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Murdoch media gets it hopelessly wrong on wind energy. Again.

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(Update: See reference to Murdoch correction at end of story).

It seems that the Murdoch media attack on the Australia wind industry knows no bounds, and not many facts either.

The latest – from their Adelaide bureau, which earlier this week were congratulating themselves for an “investigative” report into the surge in electricity prices that did not even mention the impact of record gas prices – suggests that South Australia’s wind turbines were producing significant amounts of “negative power” from the grid at the height of the recent electricity “crisis”.

The front page “exclusive” story suggests that, at one stage, the state’s wind turbines were drawing electricity from the grid just as the state was experiencing a shortage, but the numbers it quotes are so ridiculously wrong it is almost laughable. Almost, but for the fact that so many people believe them.

The story, by The Australian‘s bureau chief Michael Owen, suggests that the state’s wind turbines were “producing about 5,780MW” between 6am and 7am, but by mid afternoon were producing “negative 50MW”.

As this analysis from Ron Brakels observes, the Murdoch media is struggling with its energy terminology, apparently not knowing the difference between capacity and output.

Let’s just make one thing clear: The state’s wind turbines cannot produce 5,780MW because they only have a combined capacity of 1,600MW. There’s not even 5,780MW of wind capacity in the whole country.

No matter, let’s presume that what Owen meant was MWh (megawatt hours) – the total being produced over a set period of time. But even here he has got the numbers hopelessly wrong. Between 6am and 7am, according to data provided by the Melbourne Energy Institute, and sourced from the Australian Energy Market Operator, the output totalled around 178MWh.

Oops.

And the negative output? 50MW? Again, according to AEMO data, the biggest negative point (five minute interval) was 1.8MW, at 2.20pm. The total, between 2pm and 3pm, was a negative 0.09MWh. There were no negative output points  at 1pm, as Owen claims.

south australia july 7

Now, the critics will no doubt say that, gosh, wind wasn’t able to produce much in that period, so it must be useless. But in that week, a lot of coal-fired power wasn’t available either, with 3,200MW of units shut down at Stanwell, Liddell, Yallourn, Eraring , Gladstone, Hazelwood and even Loy Yang A – apparently due to coal quality issues.

(Boy, have there been some problems in coal supply recently. The AER, in a previous report on electricity prices, noted how Loy Yang B had suddenly withdrawn 480MW of capacity – a whole unit – because of “supply” issues. The mine is right outside the front door. The withdrawal helped push up prices by around 50 per cent).

Clearly, The Australian is not trying hard enough to get a broader perspective, and acknowledge the role of gas prices, problems with transmission wire infrastructure, and other factors – as we’ve noted here and here.

Economist Judith Sloan, a contributor to The Australian whose previous attempt to assess the renewable energy target we severely criticised here, took another swipe this week.

Sloan was upset about the price spikes that went up to about $1,000/MWh during the period. “How could this happen? How could it go so wrong for South Australia?” she wrote.

“South Australia is paying a heavy price for its misguided energy policy, potentially leading to the further deindustrialisation of the state while also reducing its citizens’ living standards. But the real tragedy is that this outcome was entirely foreseeable.”

Well, no, no, no, no and no. As we wrote yesterday, South Australia used to have these sorts of price spikes as a matter of course, before wind and solar even turned up, because of the reliance on expensive gas, and the supply constraints of being at the end of the grid. (This graph below shows the number of price spikes above $5,000/MWh).

aer price spikes above 5,000:mwh

As energy minister Tom Koutsantonis told the ABC today, that’s precisely why they encouraged investments in wind and solar, to bring costs down, and that has largely succeeded.

And here’s another graph from the MEI, just to reinforce the link between rising gas prices and rising electricity costs. But this is not something that The Australian has chosen to focus on.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 8.24.28 am

To adapt an old expression, there are lies, damned lies, and the Murdoch media, particularly when it comes to writing about renewable energy (and climate change for that matter). So much so, we might have to launch a new website – or at least a new section – to produce a daily fact-check. We think we’ll call it, The UnAustralian.

wind output and consumption P.S. So why do wind farms have “negative” output? That’s because if the turbine is not generating, then the facility needs power from the grid for lights, computers, etc, just as a gas or coal plant does when it is shut down for repairs or maintenance, or in the case of Loy Yang B, because it cannot find any coal that it is able to put into its boilers.

Another myth you will often hear, in the conservative press usually, such as The Daily Mail on this occasion, is that wind turbines generally consume as much as they produce. Again, nonsense.

This vertical graph to the right shows how much wind is produced by a single turbine, and how much it consumes. If you got to this link, there is another graph that shows how much fossil fuel plants use of their own energy. If they ever work out a way to do CCS economically, that percentage will sky-rocket.

Editors note: This story has been updated from original to include the gas price chart.

Update:  As we reported later, it appears that the South Australia Coalition provided the Murdoch media with the errant data, which The Australian finally corrected on Monday, blaming a “third party” source for the error.

murdoch correction  

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  • Nicko

    “lies, damned lies, and the Murdoch media”

    Sadly add Xenophon to that.

    • Tomfoolery

      Do you think Xenophon is just stupid? Or is it because he wakes up to The Advertiser every day in South Australia (another Murdoch rag pushing wind energy lies)

      • Nicko

        I can’t exactly know Xenophon’s motivations leading to his contribution to the confusion and deceit here.

        Self-aggrandisement and baiting for headlines might be part of it, but he is ignorant of the facts. But I suspect his “I have nothing against wind power, but…” is a sham, and he is opposed to renewables and is trying to get them stymied.

        Regardless, he is playing into the opponents arms.

      • Alastair Leith

        I think his policy advisor might have service to the gas industry on his CV. And he likes sit on the fence with most things except gambling. Retail politics specialist.

      • Chris B

        Xenophon is responding to the needs of a small, deranged, but politically active and extremely passionate constituency that is anti-wind. He’s a very intelligent opportunist and it got him control of the senate.

        He’s also aware that SA has almost as many turbines as the local grid can handle without storage, that storage is between three and five years away from being competitive with gas, and that the state would be better off with a larger mix of utility PV in the near term.

  • David

    Pure gold from Giles as usual. It must be starting to feel like shooting fish in a barrel with The Australian’s ‘articles’ on energy and climate
    They should at least be made to label the work for what it is, uninformed Op-Ed’s

    • Tim Buckley

      Uninformed PR spin that insults their readers and shows that Australia’s media laws are massively overdue for reform. Free press written by quality journalists with integrity and the right to publish their own personal views in a structure that is owned by Australians, publishing for Australians and with a serious limit on single party market share. Maybe Fairfax could rehire some of the experienced journalists with integrity that they just retrenched?! Ok, maybe we should just continue to rely on Giles to tell the truth and ignore Murdoch’s PR spin as outdated and irrelevant.

      • David leitch

        I really believe it is better to ignore it for the most part. There is no law that can compel them to prove their almost humorous assertions and by engaging with them we effectively fight on their turf and on their terms. In fact its by definition a losing argument for the guy. The wind farms in South Australia have already been built. More are going to be built. Despite the best efforts of those who, for faith or financial interest, want to preserve thermal energy the fact is renewables are winning. Renewables aren’t winning fast enough but they are winning.

        What’s needed now is to demonstrate how South Australia can do baseload renewables and continue to set the world a great example.

  • johnnewton

    Thry’re not getting it wrong Giles, they’re getting it right: for the coal stokers

  • Ross Andrew Cayley

    Yeah, that was a laughably incompetent article. Its amusing when ignorant nuf-nufs writing for the Australian, in their rushed enthusiasm to bag all things renewable or ‘green’, end up kicking such a massively incorrect own-goal. If I was them, I’d be feeling a bit humiliated. But I’m not them, and I suspect that humiliation is far in the rear-view mirror for these dudes and dudettes, along with self-respect. Now its just pandering to whoever ‘pays the bills’. As for this article, I think its all borne of impotent frustration. This part of the world is just not panning out how they want, and how their bosses want. And thank goodness for that!

    • Eb

      Alas there are 578 comments to the Australian article, my quick skim indicates that only two question the article with the rest all supporting the hypothesis ‘that wind is a useless and expensive folly imposed by Greens who don’t understand economics or energy.’ So the author will continue to write these sorts of articles.

      • Ross Andrew Cayley

        Yeah – I know. Confirmation bias is alive and well at the Australian. Not that you’d be able to explain that concept to most of them…..not least because to even try I’d have to subscribe to that useless rag.

        • john

          Ross i did it s long time ago

        • Marcvs T Cicero

          No confirmation bias on this site then is there?

      • Mike Shurtleff

        boggles the mind

    • john

      I had a link to the Australian about 10 years ago funny I have never logged on or commented.
      The really sad aspect is i still have the first paper they published.
      Yes when i was in school.

  • howardpatr

    Angus Taylor, the Member for Hume, might be giving News Corporation consulting advice on evils of wind turbines.

  • Alastair Leith

    How does Sloan get to shop around this identity that she’s some kind of expert on matters pertaining to industry and energy, yet to peddle such ignorant intellectual slop? Seems like the post-irony age we entered when Abbott and Hockey became PM & Treasurer is still with us.

  • MaxG

    Laughable as it may be… lots of people read and believe this stuff… like they believe what the pollies say; otherwise 50% of the population wouldn’t vote for them or read their sh!t.

    • solarguy

      They believe it because they don’t know any better. Education from all media sources, mainly TV doco’s could help mostly.

    • claude cat

      No fear, nobody reads The Australian.

      • Chris B

        No kidding. Daily print circulation is 90,000 and falling, and fewer than that can breach the paywall.

        I suspect most of those copies are going to right wing think tanks, business class airline passengers, and Canberra hotel rooms.

        • Chris Marshalk

          Not worth the paper its written on. They should call it “The Un-Australian”.

        • Neo Lib Yes

          Yes the Australian is wrong, but, according to Roy Morgan, daily readership is 658,000. You guys probably don’t have a subscription to the Fairfax AFR either, however that paper today has a headline SA’s Move into renewables ‘a train wreck’. The AFR has a readership of only 145,000, but then the Herald Sun also has a similar article, Insanity is blowing in the wind, with a readership of 766,000, the largest in Australia. Seems the boot is on the other foot and a little misinformation goes a long long way!

          • Roger Brown

            That would be online hits , as well as the shit sheet circulation . I think AFR is owned by the Liar as well ! Now buying up all the other country papers in qld .Lucky the young don’t buy papers .

    • ShaneMcGrath

      Now if they could also stop watching sky news/fox news and get some independent news off the net, Then the manipulative media will no longer have any power over the population.

  • Farmer Dave

    While many of us who read this web site might enjoy saying what we really think about the Murdoch media, I think it is best to stay away from language that smacks of the left – right political spectrum, and to see stories like these as evidence of incompetence. Not many of us rejoice in being regarded as being incompetent, regardless of our field of work, and so to criticize such as articles for their incompetence is more likely to give their authors pause than, say, to accuse them of bias.

    In this case, Michael Owens does not have the competence to write about electricity, as a writer of even the most basic competence would know that the installed wind capacity in South Australia was a lot less than 5,780 MW, and indeed that peak load in the State was also less than 5,780 MW. I suggest that Mr Owens has a lot to learn about electricity and its supply and use before he is sufficiently competent in the subject to write about it.

  • Geoff

    Reading Giles Parkinson’s (GETUP/CRIKEY) I am much relieved that there is no problem with the SA grid. Not sure why they fired up a mothballed ON DEMAND coal generator.
    But I trust Giles and GETUP/CRIKEY to always give us the unbiased facts.
    …………..ffs.

    • Ross Andrew Cayley

      SA didn’t fire up a mothballed coal generator……

    • Coley

      Don’t shout, or do you think using caps lock somehow valididates your daft assertion?

    • Mike Shurtleff

      troll

  • john

    It is perhaps sad when disinformation is the most viewed or read outlet how ever that is how it is.
    How to do away with this well big problem.
    Most people do not actually have a clue but they see their bills so will read what they have been told and that is what they will understand.
    So good luck in trying to explain it to the techno Illiterate after all they are the overwhelming majority of society.
    There is no use explaining to people who do not have any understanding of basic maths.
    They are driven by social media and their self judgement be it toward do not care.

    • Mike Shurtleff

      More and more neighbors will be saving by using Solar PV and storage. It will change. They’ll eventually figure it out.
      “You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” It is changing.

  • Gary Rowbottom

    The credibility of this way off base reporting by the Advertiser / Australian is evidenced by their repeated failure to grasp the Grade 6 level maths needed to understand the units of capacity and energy output, and the difference between the two. Sadly people will still believe it. I would say SA would have been better served by establishing at least some CST with storage before yanking Alinta’s Northern Power Station off the grid, that wasn’t the government’s fault though, it was Alinta’s decision based on their bottom line, perhaps augmented by other factors. You can only tell them (SA & Federal Government). A hundred times and counting.

  • message1

    Reform reform reform. It is time the Murdoch media was answerable to someone (anyone) for their inaccuracies and their propaganda.

  • Don McMillan

    Journalist’s articles are based on their opinion. They have a very short time to get a story to “print” thus accuracy is sacrificed. [exciting]
    Contrast that to a scientific or engineering paper that may take many months to write, checked and peer reviewed before publication. [boring]
    Journalism is important as we must be informed but the reader must understand it is an opinion and to remain intellectually independent.

    • Roger Brown

      Opinions don’t belong on the Front pages of major papers , just FACTS !

      • Don McMillan

        Maybe opinion is incorrect word to use – all journalists articles contain “conformational bias” to prove their point. Murdoch’s article and Giles’ article both have opposing view points and both use selective facts to justify their point of view. Both are full of emotion which sells papers.
        The purpose of Peer reviewing Scientific papers is to remove conformational bias – resulting in “dry” content. These papers do not sell – public see them boring – Engineers must use them.

        • Roger Brown

          Giles don’t “Sell papers “

          • Don McMillan

            Giles is a journalist. This website costs money to run which I suspect is paid by advertising. Good luck to Giles.

        • Alastair Leith

          Actually the scientific publication business is a multi-billion dollar industry, and it’s so expensive many Ivy League universities in USA are declaring they can’t afford it anymore as subscriptions are so expensive and the number of publications so vast. It’s not without the influence of big lobbyist money in fields like nutrition and medical science either.

          • Don McMillan

            You are correct – the science field is gradually getting influenced by the people who allocate funding. Look at the last senate inquiry in to CSIRO where the greens threatened the CSIRO when they proposed changing their climate change research focus from pure to applied science. The Cook university sacked a scientist as his revelations threatened their federal funding [Barrier Reef]. What to believe anymore. We cannot make good decisions anymore.

  • trackdaze

    Total is about 4gw?
    What happens when wind farms get retrofited with energy storage?

    Newscorp is obviously following its readers further down the bellcurve.

    • Alastair Leith

      And power smoothing and ancillary services for extra revenue if the grid rewards it.

  • Les Johnston

    Great article exploring illogical argument compounded with failure of mathematical education.

  • George Papadopoulos

    The interesting thing about “Murdoch” media is that they got the most important part of the story correct: intermittent renewables need backup and plenty of it from carbon emitting sources…

    • Gee george, what a revelation. And Fossil fuel generators don’t need back-up? All the back-up that exists in south australia was built before wind and solar came along. Any generator needs back up. And now those back up generators are needed less than before.

      • George Papadopoulos

        Giles, surely any baseload source needs backup for peak periods – maybe a bit here and there. Just that wind is so unreliable and tends to peak in production sometimes when it is needed least, and tends to go limp when it is needed most. In fewer words Giles you need at least 100% of the average output of renewables – plenty of filthy things like CSG and diesel to displace all the coal we are no longing burning. A little bit of joke isn’t it?

        • “A bit needed here or there”. don’t kid yourself George, then why was so much built? With current gas prices, solar towers and storage and battery storage will be more than competitive. and they will save on network costs too.

          • George Papadopoulos

            Giles, if ‘so much’ backup was built then why is is now insufficient?

            Giles, yes we can keep wishing that battery storage would compete with gas… I would prefer that we didn’t go down this dead end called wind energy.

          • It is not insufficient. It is just bloody expensive. That’s why the prices have gone up. Remember, we;ve had no coal before in south australia and prices didn’t go up. cos backup was cheap.

          • George Papadopoulos

            Giles, can you answer my first question?

            I might help you in the answer: SA did have a coal plant it was backup by other sources. But these other sources are totally inadequate – save the coal generators of Victoria and NSW and the need for a better interconnector.

        • Peter Grant

          100% of the average output of renewables? Would that be the backup I need for my solar to meet my 3am loads when I am asleep? And in a few well chosen words could you please let us know some facts about where that has had to be built George?
          Electricity load varies daily and over the seasons, Coal and nuclear are unsuited to variable output so run near capacity at all times, but require 100% backup for when they trip (requiring significant costly instantaneous backup) or are being serviced (requiring less costly standing capacity) – hardly a bit of backup ‘ here and there’. Coal and Nuclear have never been able to meet daily load variation and have always required complementary variable sources like hydo, gas, liquid fuels and energy management (both load shedding and famously off peak dump loads such as hot water heating) to meet the peaks and absorb the dips.

          • George Papadopoulos

            Peter, sorry to be rude – which world do you live in?

          • Peter Grant

            The (not quite) free market world!
            Retail electricity prices are (politically) regulated so do not fluctuate that much, a common lament on this site is that even when they do vary the ‘peak rates’ do not really give a true price signal of congested transmission or scare generation.
            Recent tariff changes have tended to reflect the vested
            interests of sunk capital and market power rather that the physics electricity.

            Wholesale power prices are a different matter, the market is an artificial construct ostensibly designed to encourage new entrants and long term capital investment thorough the creation of very high prices at times of scarcity. $1000mWh does not reflect the marginal cost of generation but rather is a market price signal intended to be set by competitive forces to prompt new entrants.

            A central grievance of this and other recent articles is that the
            concentration of market power (by gen-tailors) is manipulating the market to achieve windfall profit at the consumer’s expense.

            Like Enron in the past, a key strategic manipulation is to remove capacity at critical times. Whereas Enron famously attributed is criminal manipulation to the California fires – in Australia the rent seekers now try to attribute
            it to variable (but predicable) wind output. There remains plenty of fixed generation capacity at marginal costs well below the spiking market price (in SA and elsewhere). The problem is not one of physics, but of market design and
            the political will to protect the consumer.

            Beyond the shoddy journalism the Australian’s placement of
            this article is aimed at corroding political will to take on vested interests.

          • George Papadopoulos

            Sorry if I sounded a little rude, but on planet Earth, wind and solar energy outputs can be predicted, but it certainly doesn’t match the predictable patters of energy usage by humans.

            Likewise on planet Earth, this device called a ‘smart meter’ was invented recently. It is a device that assists managing the chaotic nature of a grid which enjoys wind fluctuations of inputs. One wonderful idea is that the smart meter can assist homeowners to optimise their energy bills. For example: at the moment (1:30am) the wind is blowing furiously and electricity costs $60 per mega watt: time to wake up and resume the DVD you were watching and start cooking for the next day. At 3:00am – sorry the wind cut out – price of electricity $1000 per mega watt – back to bed. Please wait till 9 am till your neighbour’s solar PV kicks in…

          • Peter Grant

            Many people do pay $800 or $1000 per MWh to watch a DVD in the evening – out back station owners with a diesel genset for example. Batteries provide a cheaper option for some overnight loads are are integrated for many evening activities. But cockies don’t spend anything like $1000 to bulk loads like hot water heating, dishwashers, etc because they use most power when the PV is on during the day. The average cost per MWh of a remote power system (PV+ Wind + diesel) will vary depending on load but is generally between $400 and $800 per MWh and getting cheaper each year.
            A $1000 wholesale price is not the marginal cost of gas fired generation (backup or not, and especially not from legacy plant), or attributed as some kind of add on cost to grid integration of renewables.

          • Roger Brown

            Qld cloudy / sunny day 8/2/15 , my 3 kW solar power station did a 12Hr – 28 mins and 36 secs work shift and produced me 15.60 Kwh’s. Your ” Neighbour’s ” solar system must have been covered up to start at 9 am or facing south ? or in Greece ?

          • George Papadopoulos

            No – a foggy morning. I guess yours didn’t do well on overcast day?

      • Marcvs T Cicero

        Oh yeah. Right! Every base load powerstation should have multiple redundancy built in. That’s why Australia has so many baseload coal fired power stations stand idle most of the time.

  • MrCyberdude

    Murdoch press bias is certainly there, as is reneweconomy bias.

  • Marcvs T Cicero

    A little bit of message massage here. Nothing like a bunch of rent seekers trying to justify their existence. What can you expect from a “publication” that supports “renewables” other than a long whine and lots of obfuscation.
    Never get between a rent seeker and a pot of money.

  • Neville Bott

    It’s good to see Murdoch’s trolls here, it suggests that Giles is having an impact.

  • veloaficionado

    Slight error in the last para: ” . . . how much *wind* is produced”? Do you mean “electricity”? Otherwise: game, set and match, laydown mazaire, clean sweep, hat trick and any other game metaphors you may care to employ.

  • Ben Courtice

    The UnAustralian is a satire paper! You could always submit articles to them, the material doesn’t look too hard to turn into a black comedy!
    https://theunaustralian.net/