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There’s a myth that Old Coal plants are failing and can’t handle summer heat

Media elements in Australia are pushing the myth that aging coal plants are failing and that they can’t handle summer heat as if a plant with an operating temperature of 570°C plus will work at 38°C and fail at 40°C. It’s a hot topic today because AGL has just flagged an extended outage of seven months for one unit at Loy Yang A2. That may linger well into summer — potentially out of action til mid January. Ouch. The outage may wipe $100m off AGL’s profits, though if it pushes up wholesale prices, maybe not. With one more billion-dollar-summer-spike AGL may even come out ahead…

Old coal plants don’t have to die, we can just keep fixing them. The owners of Vales Point coal plant in NSW have a plan to keep it running up to 70 years.

Paul McArdle, expert grid generator analyst, who writes at WattClarity, protests at the repeated misinformation and points out that there has been no increase in “sudden trips” as the Australian fleet of coal power stations ages. Nor are these failures more likely in summer. It’s just that we notice them more then. He points out that the failure rate across the whole coal fleet in Australia is not rising, and that there was a six month outage in 2001 at Loy Yang A4 — obviously when it was much younger.

Brief Comment on the Extended Outage at Loy Yang A unit 2

Paul McArdle says we’re playing Russian Roulette with the grid and it’s a world class mess:

As we have explained through the Generator Report Card, that overall level of risk has been escalating in recent years (for a number of reasons).  It’s like we’ve been playing Russian Roulette with the grid/market, but with more loaded chambers than there used to be.

Thermal units are not going offline due to aging:

For instance, our deep analysis in the Generator Report Card does not show a clear systemic trend across the 48 operational coal units for them becoming less reliable as a fleet (though readers might like to reference these notes specific AGL units).  Here’s that chart from the Report Card again that looks at one measure of “Sudden Failure” in this broader framework of “dependability”:

Againg coal plants, failure rate, graph. Watt Clarity.

Aging coal plants: failure rate is not rising.   |  Watt Clarity.

Coal plants are not more likely to fail in summer heat:

Readers will also note that the highest bars in most years tend not to be during the hottest months of the year, which is also interesting in the context of claims that “coal units break down more in the heat”.  What do seem to be the case are two things:
1)  Firstly (because there are fewer units, and because demand is increasingly peaky) a small number of outages during times of high demand places much more stress on the grid than used to be the case; and
2)  Because there are an increasing number of NEM observers equipped with the latest tools (some of them ours), and because we all know that summer is the critical time, we notice outages a lot more when they happen during summer

McArdle is no climate skeptic but can see how one-eyed and emotive the media are on generators. Perhaps he’ll notice one day that the bias against scientific arguments is even more aggressive, emotive and packed with fake news.

Both sides of politics call the failure a reason to do the complete opposite.

“The announcement from AGL that a Loy Yang coal generation unit will be out until December highlights why our transition to cleaner, more reliable renewable energy is so important,” a [Victorian, Labor] government spokesman said.

Federal Energy Minister Ang­us Taylor said the cut to supply­ underlined the need for the Coal­ition’s newly formed retailer relia­bility obligation to ensure enough generation existed to meet power users’ needs from July 1.

–Perry Williams, The Australian

People pushing this myth include Lily D’Ambrosio, Victorian Minister for Energy.

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