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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Another hidden cost of intermittent renewables (It’s time to talk about FCAS and roaring price spikes!)

The shape of normal AC Electricity: 50Hz (230V) and 60Hz (110V)

Nobody says much about FCAS in public  — but it’s become a hot topic among Australia’s energy-nerds and electricity traders. It never used to be a big deal, because we got it at very low cost from huge turbines — from coal, hydro, and gas. Suddenly, it is costing a lot more. As I discovered below, in one month FCAS charges in South Australia rose from $25,000 to $26 million. Wow, just wow.

What is FCAS?

FCAS means”Frequency Control Ancillary Service”. With an AC (or alternating current) system, frequency is everything — the rapid push-pull rhythm that is the power. FCAS is a way of keeping the beat close to the heavenly 50Hz hum (or 60Hz in America and Korea). Network managers cry when things stray outside 49.85Hz or 50.15Hz. So controlling the frequency is a very necessary “other service” supplied by traditional generators, but not so much from intermittent renewables.  Large spinning turbines “do” FCAS without a lot of effort. And the cost used to be a tiny fraction of the total electricity bill, but it is rapidly rising in Australia, thanks to the effect of the RET [...]

South Australia heads back 100 years to diesel (with battery back up)

The new SA rescue plan is more diesel than battery

Diesel’s prototype engine circa 1892.

A big fuss was made today over the world record battery, but the diesel generators put on a hire-purchase plan three days ago are more than twice the power:

The world’s biggest lithium ion battery has been launched in South Australia, with Premier Jay Weatherill declaring it an example of SA “leading the world”.

The first diesel generator was patented in 1892. Go, Go, SA.

A battery bandaid arrived barely in the nick of time:

That reliability was tested before the battery’s official launch when it began dispatching around 59 megawatts into the state’s electricity network on Thursday afternoon as the state hit temperatures above 30C.

How fragile is this system?

The facility has the capacity to power 30,000 homes for up to an hour in the event of a severe blackout but is more likely to be called into action to even out electricity supplies at less critical times.

There are 673,540 households in South Australia and the Big Battery can supply 4% of them for an hour with electricity, or all of the state for a [...]

Not Powering Past Coal: 20 countries that didn’t use much coal, agree to not use much coal

Get excited everyone — the South Pacific Island of Nuie, with a population of 1,625 people has vowed not to build a coal plant. The nation is so small it is not even a member of the UN. This champion of the move away from coal is 98% powered by diesel. Everybody Cheer!

Powering Past Coal Alliance: 20 countries sign up to phase out coal power by 2030

Twenty countries including Britain, Canada and New Zealand have joined an international alliance to phase out coal from power generation before 2030.

The list includes none of the top 15 coal producers in the world. It’s non-binding. Nearly all the countries that have signed up to “Power Past Coal” are already powered by hydro, gas, nuclear or some combination of renewables (with interconnector back up). The Marshall Islands are powered by almost 100% diesel, with a hint of coconut oil. Luxembourg barely even generates electricity — importing 98% from other countries. And 68% of the people in Angola don’t even have access to electricity. It shouldn’t be too hard to get to fifty countries to sign this if they offer a free conference dinner to half the South Pacific, Central [...]

They call it “demand management”. We call it “1000 small blackouts”. Sydney people paid to switch off.

Some people in Sydney will be paid to not use electricity in peak periods

Instead of a big blackout the plan now is to have lots of little “by choice” blackouts at the appliance level. It’s smarter than crashing the grid, but ponder what we’ve swapped –once electricity was cheap and “all the time” and now after this discount it will still be more expensive but also “not there when you need it”. Let’s all cheer for progress.

Cashing in for slightly less obscene electricity bills? How low is that bar on our expectations.

Sydney households to cash in for turning off appliances

Houses and business in some high-growth Sydney suburbs will be ­offered payments to dial down or switch off appliances during peak demand periods under a scheme being trialled by the state’s biggest distribution ­network.

Ausgrid is planning the demand management trial for up to 10 suburbs across the city — including Alexandria, Redfern, ­Auburn, Kingsford and Waterloo — over summer in a bid to reduce the peak load on its network.

It is expected to cost around $1.5 million in payments to households and business and to involve up to 1300 [...]

Some days one thousand MW of solar vanishes in Australia

The Australian national grid stretches from the tropics to the cold temperate zone from 16S to 43S. You might think that along those 40,000 kilometers of transmission lines there is always somewhere somewhere sunny at midday, but some days you’d be wrong.

James Luffman at WattClarity,  noticed this extensive cloud arrangement affecting solar on Friday May 19th. On that day, a one thousand MW generator wasn’t there when it was expected to be.

Cloud patterns on Friday 19th May 2017 – leading to a day of low Solar PV output, NEM-wide

By James Luffman | Published Fri, 25 August 201

Cloud cover over Australia, map, preventing solar PV generation.

How often does this happen? Hard to say, since data on rooftop PV has only just started to be released. It may not be as often as wind turbines, which simultaneously flounder across the whole Australian grid every 10 days or so.

This kind of comma-shaped band of cloud is relatively common over eastern Australia, when you have moisture from the Coral Sea area feeding into a trough with a low-pressure system near SA or VIC.

In this particular case of 19th May, the band of [...]

Politicians “shocked” at the power crisis waiting in the Australian electricity grid

Did some politicans just wake up? The news today is that our Energy Minister may realize Australia is conducting a wild experiment with our electricity grid, and may have managed to convince other Australian federal politicians of the risk.

Coalition MPs shocked by energy threat

The Australian: Robert Gottleibsen (even Gottleibsen gets it).

When Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg walked into the Coalition party room with his energy policy earlier this week he faced a sea of hostile faces. But they left the room shocked. At last, the government politicians understood that Australia faces a long term blackout power crisis the like of which has never been seen in modern times.

It’s one thing to read commentaries warning of what is ahead but another to see a minister use confidential information from independent power authorities and regulators to show the desperate state of affairs that is looming for the nation. And then Frydenberg went to the ALP and showed them the same material.

Frydenberg was, if anything, even more alarming than me …  [says Gottleibsen who wrote about how the "Energy crisis risk is criminal. March 2017"].

Between 2012 and 2017 Australia has [...]

ABC: Let’s pretend base load power doesn’t exist, call it a dinosaur. Who’s in denial?

The new phrase that must be neutered is “base load”. It’s like kryptonite for renewables!

Nick Kilvert at the ABC helpfully provides a no-hard-questions mouthpiece and tells us Base load power is the dinosaur in the energy debate.

To serve the Australian taxpayer he quotes a Professor Vassallo, Chair of Sustainable Energy Development (USyd), and CSIRO Energy Director Dr Glenn Platt. Just in case they weren’t green and biased enough he also interviewed Professor Blakers, director of the ANU Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems. Finally he turns to Dr Mark Diesendorf, who is apparently just some guy at UNSW with a team of modelers. (Kilvert doesn’t give us his title, but a two second search suggests he works at the “Centre for Energy and Environmental Markets“. Perhaps it was an oversight, or maybe Kilvert was feeling guilty that every single person he quoted has a career in sustainable energy). Glenn Platt — by the way, is not just “Energy Director” but is described at The Conversation as leading the Energy Transformed Flagship research centre at CSIRO. So that’s four green academics, no one from the coal industry, no skeptics, no other engineers, and no one involved in managing a grid.

[...]

Some South Australian farmers going fully diesel for electricity

Maybe they’ll get one like this one? Circa 1934.*

Green management of the South Australian grid scores another big success for the environment:

SURGING power prices are pushing South Australian dairy farmers such as James and Robyn Mann to go off-grid.

The Manns’ electricity costs have more than doubled in five years, from about $200,000 per annum to $500,000.

Due to the high prices, the family will this summer switch to diesel power to run their 116-stand rotary dairy and 14 irrigation centre pivots at Wye in the lower south east of South Australia.

The Manns are among Australia’s top 10 dairy producers, in terms of volume, milking up to 2300 cows and producing 19-21 million litres annually.

If only South Australia had more “cheap” solar and wind power, their electricity might be as low cost as the coal-fired Victorians:

Their move comes as South Australia’s dairy lobby has calculated the state’s dairy farmers paid about 40 per cent more for power than their Victorian neighbours last season.

The Mann’s are definitely going diesel this summer, but may set up a mixed solar-diesel-battery plan in the long run:

Within 5 minutes a wave of hot water systems switch on in SA adding 250MW of demand to the grid

We are creatures of habit. Look at the spike caused at 11:32pm as something like 27,000 hot water tanks in South Australia suddenly switch on to use cheaper off-peak electricity. This spike is entirely due to pricing plans. It’s entirely avoidable too, but at least it’s predictable. “Scheduled”.

This peak, allegedly, is only a problem if SA is “islanded” — meaning if it can’t rely on the coal generators in Victoria.

Yesterday people were asking why the South Australian demand was peaking at 1am (and why two hours were strangely missing from that graph). “Hot water” is the answer (at least to the first part).

SA Hot water systems add sudden 250MW of demand at 11:30pm. Graph.

This graph comes from the AEMO report in Feb 2016. What follows is their electro-nitty-gritty:

Based on previous experience, and as demonstrated in a separation event on 1 November 2015, maintaining the SA power system in a secure operating state is challenging if there are large changes to the supply-demand balance during a period of islanding.

There is a risk of automatic under frequency load shedding if SA is being operated as an island during the hot water demand peak, [...]

Rooftop solar destroying baseload profitability and proud of it

What other heavily subsidized industry brags about its ability to provide a product for one quarter of the time it’s needed? Vale sunny-day-solar!

Pick a day, an hour, and what are the chances solar will be there for you? A lot less than one in four, because last Monday’s peak in South Australia was an all time record. Every day in the last year was worse.

And so much for cheap… the price when solar power peaked was still close to $50/MWh. Compare that to most of the years of the national electricity market operating when average prices were $30/Mwh.

The price dip at 6am (the black-line bottomless gully), has nothing to do with solar, but was caused by wind power. Far from being useful, essential, or productive, solar and wind power are playing havoc with a normal market, destroying the chance for cheap, reliable energy to find a place. As long as we force the market to accept this non-dispatchable  supply, we are actively punishing reliable power. What investor in reliable energy would look at this and head to South Australia?”

 

Giles Parkinson was excited at Reneweconomy: Rooftop solar provides 48% of South Australia power, pushing grid [...]