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Wind supplied 47% of South Australia’s energy last week

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As I write these words, 7.4 per cent of the electrons powering my laptop come from wind farms – travelling at the speed of light between hundreds of silently whirring generators and the complex electronics in my computer. The output of wind farms over the past nine days – the span of National Science Week – has been particularly excellent, and it’s worth diving into some data to have a closer look.

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 10.18.40 AMScreenshot taken at 12:30 AEST 19/08/2013 from www.mistervint.com

Science Week was from August 10-18, inclusive. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) makes 5-minute generation data available through a gargantuan database. I’ve chosen to focus on South Australia and Victoria, states which lead the way in installed wind generation – there are 22 wind farms I’ve obtained generation data for, summarised in the table below.

Screen Shot 2013-08-20 at 1.01.52 PM

The total generation of those 22 wind farms was 285,257 megawatt hours. But what does that deliver to the energy market? The average Sydney household consumes 11.6 KWh per day, or 0.104 MWh over 9 days. So, the generation of wind farms throughout science week could power ~2.7 million homes – enough for all of Greater Sydney, and all of Greater Adelaide. That statistic alone is a firm reminder that wind power is a formidable player in the supply of energy.

Wind farms regularly contribute a large quantity of energy to the electricity market. We can chart total power output, every five minutes, over the course of Science Week:Chart_1_600px

Wind power is already regularly crowding out generation from fossil fuels, and Science Week is a great example of this. Looking specifically at South Australia, we can compare wind power generation to demand:Chart_2_600px

Wind power was a key player in generation, over Science Week. South Australian demand was 339.51 GWh over the course of the nine days, and total SA wind generation was 157.07 GWh – meaning wind supplied 46.26% of total energy in South Australia. South Australians ought to be proud – the integration of wind energy into their supply mix has been largely seamless, and in FY12, ~24% of total energy was sourced from wind. Victoria’s installed wind capacity is much lower, and coupled with Victoria’s significantly higher demand, wind plays a smaller role in offsetting fossil fuel generation:Chart_3_600px copy

Victorian wind power generated at close to full capacity for a large portion of the week, and at 05:55 on 18/08, wind power in Victoria was at 826 megawatts and demand was at 4,365 – during this interval, wind was powering nearly 1 in 5 homes in Victoria (18.9% of demand). Though this occurred during a period of low demand, these statistics give us a glimpse of the huge quantity of energy Victoria could source from wind power, something that’s currently being scuttled by Victoria’s draconian and non-scientific planning laws.

The power generated by wind crowds out the burning of fossil fuels. The 285GWh of energy that was pumped into the grid over the course of Science Week would otherwise have been sourced from traditional fuel sources, such as black or brown coal. You’d need 415,423 tonnes of brown coal, to generate that energy using fossil fuels (assuming a heat rate of 15 GJ/MWh and an energy density of 10.3 GJ/tonne).

As part of the Australian Museum’s Science Festival last week, we set up a booth adorned with a small solar panel, a wind turbine model, and a few displays showing real-time data from our wind farms, and wind farms across the NEM. One particularly inquisitive kid walked up to our booth, and paused briefly, gazing at the multitude of screens and the slowly-rotating wind turbine model behind.Image_1_600px

“It’s generating a lot now, but doesn’t wind speed change all the time? What are we meant to do when there’s no wind power?”

It was oddly refreshing to hear this as a real question, rather than a statement delivered to buttress an ideological hatred of renewable energy. The answer is simple – there are generators already in place that are used to meet electricity demand during periods of low wind availability. The grid wasn’t built from a single energy technology. Fifty years ago, coal, gas, oil and hydro were used to supply power. Right now, these technologies have been joined by wind and solar, to reliably meet demand.

In the future, concentrated solar thermal, biomass and tidal energy might remove our reliance on fossil fuels altogether. But, the answer to the puzzle lies in discarding dogmatic barracking for individual fuel types, and being open to the advantages and disadvantages of all technologies on offer. Most importantly, it means demanding that people support their assertions with evidence. Another student seemed surprised by my display of the power output of wind energy, on Wednesday afternoon:

“Is this real? I thought wind turbines were useless!”

Image_2_600px

The general perception seems to be that wind power can only supply a tiny percentage of power to the energy market – a myth easily struck down by our analysis of the generation of wind farms during science week. At times, generation from wind farms is lower, but this is easily managed, and demand is easily met in states with a high installed capacity for wind farms.

When you strip away the layers of politics, emotion and rhetoric, wind turbines are simply a way of pushing electrons onto the grid. This conversion is quantifiable – we can meter the output of these machines, and watch it live, or chart it post-hoc. Recording and analysing changes in the world sits at the heart of science, and it’s a philosophy that ought to be hoisted above the swirling stream of mythology that seems to have latched onto the genuinely fascinating world of renewable energy.

Want to play with the data, graphics or pivot tables used in this article? Click here to download an Excel Spreadsheet (~12MB, make sure your computer can handle it!), or click here to play with a simplified version published using Google Sheets. If you notice any errors, please get in touch with me via twitter – @ArghJoshi

Ketan Joshi is a Research and Communications Officer at Infigen Energy. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of his employers.

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  • takver

    This highlights that we need a diversity of generation types and geo-locations for a stable grid. The wind doesn’t blow all the time in one location, but it is always blowing somewhere, just a matter of having multiple wind farms to always capture wind where its blowing to feed it into the grid. Add solar with storage, will boost energy stability for 24/7 use. Add ocean wave and tidal generation and you have 24/7 constant generation capacity. Carbon pricing mechanisms are encouraging Investment in Wind generation which is acting to depress wholesale electricity prices.

  • Matt

    Rather than looking at what electricity can be produced with the wind powered generation capacity that currently exists, I prefer to think in terms of what is needed, and to actively plan a way of getting there. For instance, has anyone ever calculated what wind powered generation capacity would be needed to reliably power the Portland aluminium smelter (approx 1GW continuous)? Even at 33% capacity factor that would entail 3GW of turbines, or more, and they probably would have to spread in extent from Geelong to the Head of Bight to cover a large enough area to take advantage of different weather systems.
    If one was to contemplate this scale of infrastructure investment say over the next 30 years (or better, over less time), then perhaps it is time for the Federal Government to pave the way by building an HV interconnect between WA and the Eastern states. Or the AEMO providing leadership and direction by putting up funds to extend 3 phase high voltage lines into high wind or solar areas now only served by SWER. This could be seen as an analogue of the QLD “development roads”, designed to encourage privately funded development of the now proven resources already there.

    • DogzOwn

      How about a policy to cut power to aluminium smelters at time of peak demand? Interruption of an hour or 2 doesn’t hurt them. They only pay 1.5cents/kWh at any time, with 6.5cents or so, gifted by generous Vic taxpayers. Compare with cost of building big enough hydro for smelters and consider that smelters in Australia, using coal power, were always a mistake.

  • George Papadopoulos

    Just another shrewd wind industry promotion…
    Has Ketan bothered to identify the weeks that wind turbines produce little if any electricity?

  • Gary

    I did some analysis of 2011 Wind Generation capacity factors over time and estimated attainable penetration levels:

    http://sdrv.ms/14L24BV

    • George Papadopoulos

      Gary, nice conclusion – plenty of “could” but not what is actually happening.
      So what are you conclusions about the actual situation at the moment?

      • Gary

        I’d like to get the generation data since McArthur opened – since it balances the SA-VIC region better than it was in 2011.
        Unfortunately the generation data on the AEMO website is archived in 100,000 separate files per year. Does anyone know how I can get it in a more manageable format?

        • George Papadopoulos

          Gary, I think you have missed my point. For many years the wind industry hype keeps talking of “could”, “should” etc.
          Are you suggesting in your report that we keep throwing bucket loads at an industry that has progressed on the back of legislating protection and subsidies but has still to prove its worth?
          MacArthur is the biggest wind farm in Australia. Don’t know whether this is going to balance things or totter further into inconsistency.

          • Gary

            Wind is the cheapest non-fossil fuel electricity generation – so I don’t know what you mean by ‘bucket loads’. It costs about 4c/kWh more than existing (capitalised) coal generation and is marginally cheaper than new coal generation.
            Whether MacArthur would increase or decrease variability is an interesting question. It is a large amount of generation at one site but it better balances the large amount of generation around the Spencer gulf.

          • George Papadopoulos

            So Gary, I assume you don’t fully understand how the RET works? Are you aware of the merit order effect? If it wasn’t for the RET and the more recently the CEFC funding wind projects for want of investors, I don’t think wind farms would have even existed without other forms of government support.

          • Diego Matter

            George, fossil fuel plants and the electricity network wouldn’t exist without government help either.

          • George Papadopoulos

            Diego, yes a bit of help for fossil fuels – unlike the RET that legislates the existence of inefficient renewables like wind, rather than focussing on an energy plan that actually does produce meaningful reductions in CO2 emissions without plenty of fudge factors.

        • Ketan Joshi

          Gary, a full year of data would be unwieldy to extract, but you can download the Excel file I used to write the article from the link at the end, or here:

          https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B6Au73EozSjEdDlOSU9pRVRzMkk/edit

          It’s only for SA/Vic but the generation data are in a 5-minute resolution.

          • Gary

            Thanks Ketan – it is interesting data.
            I got the data for my analysis from windfarmperformance.info – where it has monthly data files but only up to March 2012.
            How do you get access to the AEMO database as opposed to their archived Excel files?

  • Peter

    As a South Australian, the dramatic increase in wind capacity and what it can produce just shows it’s an important part of our energy generation. I’m really pleased with this news! And this can be replicated elsewhere. And when solar thermal with storage is competitive and deployed, it will further provide clean renewable energy as a reliable energy source. Yes diversity is important along with geothermal.

    It greatly concerns me that the Coalition may win this forthcoming election and compromise deployment of renewable energy. Just for political difference! Very sad. However the pessimists may win the battle, but they won’t win the war. A clean energy future is not a matter of if, but when. Costs will continue to fall and it will just happen.

  • Ketan Joshi

    A few people have pointed out to me that electrons don’t ‘move’ through the grid – rather, they sort of jiggle up and down in an Alternating Current system. I did perhaps word that a little simply – for some more information, see:

    http://www.animations.physics.unsw.edu.au/jw/AC.html

    And, electricity doesn’t *quite* travel at the speed of light in the grid, thanks to @cleanlucre on Twitter for the link:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drift_velocity

    -Ketan

  • http://barnardonwind.wordpress.com/ Mike Barnard

    Excellent as always Ketan. Moderately good timing that it happened during science week, but it’s not exactly unusual for wind energy to be a significant contributor in SA. Lots of well sited and productive wind farms there. It’s a great example to the English speaking world.

  • Ronald Brakels

    In the graph of SA Wind Power vs SA Demand installed wind capacity is given as 1.2 gigawatts. South Australia actually hit that level two years ago and it has since increased. I think because of the way these things are worked out some data is left out so the total production of electricity from wind could have been higher. Anyway, the wholesale price of electricity seems to be hitting zero fairly regularly at the moment suggesting that wind is meeting all the state’s grid demand at these times.

    • Ketan Joshi

      Indeed, it’s a little bigger. I probably should have added a comment on the notes below the chart – a few units are left off the database, because they’re small than 30 MW installed capacity – but this varies, and it’s a fairly mammoth task to gather all of the installed capacity information (different sources tell you different things).

      For the purposes of the charts, I simply used the installed capacity of the generators I’d included (otherwise, it’s a bit misleading to include all capacity but exclude a few small gens).

      I was also considering putting in price data, but it got a complicated pretty quickly, but you can check it here, if you’re curious:

      http://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/Data/Price-and-Demand

      • Ronald Brakels

        Thank you.