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BoM says 260km/h winds knocked down network in S.A. blackout

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The Bureau of Meteorology says wind gusts up to 260km/h from a “supercell” thunderstorm and multiple tornadoes were recorded on September 28, destroying transmission towers and causing the state-wide blackout in South Australia.

The report from the BoM – which mapped the passage of storm and 7 tornadoes over critical network infrastructure – makes it clear that a freak weather event was responsible for the grid blackout, but it also raises questions about the actions of the Australian Energy Market Operator.

AEMO has attempted to shift the blame to wind energy for the blackout, but has conceded that it took no action to protect energy security as the storms rolled across the state.

In its report, BoM says it issued clear warnings of “destructive winds” as well as heavy rainfall and large hailstones three times before the blackout, the first at 12.26pm in South Australia, the second at 2.10pm, and the third at 3.26pm. The blackout occurred at 3.38pm.

BoM warning

Indeed, it had forecast a severe weather event two days earlier, given the extraordinary conditions that were developing. “Escalating confidence in the historical significance of the approaching weather system on Monday 26 September provided the SES a firm platform for pre-emptive activation strategies,” the BoM writes.

But AEMO did nothing and continued to run the interconnector at near full capacity and called for no contingency back-up.

South Australia energy minister Tom Koutsantonis says the report “should put to rest the debate” over who or what was to blame for the blackout.

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce have both used the blackout to attack renewable energy policies in other states,” he said.

“And as recently as just a few weeks ago Steven Marshall claimed in parliament that storms did not caused the blackout, and accused the Premier of misleading parliament when he suggested they did.

“This report clearly and definitively states that tornadoes destroyed transmission lines in the north of South Australia, triggering the blackout. It’s time opponents of renewable energy accept that fact.”

Bom stormSouth Australia has proposed rule change requests to the Australian Energy Market Commission which seek to give AEMO greater power to manage system security in the National Electricity Market.

But many in the market argue that the rules are already sufficient for AEMO to act.

“The rules under Chapter 4 (of the NEM rules) give AEMO all the power that they need –AEMO have narrowed their interpretation of the existing rules and proceduralised themselves into a corner to the extent that they have forgotten what they should do in certain circumstances,” said one wind farm operator on the condition of anonymity.

He and other experts note that AEMO often declares a “credible” contingency when lightning strikes are observed, yet it did nothing when the supercell, thousands of lighting strikes and destructive winds tore across the state on September 28.

They are outraged by the actions of the AEMO, particularly its attempts to blame wind energy, and calling for an independent inquiry into AEMO’s actions, or lack of them, on that day and subsequently.

“It should be done by an international expert – for two reasons: the local experts are reluctant to take the problem on as they derive much of their income doing work for AEMO and AEMO has made problems for engineers in the past.

“Secondly we need to have experts in wind modelling and network modelling take a fresh look at the performance of the grid. AEMO have prepared a slick set of slides – basically because the wind tripped off therefore the power swing occurred therefore wind is to blame … and then what they are doing to fix it.

“But it does not question any of the actions that they took (or did not take). In fact it goes to great lengths to take a simplistic view of how SA Generators and Electranet are meant to inform AEMO of issues so that AEMO can do their job.”

AEMO said it would not respond immediately to the BoM report, but would include its findings in its next report on the blackout due in the middle of December.

According to the BoM, the winds peaked at 260km/h – around the same as Cyclone Tracy the destroyed Darwin and nearly as high as Cyclone Yasi. This comes as the Climate Council predicted more major storms in coming years thanks to climate change.

It has found evidence that confirms that the one tornado cut a direct path across the Davenport-Belalie/Davenport-Mt Lock transmission lines – destroying five transmission towers.

The report also found that another tornado was in the vicinity of the Brinkworth – Templars West transmission line at the time two transmission towers were destroyed.

The Devenport – Brinkworth transmission line was brought down by sustained, severe winds from the supercell thunderstorm. The BOM report confirms at least seven tornadoes impacted the area, as well as severe wind gusts and very large hailstones.

All told, 22 towers across the network and three  of the four transmission lines moving power between Adelaide and the north of South Australia were damaged. The subsequent cascading event resulted in a system black for South Australia at 3:48pm local time.

 

  

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  • Rod

    260 km/h wind gusts and no damage to turbines. That surely is a good sign.

    • Quite right – and it should be noted that the impact on generation from high wind speeds (the favoured line of Uhlmann, Xenophon and Barnaby) was minimal, something like 20MW out of 860MW at the time.

      • Nicko

        The ABC denies that Uhlmann pressed the “impact on generation from high wind speeds” as Giles puts it. This is highly disingenuous, but in the form letter it states:

        “We note that his reports did not blame renewable energy for the power outage. Rather, his reports covered a range of issues including South Australia’s power generation mix and its operational status; some of the complexities associated with South Australia’s power grid; the political decision making that lead to South Australia’s energy mix; and the operation of the national electricity market. These issues, including Mr Uhlmann’s questioning around whether the State’s heavy reliance on wind turbines might have increased the risk of a state-wide blackout, were all highly relevant and newsworthy in the context of South Australia’s unprecedented power outage.” Elizabeth Steer Audience and Consumer Affairs

        The *effect* of the dog whistle reporting is dismissed – that is, the impression it was supposed to form in people’s minds to weaken support for renewable energy.

    • Chris Fraser

      Maybe the blades were feathered to reduce hub speeds …

      • Rod

        I didn’t even know they had that capability.
        Even so, they survived and most kept running until the transmission towers went down.
        The often touted 99 km/h cut off speed is probably very conservative.
        I would assume a turbine under load would be fine in most conditions.

      • DJR96

        Yes, blade pitch control is arguably the most important control feature of a wind turbine. It is what controls the rotation speed. It is also essential to be able to actually stop it turning. No amount of braking will stop them in a good breeze.
        Realistically there is no reason why they can’t keep generating power well above the 90kmh we keep hearing about.

      • solarguy

        And or the electro magnetic brakes.

    • Alan S

      Though the anti wind mob would still be able to hear the infrasound.

      • solarguy

        But not if they wear their tin foil hats, lol.

    • Ren Stimpy

      One issue that came to the surface in those high winds – electricity from one of the turbines arced across to a nearby graveyard and re-animated one of the residents (Mr Frank Stein). It took the townsfolk all night with their flaming torches and pitchforks to track him down and deal with the situation.

      #stuffwecanblameonrenewables

    • Chris Marshalk

      Try explaining that to the Monkeys in the LNP.

  • Evo

    disgraceful that this outage was preventable.

  • howardpatr

    AEMO seems to have a track record supportive of a view that they might very well be incompetent?

    • Malcolm M

      We are putting a lot of blame on what could have been a few brave souls in the AEMO control room at the time, who may not have been supported by staff of sufficient seniority to authorise the purchase of more local gas generation in SA at what was a time of high wind generation. This would have cost dollars. There may not have been authorisation procedures for such a change based solely on a weather forecast. But with this incident firmly behind them, the next time a similar incident occurs the response would be quite different. How many hours of senior management time has this taken so far ?

      • des_reputable

        So it’s a ‘market economy’ model – operators place their bets, and pray for the right outcome. In this market, you’re even allowed to bet (by not running) your spinning reserve! Except SA pays if the roulette wheel falls of the table…..

      • MG

        AEMO doesn’t just fly by the seat of their pants. Reclassifying transmission lines and limiting interconnectors causes real costs, and creates winners and losers, so AEMO needs to maintain a robust process for when they intervene and reclassify things. Currently they only reclassify transmission lines based on lightening, and then only if a transmission line has a history of lightening strikes. All documented on p30 of their procedure linked below. It may be a fair criticism to say AEMO should add a section about “tornadoes”, but in my view tornadoes (and events like these) are so rare, that preparing against all such eventualities is impossible. https://www.aemo.com.au/-/media/Files/Electricity/NEM/Security_and_Reliability/Power_System_Ops/2016/SO_OP_3715—Power-System-Security-Guidelines.pdf

        • The BoM report makes it absolutely clear that thunderstorms were clearly identified through the morning and afternoon, sweeping over the state. Thunderstorms and lightning go together. There were thousands and thousands of lightning strikes, many well before the grid went down. That is absolutely no excuse.

  • Cooma Doug

    The outage I expect was not preventable. Looking back in a retrospective stress free view, with all the unknowns now in sight, those in control would take action. It would not have prevented the system black but could have made the recovery more rapid.
    Problem is that such a decision, hours out from a predicted weather event, would look absolutely dreadful what ever the outcome.
    Having looked at this event compared to others I have been involved in, AEMO resolved it much faster and effectively then I thought possible.
    The flies in the ointment here are the weather and a flood of unpredictable
    events.
    The only way to solve the problem is to get on with the implementation of load side response utilising available technologies.

    • Rod

      I agree the recovery time was impressive.
      The cynic in me feels economics may have driven what was on-line during this event.
      I can’t recall but think TIPs had 3 units ready but not doing much. Pelican Point was off but could have been on with a bit of prompting. The interconnector flow could have been minimised and ready to respond to an event.

      I remember seeing on the news on the night before all the usual suspects around a table working on contingencies for this one in 50 Year event.
      Surely electricity supply was on the agenda.

      • Malcolm M

        In AEMO’s report it says they do not have a control centre in South Australia, so it was presumably controlled from their Melbourne office. There are some advantages in having a control centre in an unaffected location. However not being in the action means that AEMO staff were probably not physically present at the disaster planning meetings, and operators could take an infotainment approach to the unfolding disaster.

    • Malcolm M

      The load shedding system should have prevented the system black, and would have allowed a much faster recovery of power to all areas except those affected by the downed towers. According to AEMO’s report, the load shedding system is initiated by a frequency reduction. There are two reasons why this will no longer work in SA. Firstly, the inter-connector has been upgraded, so frequency through SA is maintained until the line trips at Heywood through excessive load. Secondly, wind generation is asynchronous and follows the frequency of the synchronous generators, most of which are outside of SA. The load shedding system instead needs to be controlled from Heywood to ensure load is shed before the inter-connector trips.

  • Ken Dyer

    A likely story. I am sure that Senator Malcolm Roberts will claim that these figures were manipulated by NASA and the CSIRO, and the towers falling over had nothing to do with bad weather, but were as a result of the heavy load generated by wind turbines which overcharged the network. He might also claim that the retention of coal fired power stations in South Australia would have prevented the problem which was definitely not caused by climate change, don’t you know?

    • MaxG

      You got it soo right! 😉

    • Nicko

      More halal wind electricity flowing through those wires would have made them heavier and that collapsed the towers. Why can’t the so-called experts see that?

  • phred01

    Wait a minute! This report by BOM is going to salted by saying their equipment was out of calibration and the winds didn’t reach 260 kph

    • Ren Stimpy

      That or the urban heat island effect.

  • Geoff

    CRIKEY……
    Giles. More denial……..ffs

  • GiveADogABone

    Malcolm M’s earlier post hits the bull’s-eye :
    ‘According to AEMO’s report, the load shedding system is initiated by a frequency reduction.
    … so frequency through SA is maintained until the line trips at Heywood through excessive load.
    … The load shedding system instead needs to be controlled from Heywood to ensure load is shed before the inter-connector trips.’

    A correct diagnosis and the first time I have seen it anywhere on the web from anyone else. The ‘reneweconomy.com’ webmaster should commission a article that analyzes this insight because nobody else has published this fundamental fact and its consequences. Everyone is ducking the issue of ‘spinning reserve’ in SA – why?

    A split second before the interconnector tripped there was precisely zero ‘spinning reserve’ in SA; that is why all generation loss went onto the interconnector which was already at almost full load before the incident. That is a dumb way to run a grid system in normal times, let alone when a major storm is imminent. Operator error!

    And to reiterate the conclusion:
    The load shedding system instead needs to be controlled from Heywood to ensure load is shed before the inter-connector trips.
    Load shedding must DETECT THE HEYWOOD INTERCONNECTOR LOAD when the interconnector is operating!

    • Mike Dill

      And NONE of the ‘black start’ was ready for the event. SA should sue to get the reserve payments back with interest and a large penalty for negligence.

    • DJR96

      Ah hah! You’re very close here.

      Funny thing is, a big chunk of load WAS shed when the Davenport-Mt.Lock transmission line tripped. Here’s the kicker- the system attempted to re-close that line when the Heywood interconnector was already over-capacity. This attempt should never have been made under those circumstances. A really dumb move that resulted in loss of synchronous operation between SA/Vic which alone massively overloaded the interconnector, and ultimately the black system.

      There hasn’t been any mention in reports so far about the response of the running gas generation. Other than to say they didn’t fail. But, did they ramp up at all as the first wind turbines dropped off?? Same goes for the Murraylink which was only running at half capacity prior to events. That’s a BIG question AEMO needs to answer.

  • Barri Mundee

    Seems we need an independent inquiry into AEMO to determine why they are not independent

  • Ray Miller

    Welcome to the predicted new weather norm! And surprisingly the denial game continues but getting harder to justify.
    Spare a thought for all the engineers, what wind specification do you use for the replacement transmission towers? Is 260km/h going to be enough? And then who pays or do we shift investment into plan B greater resilience closer to the end user?
    http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/brisbane-weather-severe-storm-topples-shipping-containers-moves-planes-20161113-gsoj6m.html

  • Analitik

    The wind farms going offline from line faults was supposed to be a non-credible event which is why more spinning reserve was not brought online.

    Are the wind farms capable in storms or not? Make up your minds.

    • DJR96

      Pretty remarkable that none of the wind turbines suffered any physical damage at all.
      Shame they are hobbled by an archaic system that merely considers renewable generation as a non-credible side effort, instead of embracing the technology to maximise the system support it can offer.

  • MaxG

    It was the wind turbines’ fault; they were blowing so strong in the wind, amplifying it, that it blew over the electricity towers.
    It wouldn’t surprise me, if a neo-lib pollie would pick up that line :))

    • Ian

      Max, you hit the nail on the head, it was renewable energy that blew over the transmission lines- wind and wild weather all of it renewable.

      How much more ‘spin’ can the fossil fuel lobby get out of this situation?