When the electricity grid went black in South Australia a week ago, gas-fired generation was still online. Wind power was not.
And when it came time to try to restart the system, wind power was not able to provide the solution. Again it was gas to the rescue.
For the second energy crisis in SA in the past two months, gas-fired generation was the solution.
On the first occasion, a huge price-spike occurred when wind power was unavailable – due to high winds – and the Victorian interconnector was unavailable to provide power from 1000km away in south-eastern Victoria. After howls of protest from major industrial electricity users, the Government called on a dormant gas generator to urgently re-start and restore some balance to the system and get prices down.
The wind power lobby tried to claim it had nothing to do with the July price crisis, but it was exposed by the regulator.
In this latest blackout incident, the same voices have again been quick to claim ‘no role’ for renewables in the SA shutdown, accusing the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, of politicking when he raised questions about the situation.
The truth is, the wind power sector can NOT say it had nought to do with the blackout.
That question is yet to be completely answered by the Australian Energy Market Operator.
The AEMO’s initial report notes that storms downed electricity transmission capability at the onset of the problem. But that was hundreds of kilometres north of Adelaide and should not ordinarily lead to a State-wide shut down.
The wind-power lobby says the fact that at the moment the lines went down that wind was generating electricity proves it was not at fault in the blackout.
But the AEMO report shows something very different. It points out that a sudden halt to wind-power triggered the overload of the SA power lifeline – the transmission interconnector between SA and Victoria.
A surge on the line, triggered by the abrupt shutdown of six wind farm generators, tripped the failsafe on the Interconnector and isolated SA. Blackout followed, but at that time, the gas-fired generators were still working.
The AEMO explained it this way:
“Following an extensive number of faults in a short period, 315 MW of wind generation disconnected”.
“The uncontrolled reduction in generation resulted in increased flow on the main Victorian interconnector (Heywood) to make up the deficit,” it said.
“This resulted in the Heywood Interconnector overloading. To avoid damage to the interconnector, the automatic–protection mechanism activated, tripping the interconnector. In this event, this resulted in the remaining customer load and electricity generation in SA being lost (referred to as a Black System).
“The event resulted in the SA regional electricity market being suspended.”
The report found that in the lead-up to the blackout, generation reduction occurred at six wind farms.
“There was no reduction in thermal generation,” the AEMO report said.
Since the closure of coal-fired generation in SA, gas is the only baseload source of continuous power other than the interconnector to Victoria.
Not only was the gas generator still working when the wind power shut down, it was there for the system re-start, of which wind power was not capable, as is noted by the AEMO report.
So it was gas to the rescue in SA to get the lights back on. And it was gas which also meant many thousands of South Australians had access to home heating, cooking and warm showers even during the blackout.
SA industry had no such luxury. And it is they who are asking themselves ‘how can I be assured of secure electricity supply’? Right now, the most obvious answer is more gas power.