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Finkel: SA wind farm “faults” known, solved in Europe 10 years ago

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The Finkel report into Australia’s National Energy Market says the settings on wind farms that were cited in reports on the blackout in South Australia in September were known about in Europe more than a decade ago, and resolved.

The observation in the Finkel review – which confirms industry advice – will raise more questions about the management of the grid by the Australian Energy Market Operator, which has claimed it was unaware that many wind farms had settings, known as fault ride-through mechanisms, that were only designed to ride through a small number of faults.

T1460414-Wind_turbine-SPL

Many observers believe it disingenuous, at best, that the market operator was not aware of key settings on the equipment it was required to manage. They will be watching with interest when AEMO releases its latest report on the blackout early next week.

Finkel sought advice from the International Energy Agency on the high levels of renewable energy penetration in South Australia and how to manage that growth in the rest of the country. South Australia, and the wind farm settings, was a key issue.

“With wind energy, the requirement to disconnect in the case of a fault following a short voltage dip was found to be a threat to system security in Europe about 10 years ago,” the IEA report noted.

“This problem was due to the way it was configured to operate. By requiring fault ride through (FRT) capabilities from VRE (variable renewable energy) power plants, this issue of single voltage dips has been since resolved.”

So much so that the occurrences of VRE generators disconnecting after a voltage dip have been reduced to zero in countries like Spain.

Indeed, while the AEMO reports have invited critics to focus the blame on wind farms – despite emphasising that it was not the nature of wind farms that was to blame – an invitation that the Coalition and  conservative media did not need repeating, new study suggests that the blame may lay elsewhere.

RES and Lloyds Register this week released a report suggesting that the “wobbles” of gas generators – when the turbines over-compensated for changes in the network – could have been a major contributing factor in the outage. The study suggests that inverter linked renewables with storage could have avoided the blackout by responding to changes in milliseconds and keeping the network stable.

The Finkel report implies that Australia’s grid is no longer fit for purpose, saying it is antiquated and does not have the policies and market design that would encourage the technology solutions that already exist for high levels of wind and solar.

The advice from the IEA suggested many countries have much higher levels of renewable energy than Australia. Finkel sought advice from the International Energy Agency on the high levels of renewable energy penetration in South Australia and how to manage that growth in the rest of the country.

The IEA responded by saying that many countries had changed their market designed to accommodate higher levels of wind and solar, including Ireland, which had a 50 per cent cap on wind energy but is now looking to expand that to 75 per cent.

The Finkel Review underlined the need for co-ordinated policy, noting that the dramatic changes in energy systems were unstoppable, and would be driven by consumer interest in solar and battery storage as they reacted to the plunging cost of new technologies and the soaring cost of grid energy.  

  • Horst

    Excellent question, I guess this question can join the melange of technical problem questions that have been answered long ago in Europe but somehow seem intractable in Australia

    • MrMauricio

      intractable only because we have a protected monopoly of poles and wire infrastructure which is also,coincidentally?,many times more profitable than just about every other possible investment category

    • First world country with third world politics.
      If it takes a major incident to find out that solutions were available 10 years ago, how long will it take to get the right policies in place?? This is not a trick question!

  • Ray Miller

    Add this to the Australian census problem and many others in Business management. I’m making the link to major failures in our education system. Its not necessarily about the money but the missing importance our community is placing on education standards and respect for knowledge.

    • Rod

      General dumming down of the population I’m afraid. We are not alone.
      Do you really think the orange one would have been voted in if the USA had a decent public education system?
      Three word slogans are all we understand.

      • neroden

        With all due respect, Trump got 2.8 million fewer votes than Clinton. He won because we in the US have an insane undemocratic method of electing the President.

        Though it is true that the best-educated states voted for Clinton, and the ones with awful education systems like Mississippi voted for Trump.

  • howardpatr

    Great cartoon about Cayman Turnbull; the newly minted RWRNJ.

    http://www.canberratimes.com.au/photogallery/act-news/david-pope-20120214-1t3j0.html

    • Rod

      Wow, not pulling any punches!
      They say a picture is better than a thousand words but a good cartoon like this will have even more impact.

      • howardpatr

        Lenore Taylor, The Guardian, has reported that Turnbull said the following:-

        “Politics is about conviction and a commitment to carry out those convictions. Many Liberals are rightly dismayed that on this vital issue of climate change we are not simply without a policy, without any prospect of having a credible policy, but we are now without integrity. We have giving our opponents the irrefutable, undeniable evidence that we cannot be trusted,” he wrote.

  • George Papadopoulos

    A cynical exercise blaming AEMO. Aren’t the wind developers also responsible?

    • nakedChimp

      Only if they didn’t offer these features when they knew they existed.
      You would need to find and ask people involved in the process if that has been the case..
      Then you could start to tie a rope.

    • neroden

      Nope. AEMO is entirely responsible. The wind farm developers offered to set the turbines to whatever settings AEMO wanted….

      • George Papadopoulos

        And how do you know that?

  • Nick

    “This problem was due to the way it was configured to operate. By requiring fault ride through (FRT) capabilities from VRE (variable renewable energy) power plants, this issue of single voltage dips has been since resolved.”

    But the SA wind turbines rode through single voltage dips just fine. It was the repeated ones that caused them to trip.