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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Queensland’s Near Miss: hydrogen may have exploded at a coal plant (and renewables don’t save the day)

Tuesday was a wild day for Queensland Electricity. An explosion struck the Callide C Power Plant triggering a cascade of other plants to switch off within seconds. The massive 2.5GW fall in supply took the grid frequency in Brisbane to a hair raising 49.55Hz. How close did it come to falling over? Half a million people lost power for a couple of hours but a Statewide blackout was averted. Luckily no one was hurt.

Meanwhile the people in power were not saying “Hydrogen”, or “explosion” but the Supercritical Units at Callide are cooled with hydrogen, and there was an explosion. The owner CS Energy called it just “a fire”. But in other news reports people in the nearest town said it was “the loudest explosion they have ever heard”.

Hydrogen, it seems, is used in some coal plants as a coolant, but Holy Hindenberg, it is known to explode. (See Ohio in 2007, Pittsburg in 2017 and India, 2019) . A Union official said it appeared the hydrogen filled generator of the main turbine had suffered a catastrophic failure. And it’s all exquisitely awkward, as David Archibald points out, happening while a two day Hydrogen Conference is on — as […]

The South Australian black out — A grid on the edge. There were warnings that renewables made it vulnerable

Australians are going to be talking about this for weeks. Indeed, the SA Blackout is the stuff of legend.

The Greens are blaming coal (what else?) for causing bad storms and blackouts. Forget that Queensland gets hit with cyclones all the time and the whole state grid doesn’t break. Some greenies are also raging against “the politicization” of the storms. Yes, Indeedy. Go tell that to Will Steffen.

We are not being told the whole story. We do know that South Australia has the highest emphasis on renewables in the world. It also has a fragile electricity network, and wild price spikes to boot. (Coincidence?) The death of a few transmission towers should not knock out a whole state, nor should it take so long to recover from. The storm struck worst north of Adelaide near Port Augusta but the juicy interconnector from Victoria runs in from the south, and goes right up past Adelaide and most of the population. Why couldn’t the broken parts of the system be isolated?

Digging around I find ominous warnings that while the lightning and winds probably caused the blackout, the state of the South Australian grid appeared to be teetering on the brink, […]