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Renewables stress: The daily battle just to keep the lights on in Australia

Who’s afraid of a cascading blackout?

Last year investment in unreliable and asynchronous generators doubled in Australia thanks to government decree. For some reason, adding another few gigawatts of iffy capricious infrastructure to a 50GW finely-tuned-system appears to put the whole national grid in a near constant state of emergency. The AEMO (our market operator) had to intervene in the South Australian market eight times in 2016/17, but last year they had to do it 101 times.

This warning comes from the  Australian Energy Market Commission (AMEC) which makes the rules for the national grid. Why are they baring the dirty renewables laundry? Because the answer to the crisis is always bigger government and this is a reason to call for it.

Renewables stress the grid

Perry Williams, The Australian

Australia’s electricity grid is relying on emergency safety nets to keep the lights on, …

The deterioration of the strength of the electricity network — most pronounced in South Australia — is also spreading to southwest NSW, northwest Victoria and north Queensland, adding to wholesale costs incurred by users.

SA’s electricity system is increasingly operating under the direct intervention of the grid operator, with last-ditch interventions reserved for emergencies becoming a default way of managing the network,…

Systems with lots of non-synchronous generation like wind and solar are weaker and harder to control — raising the risk of cascading blackouts. Unprecedented in their breadth and scope, these trends put extraordinary pressure on the security and reliability of our power grid.” Investment in large-scale renewable energy doubled in 2018 to $20 billion, with one in five Australians now owning rooftop solar and electricity generated by clean energy accounting for 21 per cent of the overall power mix, Clean Energy Council data will show today.

That trend is also pressuring wholesale market prices, with the cost of keeping the system stable soaring to $270 million as of September 2018, while the cost of maintaining frequency control surged nearly tenfold to $220m in 2018 from $25m in 2012.

Spot the trend in Frequency Control payments. The weekly bills used to be $400,000. Now it’s $5 million.

FCAS Cost, AER, Australian frequency control cost.

Frequency control has gone up ten-fold in cost since 2012.  Data AER.

Lo and verily, the solution to a problem the government created is to add more government…

Stop-gap measures propping up power grid

Angela Macdonald-Smith, AFR

Australia’s power grid is only coping with the rapid influx of intermittent wind and solar power with the help of costly daily intervention by the energy market operator to keep the lights on, an assessment of the electricity system has found, ramping up pressure for a long-term federal framework that integrates climate and energy policy.

AMEC could have pointed out the costs of trying to turn our national grid into a weather-changing-machine. Instead they are changing the rules and adding synchronous condensers, giant spinning discs to create some artificial stability.

“After AEMO declared a problem in South Australia that state’s network provider organized to install synchronous condensers which are due to be commissioned in 2020,” Mrs Pearson said. When that happens the need for very frequent directions to maintain system strength in South Australia will hopefully come to an end. It is a timing and technology issue. First AEMO declares a shortfall, then networks decide the best local solutions for them and start putting them in place.” — AMEC press release

Just let the free market back and renewables wouldn’t be a problem…

Press release AMEC


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