED, and blatant lies about coal generators being replaced by wind and solar, read it here:

    This is a consultation, so that all of the “Transition” industry can sell its wares, Aussie sceptics should make submissions (closing date in Feb), despite the likelihood that they will be ignored.

  14. AlecM permalink
    December 17, 2016 10:05 am

    Those who make against expert advice political decisions that kill people must be jailed for Corporate Manslaughter. This is particularly relevant to the UK where a cold winter with no wind will kill 100s of 1000s of people more than expected.

    if this winter is, as predicted, like 1962 – 63, we may have such a situation within a few weeks. I want to see Greg Clarke, Ed Davey and Chris Huhne sharing a cell in Strangeways to experience that organisation from the viewpoint of its ‘customers’, hopefully for 5 years……

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      December 17, 2016 11:26 am

      That’s why they try to never hear expert advice, only political advice from compliant public servants or committed greenies.

  15. Mike Jackson permalink
    December 17, 2016 11:35 am

    Well, who would have thought it?

    In other news today, Pope discovered to be Catholic and rumours that bears crap in woods have been substantiated!

    I am no scientist but it took me barely an hour’s study and a couple of pretty basic articles to demonstrate to me that grid stability is essential for reliability of supply and intermittent energy sources will disrupt that. The secret is that word “intermittent”.

    As an aside, I know what was meant but I love that idea of “finding new ways to provide inertia”. A lifelong research project for some people!

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      December 17, 2016 12:25 pm

      Oh, c’mon, Mike, they’re only intermittent now and then! [grin] Happy Christmas!

      • Mike Jackson permalink
        December 17, 2016 1:38 pm


        ….. and a prosperous New Year! Mebbe!

    • Robert Christopher permalink
      December 17, 2016 1:02 pm

      “… grid stability is essential for reliability …”

      It is almost tautology 🙂

  16. December 17, 2016 12:00 pm

    Still very happy i live in France where 59 nuclear reactors keep my consumer price down to lowest part worldwide and guarantee power without fail for the last 60 years.

    • Mike Jackson permalink
      December 17, 2016 1:52 pm

      You are indeed a lucky man, Petrossa. I have had four power cuts this year, two of them weather-related and two of them due to “supply difficulties” whatever EDF means by that.

      We should be grateful that it looks as if Fillon is likely to be the new president though whether he will be any less malleable when it comes to confronting the greenies remains to be seen. Hollande has been trying to close nuclear power down and about one-third of it is running below capacity apparently due to reactor safety problems.

      I’m not sure where Le Pen stands on nuclear but given that she is keen on prising the green vote away from the Socialists, I’m not holding my breath!

      • Athelstan permalink
        December 17, 2016 3:24 pm

        I have had four power cuts this year, two of them weather-related and two of them due to “supply difficulties” whatever EDF means by that

        Now I presume that you are talking about some area of beautiful Caledonia in which you reside, Sir.

        What I would like to know, on the blogs am I right in thinking that [or imagining?] – I have heard of other parts of Britain suffering such similar outages? Or, are these power cuts just isolated events but common only to Scotland?

        Speaking for this part of Yorksheerland, touching wood……..we’ve been lucky so far. Though, I must say and as, the winter progresses I hope for the best but don’t expect our good fortune to prevail until the end of the season [and into spring].

  17. Mike Jackson permalink
    December 17, 2016 3:45 pm

    Athelstan — sorry, mate, I’m talking rural France, hence references to Le Pen and Fillon and such.

    • Athelstan permalink
      December 18, 2016 12:45 am

      No worries Mike – I’m the one who should apologize for my cursed ignorance:-).

      I really, really don’t like to pry – at all.

      btw, Fillon versus Le Pen, will the French left swallow their pride and vote for Francois Fillon to keep Le Pen out and then Le Pen is smeared as “far right” but all her policies are of the protectionist Socialist persuasion???????

      It’s gonna be an interesting time in France come April/May and can Valls break into the running?

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