South Australia’s Wind Power Crisis Continues: Gas Generators Forced to Fire Up to Prevent Another Statewide Blackout
South Australians wake up to a nightmare every day. Its hapless Labor government’s obsession with wind power has destroyed the reliability of its electricity grid and sent power prices through the roof. Here’s why.
SA power: Gas generators ordered on as South Australia’s wind production peaked
26 April 2017
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) was forced to intervene in South Australia’s electricity market on Anzac Day to guarantee security of the grid as the state recorded record levels of wind energy production.
Wind power peaked at a new high of 1,540 megawatts close to midnight on Tuesday, more than meeting the state’s public holiday electricity demand.
The wind production was so high that earlier in the day AEMO took steps to ensure two gas generators remained on.
“A combination of high wind generation and low demand had resulted in the de-commitment of synchronous plants below the required levels,” an AEMO spokeswoman said.
AEMO would not confirm which gas generators were subject to AEMO’s directions, but the ABC understands they were AGL’s Hallett Power Station and one unit at Torrens Island.
A requirement for two large synchronous power stations to remain online at all times was put in place in the aftermath of the September 28 statewide blackout.
In that instance, when South Australia unexpectedly separated from the rest of the National Electricity Market, there were too few synchronous generators operating to keep the grid frequency in balance, forcing lights out across the state.
Synchronous generation is typically provided by gas, coal and hydro power plants. None of the wind farms currently operating in South Australia provide synchronous characteristics.
AEMO’s decision to order on two gas generators means their owners will be compensated under special rules, as opposed to taking the prevailing wholesale price for the electricity produced.
The direction for one of the generators remained in place until midday today.
The decision meant AEMO was also forced to constrain the output of two other generators to keep supply and demand in balance.
The market operator would not reveal whether those constrained generators were wind farms.
One could be forgiven for thinking of South Australia as the kind of place that sat on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, before East Germans took to the Berlin Wall with sledgehammers.
Instead of allowing market forces to ensure its power supply is available to all, at any tick of the clock, it’s down to the forces of mother nature. Which brings us to this line in the ABC piece:
“None of the wind farms currently operating in South Australia provide synchronous characteristics.”
Taken at face value, that statement would suggest to the uninitiated that sometime very soon South Australia will be able to build a wind farm which has “synchronous characteristics”; or that somewhere else outside of the embattled little State wind farms do “provide synchronous characteristics”.
One can’t expect too much from our ABC. So STT will fill in the gaps. In electricity generation “synchronous” means immediately matching supply (ie generation output) to demand (ie the load) and doing so on a second by second basis, which means increasing and decreasing output as the load dictates – not the Wind Gods.
In the absence of an enormous wind making machine, no wind turbine anywhere in the world provides “synchronous characteristics” (see our post here).
As any sailor or kite flyer knows, the wind varies moment by moment, place by place: to suggest that something as fickle as the wind can provide power as and when it is needed, either in terms of voltage and frequency, is patent nonsense.
Let’s have a look at what the wind (and therefore power generation) was doing in South Australia during the month of April, thanks to the boys over at Aneroid Energy. We’ll start with the day in question, 25 April 2017:
Not quite the 1,540 MW claimed by the ABC (the total capacity of SA’s wind farms is 1576 MW), but at over 1,400 MW, pretty close to a record.
But, as with gravity, in wind power output, what goes up must come down. Let’s have a look at what the AEMO was so terrified about. Here’s the output on 26 April:
Stepping back from daily output, here’s the output from SA’s 18 wind farms for the entire month of April:
The peak on the far right takes in Tuesday, 25 and Wednesday, 26 April.
That precipitous and almost total collapse (more than 1,300 MW) in the space of a few hours is enough to completely kill a power grid.
In South Australia it’s happened plenty of times before (see our posts here and here and here) and, once bitten and twice shy, it’s pretty clear that Jay Weatherill & Co are ready to do whatever it takes (irrespective of the cost) to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
No one expects the AEMO or Jay Weatherill to reveal just how much it’s costing South Australia’s power consumers to have a squad of peaking power plants running in the background (burning gas or diesel) simply to throw power into the grid as wind power output collapses, in order to prevent more mass load-shedding or total blackouts.
But gas is now far from cheap in Australia (as industrial gas users are painfully aware) and the owners of Open Cycle Gas Turbine peaking-power plants are happy to demand their pound of flesh, gouging anything from $2,000 per MWh right up to the market cap of $14,000 per MWh, for power that conventional base-load plants can deliver for less than $50.
What AEMO and Jay Weatherill will not be able to conceal is what confronts South Australian power consumers when they open power bills that are almost double those prevailing in neighbouring Victoria and which can only get worse.
In economically battered South Australia – unlike gravity and its wind farms’ power output – retail power prices can only go up and will never, ever come down. Last one out, please turn out the lights … if they’re not already …