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A cold snap in Queensland cut the state’s solar power to just 5% of its average daily output

As Paul McArdle of WattClarity says: “the NEM* is becoming increasingly dependent on the weather

Saturday week ago in Queensland was cold enough to break records. Brisbane “only” made it up to 17.9C (64F). It hasn’t been that cold there in May for 40 years. At the same time a band of cloud covered the populated slice of the state.

The cloud cover meant all the large solar “farms” in Queensland — with a total rated capacity of 1.7GW — produced only 79MW as an aggregate average daily output.

 Sunshine State forgets its own branding on Saturday 23rd May 2020

Averaged across the 24 hours in the day yesterday, average aggregate output across all of the Large Solar plant in QLD was a very meagre 79MW only:

1a)  Dividing this by an aggregate 1,664MW installed capacity* across the Large Solar plant in QLD this represents a capacity factor the day of just 4.7%

Not surprisingly the same clouds that ruined the large solar farms also wrecked the rooftop solar.

One in three homes in Queensland have solar panels. With 1.8GW of theoretical capacity, rooftop solar is Queenslands largest generator (except it hardly ever produces that much). At its peak in January the Qld solar farms worked at 31% of capacity. That’s a big slice of generation that may or may not be there.

There goes another Gigawatt — there one day and gone the next:

As Rafe Champion would say, “this was a chokepoint for solar”. We have to have the backups there to cover the worst days — even if the bad days are only a few days a year.

McArdle estimates that Queenslanders used 17% more electricity that day than the Saturday a week earlier. It was cold (for Queenslanders) so power use went up at the same time as clouds cut the states main generator. When clouds rolled into Alice Springs, they ended up with a nine hour blackout. That didn’t happen in Queensland, but there are five million people who depend on electricity there. There are similar warnings about clouds and solar power causing blackouts in Western Australia.

Coal was, of course, what saved Queensland:

Queensland Electricity Generation , May 23 2020

Watch the Australian experiment

If you think this is crazy, worse is coming. Wikipedia has a list of QLD solar farms. Ominously,  another 1.7GW are under construction and another 8GW have been approved. All of which would have been useless together on May 23rd.

Hey, but it’s only one day. They could just close some factories.

For those wondering if Queensland just needs to build some more solar plants “out west”, remember that generators need to be closer to the demand, and regional generators have been punished by price reductions because of the inevitable transmission losses. It’s just not economic to build far distant solar panel farms that earn less per MW than farms near cities. (Not that it’s economic to build solar farms near cities either.) Solar panels are so uncompetitive in 2016 the National Govt allocated $100m to set up 482MW of solar capacity throughout Australia. That was on top of the giant national RET scheme.

But let’s not forget the reason we are building solar panels in the first place: to change the weather.

To that end, consider that 2 million expensive solar panels cut Australian total CO2 emissions by a tiny 1%

Everything you don’t want to know about Solar power in Australia



*NEM. National Electricity Market. (Australian Eastern States Grid from SA to QLD and Tasmania).

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