South Australia Relies on Satan’s Mercy

… to rely on the wind is to rely on Satan’s mercy!

— in The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner (1843)

Update 2016-09-30-09:30 below
Update 2016-09-29-15:15 below

All of South Australia (SA) was cast into chilling darkness after a storm struck, apparently taking out a connector to Victoria from where SA was drawing its only source of reliable power. It’s unclear if the failure was structural or electrical. Structural failure is less likely as the structures are supposed to be able to cope with the wind speeds reported. Maybe there was a micro-cell of more intense winds.

Sharp, 200MW generation spikes in wind power may have contributed to the blackout.

What is not yet known is how much of the wind power was shut down to protect turbines from over-speed during the storm. They typically shut themselves down at some wind speeds below 100 km/h; yet storm gusts have been reported as nearly 140km/h.  All that we can see so far is that the delivered wind power dropped to nothing; which could have been caused by the loss of interconnect providing the necessary, stabilising inertia. Wind generators will shut down when they cannot synchronise to the grid.

While the interconnect’s failure needs to be investigated, so does the fundamental lack of reliable, despatchable power generation in South Australia. The destruction of reliable generating plant is unconscionable when there is no comparable replacement capacity.

It has been known for over a decade (PDF) that unpredictable, unreliable generators such as wind turbines, still need 100% of their nominal capacity to be backed up by conventional sources of electrical power generation. Be they coal, oil, gas, nuclear or, to a lesser extent, hydro.

i.e. You have to build those power stations anyway and consume fuel to keep them ready to fill the gap in supply within tens of seconds. Fuel is burnt but no electrical power is generated while such plant are on standby. Operational economics are behind the mothballing of modern gas-fired peaking plant in Germany; as the gas needed to keep it ready to deliver is more expensive than the coal (lignite) in less-efficient, older and “dirtier” plant.

South Australia somehow managed to land a new contract to build a fleet of new submarines. It’s hard to see how such things could be built unless the shipyards have an independent electrical power supply. You can’t stop e.g. welding those sub’s just because the wind stops. Not unless you are more interested in producing scrap metal.

Ordinary people and extraordinary people like Richard Wagner understood long ago that wind power could not be counted upon. That it was unreliable. Such wider understanding seems to have diminished; since wind power was replaced by reliable power sourced from thermal engines, their primary energy mainly derived from wood and later; saving the declining forests; by coal, oil and gas. And electricity was always available at the wall socket.

Less than a century later, the power of the atom could be safely harnessed for the benefit of mankind but alas; the things that offer the most also seem to frighten the most. In this credulacene where rationality and reason have been replaced by wishful thinking and unashamed, narcissistic populism.

The people of South Australia are sitting in the dark; on energy reserves that could power the whole world for 100,000 years. It’s hard to tell if they’re quivering from the cold or from fear of things that they cannot be bothered to try to understand.

Update 2016-09-29-15:15

The state’s two blast furnaces are in serious trouble following the storm, with the Port Pirie smelter out of action for up to two weeks

NYRSTAR’S Port Pirie smelter will be out of action for up to two weeks and have a $7.3 million impact on the company’s bottom line after the slag in the blast furnace solidified. …

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said … “The blackout adds a sobering new dimension to SA’s power woes, which have been undermining confidence and causing major price spikes for some time.”

Update 2016-09-30-09:30

The inability of wind power to reboot the SA grid once it was isolated by the structural collapse of the interconnects is due to the inherent lack of inertia in renewable generation. The lack of inertia frustrates traditional frequency control of the grid so individual power generators cannot synchronise their output to a common, acceptable AC (alternating current) waveform.

From the Conclusions in  Grid Inertia and Frequency Control in Power  Systems with High Penetration of Renewables by Pieter Tielens and Dirk Van Hertem

It is obvious that the increase of renewable energy sources results in an urgent need for the assessment of their impact on grid stability. Both the inertial response as the primary and secondary control are highly influenced by integrating renewables. …

The effect of the penetration of renewables is most noticeable during low load situations as the use of renewables will cause the deactivation of traditional power plants and consequently lower the overall grid inertia. Wind power is in this respect worse than solar power, as solar power only reduces the grid response during moments of high load (higher initial inertia). On the other hand, wind turbines store a significant amount of kinetic energy, while solar units are completely inertialess.

It is clear that when the power system has a very small inertia or even becomes inertialess, the whole frequency control methodology needs to be redefined and new methods need to be developed to maintain the frequency.

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