The nation’s renewable energy strategy has officially blown a fuse. Everything is back on the table after an interim report found last week’s storm-induced statewide blackout in South Australia was the result of a dramatic, sudden loss of wind power generation.
The loss of wind power came after fierce lightning and strong winds hit the transmission system but the reason for the collapse of wind power production is not explained. Industry insiders say the wind farms “had not responded as they were supposed to”. This puts the lie to claims renewables had nothing to do with the statewide blackout.
As does the admission by the Australian Energy Market Operator in its interim report that the bulk of damage to high-voltage transmission lines that have been paraded as evidence in defence of renewables was most likely to have happened after power had been lost.
It will take weeks to flesh out the forensic, time-sequenced analysis already conducted by AEMO. But there is enough in the interim report to make the still-persistent claims from state leaders and industry lobby groups that renewable energy had nothing to do with the blackout seem foolish.
Certainly, the power would not have been lost were it not for the big storm. And seven big towers were damaged in the lead-up to the blackout.
But AEMO said data currently available indicates the damage to the Davenport to Brinkworth 275kV line, on which 14 towers were damaged, “occurred following the SA Black System”.
The big event was a 123MW reduction in output from North Brown Hill Wind Farm, Bluff Wind Farm, Hallett Wind Farm and Hallett Hill Wind Farm at 16:18.09. Seconds later there was an 86MW reduction in output from Hornsdale wind farm and a 106MW reduction in output from Snowtown Two wind farm.
No explanation was given for the reduction in wind farm output. But the loss of wind farm production put too much pressure on the electricity interconnector with Victoria, which cut off supply. This in turn led to a shutdown at the Torrens Island power station, Ladbroke Grove power station, all remaining wind farms and the Murraylink interconnector.
AEMO says more work is needed. But definitely there are lessons here for putting high levels of intermittent renewable energy into the electricity system, as state governments are now rushing to do. As a result, the AEMO report provides a handy reference point for energy ministers meeting at a Council of Australian Governments emergency conference tomorrow.
The issue is the need for co-ordination and a national plan. The need for greater recognition of reliability of supply, stability and cost that must be considered in any transition to a less carbon-intensive energy system.
South Australia is significant in world terms for its high penetration of renewable energy without a complete power back-up from neighbouring states. Blackouts, price spikes and traditional job losses are lessons now being learnt the hard way.
The speed with which renewable energy spruikers rushed to argue that renewables had nothing to do with the events in South Australia is a measure of their ideological self-interest.