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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Bonfire Electricity Bills! Two day heat wave burns nearly $400m: $45 per head in Vic, $70 each in SA.

While geniuses are bragging that the Australian grid survived two normal hot summer days without falling over, they don’t mention the flaming spectacle of the cost.

Tom Quirk and Paul Miskelly, after a couple of suggestions from me, have calculated the full staggering electricity bill at $119m for SA and $267m for Victoria, making it nearly a $400 million dollar bonfire — for two days that were neither the hottest ever, or records for peak electricity use.  See their work and details below.

To put this in perspective, a whole new gas plant could have been built for around $230 million. Instead of vaporising this money, Australians could have constructed one whole new gas generation plant, paid it off, and had money left over to give away free electricity.

Every household of four in Victoria just lost something like $170 of productivity for two days of electricity, and in South Australia, $280. Respectively, $45 per Victorian and $70 per South Australian. While businesses also share this burden, ultimately companies are made of people, and this is productivity lost to both states. The losers are shareholders, customers, and employees. Some will be interstate, but the pain flows back. The price is [...]

Peak heat: Electricity prices lifting off; industry shutting off in Australia. Hospitals switching off lights, “Code Yellow Alert”.

UPDATE: MELBOURNE hospitals are enacting emergency procedures to prepare for the potential loss of power. Hospitals are switching off non-essential electrical equipment, including some lights, to minimize energy use. This is a “Code Yellow” alert asking hospitals to check their back up generators are ready.  The Victorian Minister insists this is not about the “threat” of blackouts, but because hospitals need to be “good corporate citizens”. Pull the other one. At the very least, this is about reducing electricity bills.   h/t Chris in Hervey Bay.

See further UPDATES on “The art of blaming coal” at the bottom.

How much fun can you have? The AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator) projects that as temperatures hit 42C in Victoria, prices are forecast to rise over 100 fold. The AEMO is furiously busy issuing market notices.

The ABC tells us it is 42C, that Portland Alumina has reduced production, but for an ‘undisclosed price’ (why can’t taxpayers know what they are paying this group, not to produce aluminium today?) Meanwhile the AEMO has put the RERT plan into action: “Under the RERT scheme, AEMO has contracted 884 megawatts of “demand side response” across Victoria, NSW and South Australia.” [...]

Summer heat — electricity prices hit cap of $14 per KWhr in SA, almost there in Victoria

Watching the AEMO dashboard as a hot summer day hits

Is this the summer crunch-time that the the National Grid managers have been fearing?

Today things are not running smoothly in the green states of Victoria and SA where prices this minute have hit $14,000 per MW hour, or $14 per KWh. These are wholesale prices. Right now heads of major industries are watching the dashboard, turning off everything they can turn off, or switching on the diesel generators, or counting hundreds of thousands or even millions being added to their bills if production cannot stop.

Demand Management schemes (a form of load shedding) will be running to reduce demand — air conditioners will be remotely switched down.

How much of the productive brain power of Vic and SA is distracted from more useful tasks today?

The AEMO has put out an Actual Lack of Reserve Notice (LOR1) saying that Victoria is 300 MW short: “The contingency capacity reserve required is 1100 MW. The minimum reserve available is 815 MW”. Another notice of a “non-credible contingency event” (a code for “something broke”) reports that a busbar, transformer, and line have tripped or opened in Victoria, unplanned.

Victoria

[...]

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 [...]

SA reduces blackouts by closing Holden Factory

It’s a creative South Australian solution to an unstable, expensive grid: close large factories and have less blackouts. If they can close enough, it’s guaranteed to succeed:

Holden closure will help Energy Market Operator manage SA’s blackout risk, report finds

Part of the soon-to-be vacated Holden factory in Adelaide is about to be transformed into a temporary power station to help stave off load-shedding blackouts this summer.

But the car industry’s closure will help the authorities manage the risk of blackouts in another way.

The exit of a once powerful manufacturing sector will see the state using less electricity, particularly during the all-important summer peak.

The information is contained in the latest Electricity Forecasting Insights published by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO).

 From a story last year:

The closure of Holden’s Elizabeth plant is expected to result in 13,000 job losses across the company and its supply chain.

Energy use in SA is set to fall from 3,116MW to 3,035MW in summer peaks. Even so, they’ll still need more temporary generators (time to cut more jobs?):

Nevertheless, AEMO is forecasting widespread shortfalls of reserve power over the next two summers, prompting [...]

Electricity cost train-wreck arrives in Australia

Something very “seismic” has happened to our electricity prices.

Paul McArdle of WattClarity goes through each state looking at quarterly trends and prices, and remarks that things are going “off the chart”. We had some electricity crises in Australia in the last 12 months, and 2016 was a significantly more expensive than all previous years bar the major drought year of 2007. But ominously, prices haven’t come down in what should be a “normal” quarter. In Tasmania there was a crisis last year when dams ran dry, and the undersea Bass cable broke. But this quarter, prices are only $3.20/MWh lower than the crisis levels of Q2 2016 despite water in dams and a working cable to Victoria. Something has gone seriously wrong with our electrical grid and market. In both Victoria and South Australia prices are higher on average than any previous April-June quarter in the 19 year history of the National Electricity Market. In Queensland and New South Wales, prices are at the “second highest”.

McArdle goes to some length to explain that this is not “one factor”, which seems obvious and fair — Its the combination of the closure of Hazelwood and Port Augusta coal generators; the [...]