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Victoria paying big to drive at breakneck speed to repeat South Australia’s blackout

Posted By Jo Nova On November 25, 2016 @ 4:23 pm In Global Warming | Comments Disabled

Victoria is driving down Blackout Drive. They have reports from South Australia up ahead, they know where the road goes, but the state is paying for the first class ticket on a trip to RiskyGrid.

Victoria has 5.7 million people, over three times bigger than South Australia. Right now SA relies on the Victorian grid stability to keep running, and gets up to 800MW of reliable electrons from the state-next-door. But Victoria wants to add more wind power — theoretically the equivalent of a big coal fired plant (like Hazelwood).

Tom Quirk and Paul Miskelly looked closely at the numbers and patterns and see the writing on the wall. To help expensive, unreliable, intermittent green energy survive the government subsidizes it by around 9c per KWhr (bear in mind the wholesale rate for coal fired power is 3 – 4c per kWhr.) The government also demands retailers have a 12.5% mix of renewables, and that they accept most electrons from wind power whenever and wherever it is available. This strange anti-free market rule is called “nondispatchable” power, meaning the system can’t just throw it away if there is any demand at all. Whereas coal and gas are dispatchable, meaning they have to compete on price to meet what’s left of the shifting demand curve and if they produce more than what’s needed, that electricity gets… well thrown away.

The one thing we know for sure is that extra wind turbines in Victoria are not going to add stability — wind patterns across Australia flow East West, and with no mountain range to split the states, most days all the turbines are behaving similarly. There are already wind farms spread right across Victoria, so adding more is not going to stabilize or smooth out the volatility, it will amplify it.

Tom and Paul look closely and found that when averaged over a month there is a pattern to daily wind (despite the noise). I haven’t seen these graphs before (see figure 3, 4 and 5). Right now there is a point in the SA average day when windpower supplies 50% of the minimum daily load. In Victoria, right now it’s only 10%.  But after Victoria adds 4000MW of wind the maximum wind farm output will be close to meeting all the states electricity needs during it’s lowest electricity point of the day (4am). During that time the retailers will be forced to accept the wind power, and any coal and gas power will have to be “spun off”, wasted. Gas turbines can adapt somewhat, but the 600 ton coal turbines spinning at 3000rpm are not going to stop easily. They disconnect from the “load” which means the turbines are easier to spin, and they do need less coal, but they are still burning some coal.

In September 2016, the gas capacity factor of Victoria was a dismal, devastating, tiny 1%, meaning that the gas stations could have produced 99 times more electricity

The cheapest form of electricity is most efficient when it just purrs along like a car in the country. It’s at 4am that coal is at it’s best — providing the super cheap, super reliable energy that keeps all the freezers at Coles running and the air in skyscraper’s circulating. Even while we sleep, modern economies are constantly demanding about 60% as much electricity as when it peaks  which happens when everyone gets home from work and collectively turns on the oven, the kettle, the heater and takes a hot shower. You might think electricity use was 10% at 4am, but millions of machines in our modern economies hum through the darkness.

And the strange unfree market affect gas power too. The government is still forcing customers to buy the expensive wind-electrons at a higher price than gas fired ones. This will force out gas-fired plants as well. In September 2016, the gas capacity factor of Victoria was a dismal, devastating, tiny 1%, meaning that the gas stations could have produced 99 times more electricity. States with high wind content need to have a lot of infrastructure sitting around, ready to go, but mostly being underutilized. The Soviets were not this good at government driven inefficiency.

There are already plans in Victoria to close Hazelwood (a large old coal generator). After the extra wind is added, it makes it much harder for other coal fired stations to run economically, yet the state will need them more than ever to cope with the volatility of supply. They will have to draw more power from New South Wales — and the black coal generators there which are more expensive than the brown coal ones in Victoria. But all three states will have to deal with more volatility of supply. The system will have to handle 4000MW variations.

As more investors give up on cheap baseload generators, so will investors give up on manufacturing and production. The risk of blackouts and the high cost of electricity every single day makes “anywhere else” look appealling. How many jobs, how much income is Victoria throwing away in the quest to make storms nicer in 2100?  — Jo

More renewables into the mix,
Is Victoria’s rash politics,
And will fail to be able,
To keep the grid stable,
Which their neighbours S.A. couldn’t fix.

 – Ruairi


Will the lights go out in Victoria or just industry?

Tom Quirk and Paul Miskelly

 The government of Victoria has a target of 40 % renewable electricity by 2025. This would require the construction of new wind farms with a total capacity of some 7000 to 8000 MW. A more modest approach is taken here by analyzing the consequences of an extra 4000 MW of wind power and looking at what might happen following the example of South Australia.

There are two difficulties, intermittency and the same winds blowing across state borders causing correlated variations in the supply of wind power .

Victorian generators are presently supplying the balancing power to the South Australian electricity market with as much as 800 MW and in return very occasionally South Australian wind farms send their surplus back to Victoria. This can be seen in Figure 1 where the two interconnectors, Heywood and Murraylink, can be seen supplying power when there is little wind in South Australia.


Wind power, Graph.

Figure 1: 30 minute supply from South Australian wind farms and two Victorian interconnectors, Heywood (600 MW) and Murraylink (200 MW), for part of September 2016. At times, usually in the early morning, wind power is sent into the Victorian electricity market (as shown by the negative-going excursions in the Heywood and Murraylink curves above).

 The same prevailing winds flow from SA to Victoria

There is a clear correlation of wind farm output between South Australia and Victoria. In statistical terms it is 40% and given the already wide geographical spread of the present wind farms in Victoria then building more there should not make a significant difference to this correlation.

South Australian, Wind power, Graph. Sept 2016.

Figure 3: Average demand and wind supply in 30 minute intervals for 1 – 27 September 2016 for South Australia and 1 – 30 September for Victoria.


Figure 2: 30 minute wind farm power output for September 2016 for South Australia with 1576 MW of installed capacity, and Victoria with 1242 MW of installed capacity.

 So if Victoria increases its wind farm capacity what might be expected for the physical and economic performance of coal burning base load power stations?

Firstly, the present performance, shown in the table below, indicates that wind farms generate on average only some 30% of their rated capacity and even this value varies through the year. Secondly, the fossil fuel using generators have a very different utilisation in South Australia compared to Victoria. Base load generators that deliver low cost power need to operate for most of the time and this is the case for Victoria. But the large supply of power from wind farms has destroyed the ability of the gas fed generators in South Australia to act as base load suppliers of power and so require higher prices for the delivery of power.



Installed wind farm capacity MW

Average output for September MW

Capacity – utilization factor

Fraction of time output less than 10% of installed capacity

South Australia*












Installed fossil fuel capacity MW

Average output for September MW

Capacity – utilization factor

Fraction of time output less than 10% of installed capacity

South Australia (only gas)*





Victoria        coal





Victoria        gas





* all gas fossil fuels from 1 to 27 September


So the impact of more wind farms in Victoria can be assessed by using the example of South Australia. This is best examined by looking at the 24 hour pattern of demand and the accompanying wind farm supply. This pattern for 30 minute intervals is shown in Figure 3 for September 2016. The average wind output for South Australia is about 50% of the lowest demand in the early morning while for Victoria wind supply is less than 10% of the lowest demand.

South Australian, Electricity, demand per hour, power, Graph. Sept 2016.

Electricity Demand, Victoria, Sept 2016

Figure 3: Average demand and wind supply in 30 minute intervals for 1 – 27 September 2016 for South Australia
Figure 3: Average demand and wind supply in 30 minute intervals for 1 – 30 September for Victoria.

 There appears to be a position for base load power in South Australia but this is closed off by the intermittent wind farm output. This is best shown by looking at the average demand and the wind farm maximum and minimum output plotted in Figure 4 where wind output can exceed demand on occasions as noted in Figure 1 where power is exported from South Australia to Victoria. These exports are at times of low demand in the early morning and serve to disrupt base load operation in Victoria.


Weekday Weekend Demand, Wind power. South Australia. Sept 2016.

Figure 4:  Weekday and weekend demand and maximum and minimum wind supply for 1576 MW in 30 minute intervals for 1 – 27 September 2016 for South Australia.


 For Victoria if a further 4000 MW of wind farms is added to supply then a situation similar to that of South Australia is possible as is shown in Figure 5. The maximum wind farm output is nearing the demand minimum and in addition the interconnectors to South Australia will add an extra intermittent need for power.


Weekday, Weekend, Demand, Electricity, Wind power, Victoria, Sept 2016. Graph.

Figure 5: Weekday and weekend demand and maximum and minimum wind supply for 1242 MW and 5242 MW installed capacity in 30 minute intervals for 1 – 30 September 2016 for Victoria.


 So for Victoria variations of supply will approach the situation in South Australia for load following. This would require the Victorian generators to cope with correlated variations in South Australia and Victoria with variations of as much as 3000 MW. Although the installed capacity of wind farms in New South Wales is only some 500 MW, these will also have a degree of correlation with the southern states so the system will need to be able to handle 4000 MW variations. This is the key question as load-following generators were developed to handle demand changes of 10’s of MW per minute but, with the projected increase in wind farm installed capacity, the short term supply changes may increase to a requirement of 100’s of MW per minute. The creation of more interstate transmission lines may not help when simultaneous variations in wind farm output occur in all the States.

The conclusion for the proposed Victorian increase in wind supply is that it will very much reduce the ability of the base load generators to supply low cost power but the government intention is to drive coal burning generators from the electricity market. This will add to industry costs and may drive some to seek lower cost power elsewhere. Worse may follow from the inherent instability of a system with a large supply of renewable energy. Industries needing reliable power may not be confident of its delivery or long term costs and as a consequence not establish or expand their operations in Victoria.

The real distortion to the system is the treatment of wind generated power. It is described as non-dispatchable (although some wind farms are now termed semi-dispatchable) as it must be used when generated. Wind farms do not bid a price into the wholesale market but rather take what is on offer and in addition collect a legislated subsidy of around $70 to $90 per MWh from distributors who pass this cost on to the users. The consequence of this is a distortion of the market that drives out high priced generators, such as the cleaner gas-fired plant, whose actual operating costs are less than the subsidy paid to the wind farms.



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