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Get ready for a summer of spite over energy supplies

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heat wave demand response

The lights went out in our neighbourhood in coal-dependent NSW on Sunday afternoon. For about three hours, just as I was settling in to watch an A-League game on my iPad.

There was no explanation from Essential Energy, it was probably a fallen branch or a transformer issue. The nearest wind or solar farm is at least 300km away.

Outages do happen. But heaven help the energy debate in Australia if they occur at even a minor scale in the big cities or elsewhere over the next few months.

On Friday, when the Tesla big battery was officially opened north of Adelaide, there was a power outage nearby because of overnight storms.

Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian didn’t miss its mark: “Blackouts welcome Tesla’s mega-battery,” it headlined, and doubled the dose in its editorial column, which repeated, for the Nth time, the standard right-wing nonsense about the cost of renewable energy subsidies.

(Note: If the power lines are down, it doesn’t matter what you use to generate electrons, they won’t get to the destination – although the new battery next to the Wattle Point wind farm next May and a renewable-based micro-grid may limit the impacts of lines down elsewhere).

But renewable energy naysayers don’t want to be bothered by such details. If you really want to know what conservatives think about renewables and this coming summer, you could take a dive into RenewEconomy’s email inbox.

“F***, I like this period we are heading towards,” writes one regular correspondent of the summer and the threat of outages. “What a mess this has turned out to be – renewable bullsh** power.”

This correspondent, like others in our inbox, clearly has some detailed knowledge of the electricity industry, or at least of the 19th Century version. Make no mistake about the number of his ideological colleagues who share his ill-will towards new technologies and this clean energy transition.

 

And some are quite public about it. “We need a blackout this summer,” wrote 3AW’s conservative shock-jock Tom Elliott in his blog a few months ago, and presumably repeated on the airwaves, too.

“I hope we suffer from a giant, statewide blackout on a super hot day this coming summer,” Elliott wrote.

“Nothing else will convince our head-in-the-sand political leaders to abandon their idiotic and unreliable energy polices in favour of what all Victorians rightfully demand – a cheap and reliable power supply.”

And by cheap and reliable power supply, Elliott does not mean renewables, batteries and mini-grids, which most utilities and power system operators say would be the best guarantee against outages.

Elliott means coal generators, of the type that had three big units out last week (two at Yallourn and one at Loy Yang A), or a total of 1300MW.

And when this outage was made worse by gas supply problems at the Longford gas terminal, it forced AEMO to intervene in the market for 100MW of demand response to ensure the lights stayed on.

That intervention – using the Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader – surprised many in the market – because the forecast demand was not extreme and the prices were not high, and did not appear to follow the normal levels of escalation. i.e. an actual LOR2 (second level of lack of reserve, just one stop short of actual load-shedding).

Many would have been disappointed that the prices did not spike to $14,000/MWh.

About the same time, the Tesla big battery was “invited” to discharge into the afternoon peak in South Australia.

But such is the lack of visibility around these RERT interventions that there were no real clues as to what actually went on, and who did what and why. Or got paid how much.

“That was a rude start to the summer-time,” said one participant.

AEMO itself has made clear that the bigger threat to Australia’s energy supply this summer is the unexpected outage of one of the bigger generators – either coal or gas – like the big coal and gas generators which tripped in NSW and South Australia, and the others that simply lay idle.

This is the reason it has lined up some 2000MW of “reserve capacity” – including moth-balled generators, demand response, and other technologies – to deal with any such misadventures. These are the last line of defence.

AEMO has taken an especially cautious approach, perhaps not surprising given that its own procedures came under question – both in the South Australia “system black” last September, and in the load shedding in February.

The sort of precautions that AEMO failed to take on those two occasions are now standard practice – at the merest mention of high wind or storm activity, both in high renewable states like South Australia and coal dependent states like NSW and Queensland.

solar.

In South Australia, for instance, it has introduced a new rule that requires a certain amount of gas generation to be online at all times of high wind output. ElectraNet said last week it believed those rules would be relaxed over time, particularly as new storage came into the market.

In the meantime, AEMO has also imposed new rules, or a new interpretation of rules, that hit new solar farms, and some wind projects, by requiring them to ride through certain events. It is not a technical problem, but it has resulted in added costs to projects already under construction.

AEMO, in its summer readiness report last week, also revealed a major review of its own practices (extra training, reading weather reports more than twice a day), and has been visiting the big generators.

In the words of one insider, this has involved “reading the riot act” to the operators of these machines – mostly to make sure that they are aware of, and communicate, any problems and limitations that may arise in the case of extended periods of hot weather.

AEMO, in past summers, has been given advice sometimes just minutes ahead of time. It has now decided that this is not good enough. It is a recognition that there are as many problems with ageing fossil fuel generators than there are with any increase in renewables.

But such facts won’t cut any mustard with renewable nay-sayers. As with the unhinged response from the right wing to the Tesla big battery (Conservatives go completely nuts over battery storage), and the idea of smart, efficient technologies like demand management, don’t expect a reasoned debate.

In July, the ex-Kiwi and newly re-elected member for New England, and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce made it clear that if a state like NSW, even with a relatively small amount of renewable energy in its system, has a major blackout, then renewables would be held to blame.

Joyce even said it could be the “end of the industry”. Little matter that the biggest threat to Sydney’s power supply last summer, and this coming one, is the possible trip of one of the ageing coal generators.

Just hours before Joyce delivered his threat to attendees at the Clean Energy Summit, the NSW Coalition energy minister Don Harwin had praised the performance of renewables for actually keeping the lights on in Sydney earlier this year, something he has done on other occasions.

Harwin noted that NSW did nearly lose power, when two big coal units and two big gas generators failed at the peak of a heat-wave, but was only saved because wind and solar performed as predicted, producing at record amounts, and the Tomago aluminium smelter was directed to reduce power.

As one insider said, this summer it is quite likely that coal plant will simply blow a gasket, particularly after several days of unrelenting heat. Or someone could simply drop a spanner in the wrong place, just to see the impact.

But don’t expect Joyce to be so even handed if there is political mileage to be made this summer. And don’t expect the Murdoch media and the conservative talk-back ignorati to do the same.  

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  • Joe

    Giles, a shame that you missed watching that A-League game, its been a great competition so far this year. But you have nailed it again with this ‘other competition’ of RE vs Rupert, his newsrags and the anti RE RWNJ’s. Premier Jay is there flicking the switch for the Big Battery but not a single good word from The Australian or The Daily Telegraph ( Rupe’s Sydney rag ). All they could write about was the blackout next door to the Tesla and somehow stringing the loooooong bow that the Big Battery was implicated. Don’t bother reporting the downed powerlines as the cause! But of course we are all used to this bulls**t news reporting from the Rupert. The sad thing is that too many buyers of Rupe’s newsrags swallow as the gospel truth every anti RE line that is printed….and it goes on day after day after day.

    • rob

      Hey Joe and Giles,
      Someone in the comments section as a reply to my post that S.A. was producing 78% from renewables ……..stated ” S.A is all take and no action, look Vic is producing more wind than you are……!” Is the said person so dumb that they didn’t consider our tiny population of 1.2 mill in comparison to the larger states of Vic. NSW and Qld!. FFS some people are simply DUMB AS ALL [email protected]@K

      • Joe

        Dear oh dear the SA bashing it just never stops does it. Let’s see the RE numbers of the other states compared with the great state of Premier Jay……oooops I mean SA. Again, who’s got the world’s biggest battery? Again, who’s going gangbusters pumping out wind and solar energy? And who’s getting really serious with solar thermal? I can’t see much ‘take’ in that lot BUT I can see plenty of the ‘actions’. Rob, that comment dude of yours must be a stooge from Rupertsville!

        • rob

          Fanks dude

  • MaxG

    While I call the clowns stupid; the sad thing is (as I wrote a couple of months back) when I was talking to a hard-core climate denier, they are really people like you and I, they just see the world in a different light; right or wrong; as much as you and I see our point, they see it differently. They are father, husbands, workers, and what not. And how many people a dead set in their tracks just about anything.

    • rob

      pfft…..they are troglodytes ! Certainly not like ME! They are the dumb HANSONITES of the world………never listened to their Science Teachers of which I was one!

      • Joe

        That is the real issue / point to be made…it is about THE science. Anyone is entitled to their opinion but you can’t have your own facts. If doctors diagnose you with say, cancer, do you just shake your head and say nah, this cancer thing is not real?

        • john

          It fact I have seen people do that then attended their funeral.

    • Rod

      I think a lot of deniers believe doing something about climate change will cost them shekels. The trick is to convince them most of the low hanging fruit can be affordable tackled and may even benefit individuals and society financially.

      Subjects such as avoided death and health costs are too complex. Even projected insurance costs should sea levels rise seems too far off for some.

      • Hettie

        The mess in India with cricket play being stopped because of unprecedented air pollution offers a different way to convert naysayers to clean energy. It worked for Arnie Schwarzenegger in California. Wind and solar generation do not produce air pollution, so areas that have a smog problem are low hanging fruit for that inducement to go clean.
        Trying to convince climate deniers to support clean energy to save the planet is pissing against the wind. Pointing out that clean energy will reduce the severity of their child’s asthma is a bird of a very different feather.
        Diferent strokes for different folks.

        • JIm

          Keep talking about carbon pollution

          • Hettie

            Never doubt it!

          • Hettie

            And of course it’s not just the CO2 that causes damage. The particulate matter, mercury vapour, sulphur dioxide all contribute to horrific health impacts and damage to heritage buildings, especially sandstone and limestone.
            Then there is the profligate use of water , in the driest continent, the destruction of agricultural land…
            You all know these things, so I’m preaching to the converted on these pages, but I do wish that the value of such arguments to gain support for renewables was not so overlooked.
            Trying to convert the climate deniers is futile. So use different arguments. They are just as valid.

          • Joe

            Young Hettie…keep on a preaching. It soothes me soul.

        • Rod

          India’s initial responses to smog. Alternate day driving! What a joke.
          I’m not sure which way India will go but in China, the elites realise the pollution will eventually cause unrest. This IMO is why they are taking action faster than many expected.

          • Hettie

            The Chinese have made it very clear that it was air pollution that drove the start of their switch to renewables, their cancellation of multiple planned coal generators.
            Now of course, it’s economics.

          • Hettie

            Getting 50% of cars off the roads makes a huge difference to air pollution and smog . Besides, it’s a measure that can be implemented overnight, requires no infrastructure and can provide relief while ither measures are being brought on line.
            Don’t knock it.

          • Rod

            If it was a permanent or even mid term measure I wouldn’t knock it but it will be BAU as soon as pollution levels drop

          • Hettie

            After my recent abject failure at prognostication, I could not pozsibly comment further.

          • Joe

            Paris, France does the ‘alternate driving thing; when the air gets bad.

        • Ren Stimpy

          Well Indians do love their cricket, so the sight of the fielding Sri Lankan players wearing face masks on the field in a test match should be enough to shake the Indian people awake from their filthy air nonchalance/slumber and start doing something about it.

          • Joe

            Young Hettie and Ren, I loved the Indian Coach saying it was all good after Indian captain Kohli knocked out a 200 run plusser. The filthy air had the Lankan bowlers spewing their guts out and there was captain Kohli just picking off the runs at his gay abandon and leisure…whats not to like from the batting team! It was almost laughable the sight of the Lankans with their face masks on as if flimsy cloth was ever going to help in that putrid suffocation-a-thonery. Now imagine if it started to rain, the players would be off in a flash….all in the name of safety and well being of players. What a mockery that toxic air at the cricket makes of the games officials.

          • Ren Stimpy

            Is filthy air the new sledging?

          • Joe

            ..cough, cough, spew, cough….play on old chap!

          • Ren Stimpy

            I’d give you a good Yorkshire wicketkeeper’s headbutt acknowledgment, but the filthy air you’re breathing in Delhi has most likely done that headbutt that for me – so all’s well that ends well.

    • Cooma Doug

      If Barnaby and Canavan were at the Aussie Grand Pre and spoke to the press and insisted that all compeditors must use VW steering wheels and adopt Toyota brakes and steering, it wouldnt happen because its stupid. Any mob that did would never win.
      The same thing applys to the power grid.

      They insist on coal generators and large base load gens. Anyone who invests this way in Australia now will go broke. The investors understand this and they watch TV. But stupid about the power grid…no they are not.

      To stuff things up as they suggest, the conservatives need to see impossible things happen.
      1 …they have to do a full 180 degree shift on infrastructure policy and put an axe through privatisation.
      2….they have to ignore all scientific and industry advice virtually shutting down the energy market.
      3….Oh yes they need to win the next federal election and not just Townsville.

      • rob

        that is grand PRIX

        • Cooma Doug

          Pricks

          • rob

            See I alluded……and you finished it off for me…. lol

    • juxx0r

      The difference is that someone is paying them to see it incorrectly.

      • Mike Westerman

        Not always – corruption is more commonly to do with trading favours between members to maintain the power of a particular group ie mutual back scratching. Conformity to group norms is a key criteria for membership, which is why so often these groups sound like echo chambers, all the sheep bleating the same lines.

  • john

    FUD it works.
    Simple you blame this new fangled techno thingie, which no one understands and because the old system worked most of the time it is the new techno thingie that has caused the problem.
    Now add a lot of fear, that using this new kind of techno thingie will result in more black outs, it is a simple connection.

    It works and the Murdoch media will play the song book up to the hilt.
    The shock jocks will chime in because this is their song book keep the listeners in Fear fill them with Uncertainty and give them Disinformation.
    This situation is not going to change any time soon because we live in the age of the educated idiot.

    • rob

      make that….”NON EDUCIMATED IDIOTS” and I will like your post

      • john

        ha ha unfortunately i define educated as being able to read not necessarily being able to comprehend.

        • rob

          and THAT would be an incorrect assumption!

          • john

            Well if one can read and can not comprehend the information, but make assumptions and decisions, I would submit that the person is an educated idiot.
            Perhaps your correct said person can read and not comprehend but not make assumptions in which case you would be correct.

  • Ken Dyer

    This discussion paper from the Australia Institute puts the lie to all those fossil fuel fake news fools!

    CANT STAND THE HEAT
    The energy security risk of Australia’s reliance on coal and gas generators
    in an era of increasing heatwaves

    http://www.tai.org.au/content/coal-and-gas-reliability-liability-heat-report

    The analysis found that during the February 2017 heatwave across south-eastern Australia:

    In South Australia, 17% of gas powered generation (438 MW) was unavailable during the peak demand period that led to the 8th February blackouts.

    In New South Wales, 20% of coal and gas generation (2438 MW) failed to deliver during the critical peak period of interval, leading to load shedding at Tomago aluminium smelter.

    In Queensland, 7% of coal and gas generation (790 MW) was withdrawn in the 4 hour of the peak leading $13,000 MWh prices eleven times within three hours.

    Across the NEM, 14% (3600 MW) of coal and gas electricity generation capacity failed during critical peak demand periods in three states as a result of faults, largely related to the heat.

    And in Victoria, we have the following report:

    http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/power-plant-failures-push-states-energy-grid-close-to-the-edge-in-november-heat-20171122-gzqw3l.html

    Supreme idiocy from the strident right wing wingnuts is preventing a coherent reponse to what is about to become an energy disaster in Australia unless something breaks. And we know it ain’t going to be renewable energy.

    • Joe

      ‘Intermittent and Unreliable Baseload FF’… clapping out…in a heatwave, just when the moment of truth arrives.

  • Cooma Doug

    When you do a few quick mental calcs on the SA battery, applying 1960s grid control thinking, it is easy to fob it off.
    If you move ahead 50 years, chuck in a few computers and the amazing fcas market process, the value of this battery jumps out at you.
    I could spend a week here explaining how such a 100mw system in NSW would be more valuable and effective than Liddel power station.
    To understand this logic you have to move ahead a bit from the thinking in the Barnabyalcolm schooner round.

    • Peter F

      Cooma
      I agree with you about the impact of the battery. As I write SA again has the lowest spot prices in the nation and is exporting as it has been about 90% of the time since Pelican Point went into full CC mode.
      It would be really good if you could publish a one page analysis of how significant this battery is.

    • Rod

      I think I am still thinking 2000s market.
      It has been interesting watching the erratic spot price movements since the battery came on line. I’m not sure how often they are cycling it but getting the spread to work for 30MW of pure arbitrage in SA will be difficult unless we start seeing negative spot prices again.
      I think there is also an opportunity to smooth the HWS duck at 11:30pm
      The FCAS portion is for the SA Government?

  • Robert Westinghouse

    Like having a flag man going a head of the new devil machine – the automobile…. will it take Gran to die of heat exhaustion when the coal power stations fail, and Joyce will not let renewable fill the gap…I will blame Joyce and his conservative “Robber Barons” for her death. Then will you let the scientists fix the problem?? Ignorant fools….

    • Joe

      Lets hope Bananabee isn’t trapped in a lift when the Coalers fail and its a black out.He has the thing about toilet time in stuck lifts so hopefully he hasn’t sunk too many of those schooners being entering that lift….the bladder pressure could hit ‘explosion’.

      • Hettie

        On the contrary, Joe, let’s hope he is stuck by himself in a lift for a very long time. 4 days should just about do it, though a week would pretty well guarantee the desired result.

  • john

    Off topic
    but i will offer it
    put in as much PHES as possible put in as much solar or wind storage be it heated rocks or salt or battery it does not matter.
    Do it all over the grid to make sure there is resilience on every part of the grid.
    I honestly think that most of the above will be done in the next few years and once this is implemented the days of the $14,000 MW h price will be doomed.
    Of course this will spell disaster for the coal generators, as their profit has been made traditionally over a few days in summer, where they can feast on a unbridled bidding process.
    Cooma Doug or Ken Dyer can explain this better than my attempt.

  • DevMac

    I’m bang up for some power outages as well. I want to see if those who live by the sword will also die by the sword. A big power outage will further separate reality from fantasy and bring the reckoning closer.

    A system consisting of a few large X is always less secure and less agile than a system consisting of many small X. In the the large X system a single failure can be fatal due to its percentage effect, whilst it would take a number of failures in the small X system to bring the whole thing down. This was proven for data distribution by the Bit Torrent protocol, and will be proven for energy distribution by the various solar and wind farms and micro-grids.

    If the Australian government is serious about energy security and the related national security of the electricity grid, then it should be pursuing, encouraging, and funding smaller generators and micro-grids throughout the country. There’s no such thing as a small-scale coal or gas generator as they’re not economically viable.

    • Ren Stimpy

      Too right. I suspect the rational members of the government know this, but are being held back by the conservative handbrakes in their party like Barnaby. Furthermore if the Liberal government was truly Liberal it would be pushing for more true competition (as opposed to the mere spin of ‘a free market’ in which it seems a number of large monopolies have comfortably set themselves up in currently). So yes, “many small X”, but with a large diversity of ownership. Renewables and storage should ideally be under ownership that is distinct and independent from gas peaker ownership.

      • nakedChimp

        Nonono.. you can’t redistribute piled up wealth like that. It’s just not right.
        /s

        • Ren Stimpy

          It’s the piled up inefficiencies and the piled up margins that come with this over-concentration of ownership that are the issue. I don’t care who gets wealthy nor by how much if the process is one of reducing costs to consumers. Only greater competition can do that.

          • nakedChimp

            Close, but not quite there.
            It’s the legal and contractual profit demands from the investors/shareholders/debtors which are the issue.
            And they are only a problem BECAUSE they are in control of a monopoly, which bears monopoly profits, because of the zero lower bound interest problem.
            That’s all there is to it.
            A tiny problem, blows out to disastrous results a couple decades later.
            Systematic.
            Deterministic.
            Just needs a couple of humans who are greedy to work and cause a mess for all the other ones.
            And we’ll always have greedy humans.
            There won’t be a supply issue on them.
            So a system that is vulnerable to this kind of ‘fallacy’ will become unsustainable once a critical level has been reached..

          • Ren Stimpy

            Investors/shareholders/debtors quarantined in their own choice of company? Sorry mate you are close but not quite there.

          • nakedChimp

            When was the last time you could chose your debtors/shareholders/investors?
            You put the cart before the horse there.
            And you don’t understand the leverage those guys have over the company, that needs to generate profits.
            Without profits you’re toast and go into receivership.

          • Ren Stimpy

            Not under better competition where that leverage decreases. For example the leverage of Coles and Woolies shareholders decreased when Aldi became a serious competitor. They had to accept lower margins in order to compete with the new guy and stay in the game.

          • nakedChimp

            If your market is saturated, it means you can’t earn profits for rare stuff, demand is flat-lining, not growing anymore, just stable.
            Now explain to your bank/investors that you can’t grow that market any further and you would like to have a loan with a little less interest attached to it. Or that they can’t have dividends.
            And then see how they start to laugh at you.
            That’s the leverage I’m talking about, nothing else.

          • Ren Stimpy

            No it’s just a simple transaction. It doesn’t have all the emotion you tried to attach to it.

    • Peter F

      There are viable small scale gas turbines like those installed by SA recently and plenty of viable gas powered reciprocating engines. The key attraction is that they can start quickly so they don’t have to be run at part load “just in case”. They can be distributed throughout the grid to support your many small x argument and they can easily be converted to run on Syngas, biogas or biodiesel where it is available.
      Another benefit is they can be located in office blocks, factories and refineries, hospitals, and educational facilities as part of a trigen system to eliminate direct combustion space and process heating
      If we could wave a magic wand and build a new grid in a week, these technologies would still provide 15-30% of peak capacity and 10-15% of annual generation.
      In my view, as the technology is expected to develop over the next 10 years any money spent to get rid of gas in our generation system would be far better spent on energy efficiency and electrifying heating and transport. A combined cycle gas plant driving a heat pump hot water service uses about 1/4 to 1/3rd the gas that direct heating uses. Similarly an electric delivery van powered from the same source has about 1/2 the emissions of an IC engine doing the same job and an electric bus or tram 1/10th the emissions of a private car.

  • Ian

    The question is whether Barnaby Joyce and his ilk are right. Do the conservatives have a monopoly on the press and can they blame renewables for power outages successfully even if the direct cause is a fossil fuel plant failure? Will a blackout this summer sound the death knell to renewables? Are people so edgy about renewables that it’s one strike and you’re out, and ‘blow this renewables lark ,let’s tear down our solar panels and ask the government to build another coal power Station’

    The momentum of renewables gained this year and the efforts to remedy failures in the SA grid may outway any deliberate bad press.

    Who is going to win this round of poker? Should the renewables industry be soiling itself in fear?

    • nakedChimp

      Poker?
      This is mud wrestling with lot’s of foul tricks.

      • Ian

        Or maybe a poor quality soapie.

  • Michael Murray

    Ah the new widget is up.

    http://reneweconomy.com.au/nem-watch/

    • Rod

      Good timing, just as the battery is discharging.

      • Michael Murray

        Yep. A little bit of purple !

    • Ren Stimpy

      Awesome.

  • Barry Alternative Fact Covfefe

    Reality denial is a strong force, ignore anything you don’t like and scapegoat what works properly for the failures you don’t want to face.
    Humanity is reverting to a 5 year old level of development… 🤦

  • Ken Fabian

    How many homes now have batteries? When the lights go out and the news crews are roaming the streets, trying to find drama, there will be homes with all the lights still on; those who adopted PV and storage will stand out.

  • >>NSW Coalition energy minister Don Harwin had praised the performance of >renewables for actually keeping the lights on in Sydney earlier this year, something he >has done on other occasions.
    >Harwin noted that NSW did nearly lose power, when two big coal units
    >and two big gas generators failed at the peak of a heat-wave, but was
    >only saved because wind and solar performed as predicted, producing at record >amounts, and the Tomago aluminium smelter was directed to reduce power.

    Really? I picked up a copy of “The Coal Face” during the week, and read an article written by Don Harwin, which says in part:
    “Just days into my tenure as Minister we avoided widespread blackouts – such as seen in South Australia with the help of coal-fired generators supplied with fuel from the Hunter. Coal will play a vital role again this summer, where NSW remains well-positioned to avoid disruptions in normal circumstances.”

    It sounds to me like Minister Harwin has 2 faces.

    • Mike Westerman

      And one will likely have egg on it this summer!