When South Australia suffered its dramatic whole-of-State blackout last year, it was natural gas to the rescue, restoring power to millions of consumers and thousands of bewildered businesses.
Now, its time for gas to ‘save summer’, as the State, and indeed its neighbours, prepare for an anticipated hot summer when electricity supply is constrained in multiple locations for millions of Eastern States people.
In recent months, the Pelican Point gas-fired power station has returned to full operations, bringing stability to the electricity network and helping get wholesale prices down.
This week, the SA Government bought an array of turbines, which it intends to run on gas, to add capacity when the network most needs it – when the weather is hot and the wind is not blowing.
In the aftermath of the unprecedented SA blackout event and a series of subsequent power outages, the SA Government outlined a plan to restore consumer and business confidence and reliability of power supply.
A part of that plan is the big battery commissioned today, having been built by Elon Musk company Tesla.
While it is a useful addition to the SA grid, it is important to remember the battery does not generate electricity. And it can only store enough power to run about 30,000 homes for three hours – a useful contribution, but not a solution, and its cost to taxpayers remains undisclosed.
Of much greater significance for consumers, business and industry, is the Government moves to encourage Pelican Point back into operation and to buy a series of turbines which have the capacity to add much-needed flexibility to an SA grid which struggles for stability because of the intermittent nature of wind and solar power.
The SA Premier, Jay Weatherill, this week announced the Government would purchase nine aero-derivative turbines, which are already in place in SA, but are currently owned by a US company APR Energy.
The turbines are currently being driven by diesel – a highly carbon-intensive fuel. The Government intends to convert these to cheaper and cleaner natural gas.
Assuming complete control of the turbines allows the Government greater ability to ‘self manage’ the operation of the SA grid, which forms part of the Eastern States network overseen by the Australian Energy Market Operator.
The gas-fired turbines will provide up to 270 megawatts of generation—as much as a modest power station. The longer term Government plan is to build a bigger gas-fired generator to complement the State’s growing wind and solar facilities and storage capacity (including the Musk battery).
AEMO has confirmed the SA turbines are part of its plan to address a possible shortfall in power supply this summer, potentially affecting NSW, Victoria and SA.
AEMO’s summer readiness plan confirms the possible use of emergency powers to direct back-up power into action, if there is any anticipated shortfall. Back-up generation has been committed from Queensland, Victoria and SA.
It was forced to institute demand management and some power rationing in NSW last summer to avoid blackouts.
Despite having an interconnected network, Tasmania, Victoria and SA have all resorted to using diesel-fired generators to fill the electricity supply gaps in the past year.
Western Australia and the Northern Territory operate independently from AEMO’s National Energy Market. WA makes good use of natural gas from the North-West Shelf and the NT runs almost entirely on natural gas sourced from offshore sources.