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Coal stations more reliable in a crisis. Renewable power, interconnectors are fragile and risky!

Who wants to rely on renewables in a crisis?

Just when power is so important the interconnector went down yesterday between NSW and Victoria effectively cutting the East Coast “National” grid in half. It’s not clear if the transmission lines are damaged which will take weeks to repair or just tripped out. But there were blackouts yesterday in NSW, and coal fired power stations in Victoria that could be supplying customers were disconnected from most of NSW. Large industry was again forced to shut down temporarily. Call it “demand reduction” or call it incompetence. We’re a nation that can’t supply heavy industry with electricity. The people of Sydney have been told to turn off washing machines and dryers, spare appliances. Sure, it’s a national crisis, but what got us through the crisis was coal, and what would have stopped a price spike, and kept the industry online, was more coal.

Coal power, hydro, wind, solar Graph. During Black Saturday fires.

During Black Saturday fires.                   |  Source: Anero.id

Meanwhile electricity prices hit $14,700 for two hours in NSW, with a draw of 12,000MW. I estimate that’s theoretically up to $350 million in electricity costs that could have been used to help repair the damage instead. Some of that won’t be realized because of forward hedged prices and long term contracts, but ultimately some of the spike will be paid by consumers in NSW to shareholders of generators. Perhaps  Alinta, AGL and Energy Australia will donate two hours of electricity profits to the bushfire crisis?

By definition a decentralized power grid that depends on interconnectors is not as stable in a crisis as individual state grids that are self-sufficient with a few defendable stations which are situated closer to large population centres on shorter transmission lines.

Solar Panels don’t work under a smoke haze, and millions of panels in Melbourne, Sydney and in New Zealand are going to need a good clean or suffer efficiency declines. How many man-hours will that take? Will any injuries or deaths occur from thousands of people climbing on their roof and will anyone even tally up that renewable cost?

The break in the interconnector lines is inside NSW so some power is being supplied by Victoria to “the Wagga area” in southern NSW (just to clear up confusion and thanks to WattClarity and @allanoneilaus).

NSW residents urged to cut power use as fire threatens Snowy Hydro

Peter Hannam, Sydney Morning Herald. Jan 4th.

The NSW grid’s links to Victoria went down late on Saturday afternoon, with Mr Kean issuing a statement urging all residents to preserve power. “The extensive bushfire activity in the Snowy Mountains and other areas of the state have had an impact on our electricity supplies,” Mr Kean said. Just before 7pm, 14,000 people had lost power in Sydney’s north and south-west, and Port Stephens.

 A senior official within a government agency, who did not want to be identified, told the Herald the transmission lines from Snowy “had been taken out”, but a spokesperson for Mr Kean could not confirm the reports. Mr Kean asked consumers to make sure power-hungry pool pumps were turned off, raise air conditioner thermostats to 24 or 25 degrees, refrain from using washing machines, dishwashers or dryers, and turn off appliances and lights not in use.

AEMO was also working with large load electricity customers to reduce their electricity consumption where possible.

UPDATE: News just in Sunday — No significant fire damage to the Snowy Scheme. Jan 5th.

Peter Hannam, Sydney Morning Herald

Two potlines were turned off at the Tomago aluminium smelter – the plant near Newcastle typically accounts for about 10 per cent of NSW demand – to help balance supply and demand. “AEMO estimates we saved 200-300 megawatts of demand” through the public appeals, Mr Kean said. “There was no surplus – every single megawatt counted.” Power supplies have resumed between NSW and Victoria although transmission capacity may not be at full capacity for some time, Mr Kean said.

Engineer Ian Waters sent an open letter to Scott Morrison yesterday afternoon:

Prime Minister you are probably aware of the dramas today with the substations in the snowy mountains – burnt out – and affecting imports of electricity from Victoria? I have attached below what is going on with the grid. Basically we are limited to only 486 Mw of brown coal fired electricity from Victoria – through interconnectors that are supposed to be capable of 1,600Mw. The bushfires have created havoc around the Snowy system and shut down much of the capacity.

You may not be aware Prime Minister – but our local Shoalhaven pumped hydro system is also shut down until further notice because of the massive risk of the Currawan fire to the station. Knowing the condition of the country around there Prime Minister I can understand the fear of every employee and Manager there – even if the Currawan fire didn’t exist you would be bloody nervous!

Prime Minister the Latrobe Valley right now is OK for fires and every Company who runs a Brown Coal fired station down there (except of course AGL with their normal and totally expected bearing failure after commissioning!) are pouring the MW out, Mt Piper is going well, Bayswater and Eraring are performing wonderfully well in challenging conditions and basically Australia is running on coal.

I’ll keep this very simple Scott Morrison – it is a sackable offence for a Prime Minister to continue with the madness of snowy hydro 2.0 knowing the vulnerability of equipment in that region – not to mention the losses, wastage and massive capital cost blow-out.

It is also a sackable offence for a Prime Minister to allow AGL to shut Liddell and – to deliberately run it down as they are now – to guarantee its’ shutdown.

Please do the right thing by the Australian people Scott Morrison and urgently get more coal fired electricity into our grid – and abandon all renewable madness.

Thankyou and best regards,

Ian Waters.


h/t Ian Waters. Dave B. Pat.
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