29 March, 2017
Courtesy of the Australian
Jay Weatherill has run out of other people to blame. The South Australian Premier must face reality and deal with the dire consequences of his own energy policy mismanagement. As an evangelist for renewable energy he has charged headlong towards a renewable target of 50 per cent. The result is the nation’s most expensive and unreliable power and SA’s first statewide blackout or “black system”, as engineers dub it. Mr Weatherill first blamed the weather, then the market, then Canberra, and even accused this newspaper of running a “jihad against renewable energy” — so we figure he blames The Australian too. But the latest Australian Energy Market Operator report confirms SA’s electricity grid has been mismanaged; that the rush to renewables has left it weakened and vulnerable, and that the instability of wind generation was the key factor in the state’s unscheduled earth hours.
AEMO and independent checks by Manitoba Hydro International find the “black system” was “triggered due to lack of inertia on (the) South Australian side once the Heywood interconnector tripped” and that “the cause of the black system was sustained power reduction of a number of wind farms” in SA. Once the interconnector was tripped, the state didn’t have sufficient “system inertia” to run the grid. Keeping synchronous power generation has long been seen as a central challenge in adding renewable energy. MHI suggests SA may need to identify “must run” thermal generators to do this. In other words, if its coal-fired or gas-fired generators had still been running, the grid would have had the required inertia. These, of course, had been forced into mothballs by subsidised renewable generation. The state is more reliant than ever on Victorian power and, as last year’s “black system” showed, it is less able to withstand breaks in that supply.
A storm taking out power lines was always going to cut electricity to some areas but the failure of eight wind farms and the resultant trip of the interconnector turned this into a costly, damaging and dangerous statewide blackout. The state’s energy security remains perilous, its economy undermined and residents have every right to be angry. Many fixes are proposed, including improved fault mechanisms for wind farms and better wind forecasting. But only baseload generation can provide a foolproof and cost-effective long-term back-up for renewable intermittency. This is a timely lesson to Victoria and even Canberra as the massive Hazelwood coal-fired generator closes down in the Latrobe Valley in coming days. This closure will significantly reduce the amount of reliable baseload power available in the National Electricity Market. It means Victorians will be likelier to suffer some of the cost and supply problems experienced by South Australians and it will leave the smaller state even more vulnerable. It is an ill wind that blows on energy policy. Yet governments are standing by their renewable targets and looking on as baseload generators switch off.