JoNova

A science presenter, writer, speaker & former TV host; author of The Skeptic's Handbook (over 200,000 copies distributed & available in 15 languages).


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AEMO Report blames renewables: SA Blackout due to lack of “synchronous inertia”

The Final AEMO Report on the big-SA Blackout deals up some hard truths, and contradicts its earlier claim that the “energy mix” didn’t matter. The key theme here is about the system inertia. The Blackout on Sept 28 last year was an accident waiting to happen, and it wasn’t storm damage to lines that caused it.  The blackout would not have happened if wind power had not been so dominant.

The transition to a 35% wind powered system left the SA grid very vulnerable. On Sept 28 last year, the safety settings on wind turbines were overly sensitive and when voltages “bumped” the turbines shut off suddenly, but those shutoffs hit the system too fast, and that caused the interconnector to shut off too, sacrificing SA to protect the rest of the national grid. The settings themselves are not the main issue — because they can be changed to prevent a repeat. It is a fixable problem — what is harder to fix, is the lack of inertia, and the sheer complexity. These are the biggest challenges of any renewables grid. We can fix even those problems, but at what cost in order to change the weather 100 years [...]

Solar Homes use more grid electricity than non-solar homes

There are probably more solar panels in QLD than anywhere else in the world. Back in February last year, the boss of the Queensland state power company announced the awkward result that households with solar panels were using more electricity than those without. Apparently people without solar were turning off the air conditioner because electricity cost too much, but the solar users didn’t have to worry about the cost so much.

Queensland solar homes are using more grid electricity than non-solar, says Energex boss

Feb 2016:  Solar-powered homes in south-east Queensland, which boasts the world’s highest concentration of rooftop panels, have begun consuming on average more electricity from the grid than those without solar, the network operator has found.

Terry Effeney, the chief executive of state-owned power distributor Energex, said the trend – which belied the “green agenda” presumed to drive those customers – was among the challenges facing a region that nevertheless stood the best chance globally of making solar the cornerstone of its electricity network.

From October 2014 in Queensland, the average grid electricity use of solar homes started to exceed the average use of people without solar power and stayed higher for the at least the [...]

Australia “invented airconditioning” but can’t keep them running

James Harrison (click to enlarge)

Peter Hartcher points out that the country that invented refrigeration and thus airconditioning can no longer guarantee to keep them working.

In 1854 [James Harrison of Geelong] invented a commercial ice-making machine. He expanded it into a vapour compression refrigeration system, the basis for modern refrigeration.

“That’s right – an Aussie invented the fridge and it’s first real use was making beer,” remarked the US technology website Gizmodo. “You have to love this country.”

And one more big coal generator shuts down soon in Victoria:

In the next few weeks 4 per cent of Australia’s power supply will vanish when Victoria’s big Hazelwood power station shuts down, clapped out after 50 years of turning coal into electricity. It’ll be the ninth coal-fired power station to close in the past five years. New solar and wind plants are being built, but they are intermittent, and that means they are unreliable.

“Taking out Hazelwood is taking out a big buffer,” says Tony Wood, energy program director at the Grattan Institute policy research centre in Melbourne. And, as we’ve just witnessed, Australia’s power system lacks buffers. “Managing intermittency is [...]

SA Blackout: a grid crippled by complexity

South Australia suffered it’s fifth blackout in five months last week. The AEMO report on that incident came out today. There are lots of faults, errors and small problems, and one overriding theme — it’s too complex:

AEMO (Grid market managers) thought they’d have more wind power. It fell to only 2% of “total output.” There was a computer glitch which “load shed” more people than necessary. Oops. SA Power Network apologized today. Demand was higher than expected.  The gas plant generators at Port Lincoln were ““not available due to a communications system problem”. (Whatever that means.) That was 73MW out of action. One turbine at Torrens Gas plant was out for maintenance (120MW gone). Another was running 50MW low because of the heat. (Seriously, these machines operate at hundreds of degrees and work at 35C but not so well at 42C? (Or whatever it was). Color me skeptical. Perhaps some grid engineers can comment and tell us if this is normal?

So in a modern renewable grid we have variations in supply and demand that are of the order of the average grid load and at the whim of The Wind. What could possibly go wrong?

Finally the SA [...]

South Australian electricity is coming your way

Yesterday 90,000 customers lost power in SA (making it Blackout Round 5 since the big one last September).

This time it was due to load shedding.

SA power woes to spread nation-wide, starting with Victoria, Australian Energy Council warns

The Federal Government needs to take urgent action to improve its energy policies before the rest of Australia falls victim to the type of large-scale blackouts experienced in South Australia, the Australian Energy Council has warned.

It’s not just that renewables muck up the electricity supply (with frequency and instability issues), they also drive a pike through the energy market. These are two separate disruptors. We’ve seen inexplicable spikes in power prices in SA in seasons when it shouldn’t happen, but this might be a new form of volatility. Wind power produced 900MW earlier in the day, but that fell to below 100MW within 6 hours (which is not that usual, see the post yesterday for the graph). The problem, apparently, was that no one thought it was worth turning on their generators?

SA has enough generation (if only it was running), but when the crunch came, the market failed:

It asked for more power generators to [...]

Rolling blackouts ordered in SA in 40C heat

South Australia, with 40% renewables, is lucky this has been a mild summer.*

Welcome to your load-shedding future:

Rolling blackouts ordered in Adelaide as city swelters

Widespread power blackouts were imposed across Adelaide and parts of South Australia with heatwave conditions forcing authorities to impose load shedding.

About 40,000 properties were without electricity supplies for about 30 minutes because of what SA Power Networks said was a direction by the Australian Energy Market Regulator.  — The Australian

Premier Jay Weatherill blamed the AEMO for not ordering a gas power station to come online.

Electricity prices spiked to $13,440 MWh. Total demand was about 3,000MW. Things are expected to be the same tomorrow.

At 6pm tonight wind power was producing less than 100MW (about 7% of its rated capacity):

Look at the price spike and the forecast for tomorrow:

AEMO, Electricity Prices, Feb 8, 2016

Perhaps with better planning and more money they can reduce the need for planned blackouts — but why bother?I guess they’ll have those gas powered stations running tomorrow.

It has been smack on average at Adelaide Airport at 28.1C for January 2017.

*The Wind power graph was supplied in WA time, so [...]

Wind turbine manufacturer admits liability for noise damage. If word gets out…

These are Enercon wind turbines in Germany, Lower Saxony. Image: Philip May

This could be a watershed — if word gets out that turbine manufacturers will not even contest claims of noise damage, there could be many more claims around the world. There are rumors these cases are often settled out of court with confidentiality agreements, but who would know?

In an update to the Irish court case we discussed last month, the latest news confirms that the wind turbine manufacturer has admitted liability without contesting it. The court will be deciding damages in April. As I deduced at the time, the wind industry was using desperate wordsmithing to minimize attention on the story. The news item related to it even disappeared from the Irish Examiner.  The turbine industry must be hoping no one notices this story.

Stop These Things has an update:

Wind company admits nuisance damage to neighbours Irish Farmers Journal Paul Mooney 5 January 2017

High Court to determine compensation for seven families in April hearing.

[...]

South Australia: blackout costs $367m, normal electricity twice the price, reserve shortfalls coming in January

Comforting to know that hundreds of millions were saved because the SA blackout hit at 4pm:

Today in SA: blackout cost $367m but could have been worse

The results of a comprehensive survey of Business SA members of the impact of the September 28 blackout released today also found many did not have business interruption insurance and, of those who did, more than half were not covered for losses resulting from the outage.

The overall financial impact on South Australia was a loss of $367m but, in occurring late in the trading day, the effect of the blackout was lower than it would have been if it had happened first thing in the morning.

“Considering 70 per cent of respondents had power restored within 24 hours we are looking at a cost of close to $120,000 per minute for business in the state,” the report found. –The Australian

Only 12% of businesses surveyed had backup generators.

Who wants electricity at twice the price? Judith Sloan:

The Australian Energy Market Operator says average electricity prices in South Australia next year will be 1.7 times higher than in NSW and 2.4 times higher than [...]

SA Blackout: Three towers, six windfarms and 12 seconds to disaster

Finally, the gritty info we’ve been waiting for: The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) preliminary report. The message here is of how a combination of both transmission towers failing and probably the auto-shut-off of wind farms combined in 12 seconds to crash the South Australian system. It’s looking awfully bad for the wind industry. The AEMO pins the crash on the sudden reduction from the wind generators, but stops short of declaring why they dropped power so suddenly. Was it the auto-shut-offs, lightning strikes, a software glitch,  turbine failure, or was it a key transmission line that broke?  Reneweconomy is about the last-man-standing trying to defend the wind industry in Australia. Giles Parkinson argues it was the third transmission line that took out some wind generation.

Even if the third transmission tower took out two “farms”, the fragility of wind-dominated grids is on display. And above and beyond this, South Australian electricity is a management debacle. The only question is, which mistake was the worst: Is this is epic indulgence of running the wind farms flat out in a storm only to trigger a blackout with their auto shut offs? There’s a compelling case, but there are tenths or less of [...]

The South Australian black out — A grid on the edge. There were warnings that renewables made it vulnerable

Australians are going to be talking about this for weeks. Indeed, the SA Blackout is the stuff of legend.

The Greens are blaming coal (what else?) for causing bad storms and blackouts. Forget that Queensland gets hit with cyclones all the time and the whole state grid doesn’t break. Some greenies are also raging against “the politicization” of the storms. Yes, Indeedy. Go tell that to Will Steffen.

We are not being told the whole story. We do know that South Australia has the highest emphasis on renewables in the world. It also has a fragile electricity network, and wild price spikes to boot. (Coincidence?) The death of a few transmission towers should not knock out a whole state, nor should it take so long to recover from. The storm struck worst north of Adelaide near Port Augusta but the juicy interconnector from Victoria runs in from the south, and goes right up past Adelaide and most of the population. Why couldn’t the broken parts of the system be isolated?

Digging around I find ominous warnings that while the lightning and winds probably caused the blackout, the state of the South Australian grid appeared to be teetering on the brink, [...]