Frydenberg Factcheck: Is S.A really burning 80,000l of diesel an hour to keep lights on? | RenewEconomy

Frydenberg Factcheck: Is S.A really burning 80,000l of diesel an hour to keep lights on?

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Josh Frydenberg claims South Australia is burning ‘80,000 litres of diesel an hour, just to keep the lights on’. With so many half-truths floating about in the so called ‘energy debate’, it’s worth unpacking this claim.

Containerised generators installed at the site of the former Morwell Power Station (EnergyBrix)
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If you were unlucky enough to catch Josh Frydenberg’s recent ‘car crash’ of an interview, where he tried to spin Australia’s fourth consecutive year of growing greenhouse emissions as nothing but good news, your ears might have pricked up at the claim that South Australia and Victoria have had to bring in ‘expensive and polluting’ diesel generators and that South Australia in particular is burning ‘80,000 litres of diesel an hour, just to keep the lights on’.

With so many half-truths floating about in the so called ‘energy debate’, it’s worth unpacking this claim.

For the 2017–18 summer, both the South Australia and Victorian governments have installed banks of diesel generators as part of efforts co-ordinated by AEMO to ensure grid security under their Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (RERT) arrangements

Australia’s National Electricity Market has for many years included diesel generators in the generation mix.

According to AEMO’s generator database, as of December 2017 there were 98MW of registered diesel generators in NSW, 31MW in Queensland and 266MW in South Australia, not including the new generators installed in late 2017.

In addition, there are many more diesel generators sitting ‘behind the meter’ in hospitals, data and telecommunications facilities, etc. that are not registered with AEMO.

Typically, diesel generators in the NEM run only for short periods during exceptionally high demand. With running costs generally in excess of $300/MWh, most diesel generators in the NEM run for well less than 1% of the year.

South Australian Diesel-Gas Turbines

The South Australian government has acquired nine General Electric ‘aero-derivative’ TM2500 turbines which can run on either diesel or natural gas. (The class of turbines is called ‘aero-derivative’ as the design is derived from GE’s CF6 aircraft engine.)

The trailer-mounted TM2500 turbines have been installed temporarily at two sites to form two power stations:

  • Temporary Generation North — 5 turbines (total 153MW) at the former Holden manufacturing site in Elizabeth
  • Temporary Generation South — 4 turbines (total 123MW) at Adelaide’s Desalination Plant in Lonsdale
Five turbines at the former Holden manufacturing site in Elizabeth


Four turbines at the Adelaide Desalination Plant in Lonsdale


The trailer-mounted turbines arriving by ship.

For their first summer the turbines have been configured to run on diesel, allowing them to be in operation before the start of summer, however once a site with suitable electricity and gas network access is found, they will be moved and reconfigured to run on lower emissions and cheaper natural gas.

Initially the turbines were leased for $111.5m, but in late November then SA Government announced that the fleet had been purchased so that, in the words of Premier Jay Weatherill, “we can get on with the work of securing a permanent location”.

The total capital cost is $338.7m — which works out to be $1227/kW — and since they are no longer temporary, the SA Government is referring to them as the ‘state-owned generators’.

With the addition of this 276MW, SA will have 543MW of diesel capacity (not including the Hallett Power Station) for the 2017–18 summer.

From the first seven weeks of summer, from 1 December 2017 to 21 January, the engines only ran for short periods for testing and licensing purposes — i.e. over this period they have not run for a single minute to support the grid — and have generated just 157MWh, the equivalent of 35 minutes at full load, representing a capacity factor of only 0.05%.

Even when prices hit the market cap of $14,200/MWh last week the engines sat idle. While this might appear nonsensical at first glance, generators cannot both operate in the market and participate in the RERT.

In addition, the SA government has been careful not to distort the price signals in the market that will bring in new participants.

When running on diesel the generators emit 750kg CO2e/MWh (an emissions factor of 750), which is not only a much lower emissions factor than the now demolished Northern Power Station (1010), but lower than even the best coal power stations anywhere.

(Yes, even the so called ‘high efficiency, low emissions’ power stations that are neither highly efficient nor low emissions.)

Once converted to gas, the emissions factor will drop to 540, marginally lower than the Torrens Island gas power station (580).

At full tilt, the engines would burn at most 80,000 litres of diesel per hour, however those endlessly quoting the figure (looking at you Josh Frydenberg, Craig Kelly and Chris Kenny!) won’t tell you that they’ve used less than 47kL for the summer so far.

To put it into context, the state-owned generators have so far burnt less than 40 tons of diesel, while the Northern and Playford power station, before they were shut down by Alinta, consumed an average of 67 tons of brown coal every hour.

Victorian Temporary Generators (Morwell)

As part of the 1,150MW of strategic reserves secured by AEMO, 105 containerised diesel engine generators with a combined capacity of 105MW have been temporarily installed at the site of the old Morwell Coal Power Station (a.k.a. EnergyBrix), shut in 2014.

The equipment is owned and operated by international services company Aggreko and is contracted to be available for the three months starting 8 January 2018.

Containerised generators installed at the site of the former Morwell Power Station (EnergyBrix)

As RERT generators, it is estimated that there is a 61% probability that the power supply will not be required to operate at all.

According to Aggreko’s announcements, “there is a 19.5% probability that it will operate for up to 4 hours during the period January to March, and a 13% probability that it will operate for up to 8 hours over this period.

A condition of the Victorian EPA approval is that Aggreko must seek further approval from the EPA to operate more than 20 hours over the whole 3-month period.”

During last week’s heatwave, AEMO activated the RERT. While AEMO does no release details of which RERT panel members were called on to participate, an AEMO spokesperson has confirmed that the Morwell generators did not operate.

The diesel generators have an emissions intensity factor of 668 (ie. 668 kgCO2-e/MWh). This is less than half of Hazelwood’s factor of approximately 1,400, well below that of  Millmerran Power Station (891), likely the lowest emissions coal power station in Australia.

Layout of the temporary installation at the former Morwell Power Station (EnergyBrix)

While it is not accurate to say that the Morwell engines ‘replace Hazelwood’, it is arguable that they would not have been required if Hazelwood had not closed in March 2017.

Over a typical three-month period Hazelwood used to emit 4,308,000 tons of carbon dioxide.

If the Morwell generators operate at all they will emit 73.5 tons per hour. As such there is a 61% probability they won’t emit a single ton of CO2 outside any testing, a 19.5% probability of less than 293 tons and a 13% probability of less than 588 tons. The engines will need EPA approval to emit more than 1,470 tons of CO2, or 1/3000th of what Hazelwood used to emit over a similar period.

So while it is true that diesel generators have been installed to boost power security over the summer, it must be kept in mind that Victorias are temporary, South Australia’s will soon run on natural gas, both are much cleaner than coal and neither will get much, if any use. Anyone, politician or opinionista, who tells you otherwise is engaging in an act of deception.

As for the cost, we built our generation and transmission system to be 99.998% reliable. Politicians and our government agencies got the strong message through 2017 that this is not reliable enough.

So until we can have adult conversations about energy, we’ll have to pay for infrastructure that’s only called upon in extremely rare circumstances — you can consider that another form of ‘gold plating’.

Simon Holmes à Court is senior advisor to the Energy Transition Hub at Melbourne University and can be found on Twitter @simonahac 

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  1. trackdaze 3 years ago

    It would help the grid if Frydenberg would get solar installed.

    • Charles Hunter 3 years ago

      Perhaps some PV cells on his tongue. That way, every time he opened his mouth he might actually contribute some energy to both the grid and sensible debate, instead of the current situation where it is the other way around.

      • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

        The sheer arse of the guy to make such hollow and political deceptive statements, so perhaps we should cover the lower reverse side of him with solar panels for broader photon collection?

        • Joe 3 years ago

          Surely Alan Jones on his talkies back radio show will expose the lies of Fraudenberg?

          • mick 3 years ago

            public figures should required to sign a contract binding them to honesty and integrity enforceable under law

  2. Ian Franklin 3 years ago

    Thank you Simon for yet another rational and lucid article.

    • Jonathan Prendergast 3 years ago


      • DogzOwn 3 years ago

        Thirded and carried

    • Peter Hofland 3 years ago

      And again!

  3. Grpfast 3 years ago

    Simon, is deception another word for lying?

    • Robin_Harrison 3 years ago

      It sure is and lying is another word for politician.

  4. Diego Fuentes 3 years ago

    The LNP’s announcements on energy matters are mostly fraudulent/corrupt – how do we get prosecutions going?

    • Joe 3 years ago

      The United Nations International Courts ?

      • Russ Turner 3 years ago

        Dont bring the UN into it, they are a toothless tiger. Never has the UN in all its years of operation ever been able to resolve any crisis. And especially internal politics of a sovereign country. Why? Because outside of there own building in New York, they have “no” jurisdiction…at all. From Peace Keeping forces, to third world Aid project’s, nothings worked. Infact they usually make it worse. So FFS, dont even mention those two letters…..They are a joke.

        • HW 3 years ago

          Don’t blame the UN, either – it is only as strong and effective as its member nations’ governments want it to be…

        • Joe 3 years ago

          The UN has gotten some ‘war criminals’ over the years. Imma thinking that ‘climate criminals’ should also be held to account in the same sort of way. Afterall, we all only live on one planet and we all suffer the consequences of actions from ‘climate criminals’.

      • HW 3 years ago

        Not possible under the UN Charter

    • Robin_Harrison 3 years ago

      The simple answer is you don’t. The rules and regulations governing the probity of of our honourable politicians are overseen by the same people responsible for their incomes and who also gave them the title honourable. Themselves.

      • HW 3 years ago

        That’s actually a series of mistakes – aka non-factual statements.

        • Robin_Harrison 3 years ago

          In a sane world that should certainly be the case. Unfortunately it isn’t, at least not here and probably not wherever you are.
          Beware the mythology of democracy, it doesn’t match the reality.

      • neroden 3 years ago

        Private prosecutions remain legal, I believe. Got a big-money backer? You can prosecute them for things done outside Parliament… probalby not things said because “free speech”

        • Robin_Harrison 3 years ago

          Yes they are legal but my scepticism of our political system is matched only by my scepticism of the finest legal system money can buy. They’ve had plenty of time to do something.
          Virtually every politician who reaches any level of influence is on record as a liar. Of course they have weasel words for it like ‘non-core promises’ etc but deliberate lies are par for the course. Variations on ‘fees for access’ are the norm and there is a constant procession of retiring honorables going to highly paid positions with companies that have lobbied them for political favour. That’s blatant corruption but only the occasional, particularly stupid politician is locked up because these unprincipled, lying thieves print their own ‘get out of gaol free’ cards.
          Our political and legal systems are run by the same establishment and are both the habitat of professional liars.

        • Askgerbil Now 3 years ago

          The Director of Public Prosecutions can take over and then discontinue any private prosecution…

  5. Ken Dyer 3 years ago

    Whilst the general gist of this article points out that in fact the figure of 80Kl of diesel per hour is a made up figure, it relates to the capability of these generators if used 24/7.

    It fails to clarify what the quoted figure of ’47kl over summer’ actually means. For example, how many minutes does the 47Kl figure represent? If it represents 36 minutes of running, then the capability to burn of 80KL per hour is correct, however the need to burn 80Kl per hour to keep the lights on is wrong.

    And another point. The article fails to mention why the wholesale cost of electricity hit $14200. Was it perchance, because of the failure of brown coal fired power stations in Victoria?

    • Mike Westerman 3 years ago

      On Thursday it was a unit trip on a coal unit, on Friday it was network constraints. It highlights another aspect of Frydenberg’s intent to deceive voters – he pointed to these high prices while prices in NSW and Vic were much lower as somehow proof that SA was on the wrong track, even while he is spruiking Snowy 2 as a solution while knowing it will likewise be network constrained.

  6. johnnewton 3 years ago

    The reason that the Frydenbergs and Trumps of this world get away with so much is that the truth is complex and most people are too lazy to check. A problem for the world now and in the future.

    • MaxG 3 years ago

      Yes, the only thing we need to fear is our intellectual laziness.

    • ChannelSixtyNine69 3 years ago

      Don’t forget Abbott. He and his cronies are the drivers of the anti-renewable hysteria.

      Conservatives, Tories, Liberals, all rely on apathy and ignorance of the electorate. It’s an easy path to victory in elections, unfortunately.

  7. James Wright 3 years ago

    Maybe a name change for the minister from Frydnberg to Liedenberge would help explain the untrue statments better. The people of Australia are tired of untrue statements to support the coal industry and it seems the current government are on a Trump like slippery slope to constant fake new deseminated by ther own ministers for political gain.

  8. Robert Westinghouse 3 years ago

    WOW…I am depressed and disgusted with the politicians.
    Can it get any worse – I am afraid it will.

  9. Mike Shackleton 3 years ago

    Frydenberg also misses the fact that these units can be fired up and running from cold relatively quickly. Coal fired stations have to sit there burning coal, producing emissions to be able to do the same thing. It takes days to start a coal fired generator from cold. They meet the term “dispatchable” far better than any coal fired power station could.

    • ChannelSixtyNine69 3 years ago

      Yes Mike, FACTS being the operative word …. don’t let them get in the way of a good political lie.

  10. George Darroch 3 years ago

    I’ve had enough of Frightenberg and his scary tales.

    • WT Gator 3 years ago

      We all have.

  11. Alex Hromas 3 years ago

    The fact that Josh Frydenberg generally talks rubbish is hardly news. It is interesting that SA needs only 281MW of backup power to meet the energy security required by RERT. This is less than one of the turbine generators at Hazelwood. Diesel generators and modern gas turbine units have inherently higher effiecencies

  12. juxx0r 3 years ago

    Whole article in metric except for tons? Or did you mean tonnes?

    • Simon Holmes A Court 3 years ago

      yes. i’ll be more careful in future. thanks!

      • juxx0r 3 years ago

        I deal in tonnes. A lot. And they always tried to trip us up at uni with tons. God only knows why, haven’t dealt in them since. Dont mind me, I’m still scarred.

        • hydrophilia 3 years ago

          Ah, they are both similar enough in units and scale to give you a fairly accurate picture, unlike something like MWs and MW.hrs… we aren’t landing an orbiter!

  13. Alex Hromas 3 years ago

    than coal fired plant and derive power from burning hydrogen hence the lower carbon foot prints. The 99.998% reliability is a total pipe-dream. I have spent a lot of time providing back up power for mission critical loads like computer installations. Most clients were happy with 99.999% referred to as 5 nines and this involves at least N+1 generators and uniterruptable power supplies plus carefully designed reticulation cabling and switch gear to avoid single point crtiticality.

    • Simon Holmes A Court 3 years ago

      our generation and power system achieves better than 99.998% reliability in most regions almost every year.

      • Alex Hromas 3 years ago

        i doubt it

        • Simon Holmes A Court 3 years ago

          i meant ‘generation and transmission’ system. yes, we actually do exceed 99.998% reliability in every regions in most years.

          you might be thinking about distribution issues?

      • Mike Westerman 3 years ago

        Certainly not in Qld during storm season!

  14. Craig Thompson 3 years ago Thanks to Josh F. Lord Howe Island will be burning a lot more ‘expensive and polluting’ diesel into the foreseeable future. Before the ‘car crash’, he was involved in a hit and run on our island.

  15. John Saint-Smith 3 years ago

    When the Lazy Negative Party is caught out being lazy and negative, they step up to full-blown Lying and Nasty.

  16. Ross Flint 3 years ago

    “Keep the bastards honest” was the catch cry of The Australian Democrats leader Don Chipp in 1977. Sadly it was a lost cause and still is. Just how do you “Keep the bastards honest” and held accountable?
    Obviously at the ballot box – but what about the time between elections?
    johnnewton was correct when he said: “most people are too lazy to check” the details and facts and the chances are the pollies know this and therefore know they can pull the wool over the eyes of the majority of the electorate.
    I find the whole political scene to be so wearisome – deception, half-truths, spin, outright lies – I get so angry !! So many times I want to walk away from this whole sorry saga painted over with political deception. Fortunately the words of the prophet Jeremiah keep me pressing on:
    But if I say, “Forget it!
    No more God-Messages from me!”
    The words are fire in my belly,
    a burning in my bones.
    I’m worn out trying to hold it in.
    I can’t do it any longer!

  17. stalga 3 years ago

    Would these generators have been purchased at all if Pelican Point was running a year ago?

  18. lin 3 years ago

    The worrying thing is that these arsehats will tell a lie, have it reported by an unquestioning midstream media, quote said media as proof of their original lie, and then frame policy and the spending of our hard-earned taxes all based on bullshit. You’d see a higher standard of honesty and ethics in a criminal gang. We desperately need an anti-corruption commission with the power and the desire to hunt down and prosecute political corruption, but the only group with the power do to this are the perps.

  19. Gary Rowbottom 3 years ago

    Yes, thank you Simon, excellent info again from the Melbourne Uni Transition Hub. “If you can measure something, and express it in numbers, then you know something about it. If you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind” Lord Kelvin.

  20. Kev 3 years ago

    Sorry, but I dont see your point.
    You freely admit “At full tilt, the engines would burn at most 80,000 litres of diesel per hour”. The fact that they haven’t been called upon (yet) does not negate that “at full tilt” they will burn (at most) 80,000 litres of diesel per hour

  21. Kev 3 years ago

    Talk about comparing apples with turnips
    Correct me if I am wrong please
    You admit that the diesel generators will burn 80,000 litres at full tilt.
    To compare with what they have done so far is completely false. To use the same analogy, Northern & Playford B have burnt nothing in the past 3 months. Zip / Zero
    80,000 litres of diesel = 75 tons so in a true comparison, these fossil fuelled turbines will burn 75 tons of diesel per hour when at full tilt compared to 67 tons of brown coal for Playford + Northern combined.
    The turbines generate 276MW (at full tilt burning 80k litres per hour) compared to Playford + Northern’s 760 MW
    I realise your piece is written for the faithful, but your arguments are false when under scrutiny

    • Mike Westerman 3 years ago

      Kev I think you may have the wrong end of the stick with your estimates for Northern/Playford – these were sub-critical units burning low rank coal. 67t/h of 14.2GJ/t brown coal is an input of about 260MW so is simply impossible for 760MW output. For 760MW output at say 32% overall efficiency, input required is more like 760*3.6/.32/14.2=600t/h at 100% output. This ties in with the peak consumption of a bit over 2Mt/a to supply the power stations from Leigh Ck.

      • Kev 3 years ago

        Here you go Mike – the source:
        Playford B: 240MW
        Northern: 520MW
        and note: I am using the “ton” numbers that Simon quoted but have just noticed he meant tonne so reduce the weight of the diesel by 10%

        • Mike Westerman 3 years ago

          Kev I can’t find on the site what the heat rates were but I did find the statement:
          “Since Flinders was privatised in 2000, an average of 3 million tonnes of coal was hauled per annum with maximum of 4.1million tonnes hauled in 2007” which would fit with a capacity factor for the stations of <60% and heat rate of 11-12GJ/MWh ie about 600t/h or more for 760MW ie 60% CF=4,000GWh/a=48,000,000GJ/a=3.3Mt/a coal @14.2GJ/t

      • Geoff Roberts 3 years ago

        Northern OPS was supercritical. Was able to provide power at $50-60/MWh, but RET assured renewable generators had first access to market, so there were times it was having to bid negative to stay online as could not shutdown and restart the next day. Playford A and B were brought out of retirement to provide intermediate response, but there were issues with reliability and a lawsuit arose with the rehab contractor.

        There is a cost to making the transition to RE faster than it would occur without incentives. This is the primary cause of high power prices. The transition would occur anyway when real costs of RE plant become competitive. This would occur regardless of what Australia does now.

        We can afford it as rich consumers, but it is taking a toll on our resource and manufacturing industries.

    • JonathanMaddox 3 years ago

      The argument is that the diesel generators have not been running much at all, let alone at full tilt, and at the time of writing had not even burned 80,000 litres in total, let alone per hour since installation.

      • Kev 3 years ago

        Which is selective and disingenuous.
        He freely admits that they will burn ~80k at full tilt (which I believe happened on the weekend)
        BUT, my point is: during the same period that Simon selected, Northern & Playford B burnt nothing and emitted nothing.but he compared them. See how carefully selected statistics can be manipulated by comparing one time period to another?
        There is no doubt that we should be moving to renewables but i do get sick of the propaganda from both sides.
        You only need to look at the monitors on this site to see our reliance on FF. If we didn’t have coal generators now, most of the country would be living without electricity, and we would all be unemployed and broke very quickly

        • Giles 3 years ago

          “He freely admits that they will burn ~80k at full tilt (which I believe happened on the weekend)”
          No they did not.

          • Kev 3 years ago

            Sorry, I thought I heard on the radio that they were turned on on Sunday

          • Kev 3 years ago

            Giles – my information is that the generators were turned on on 28th January.
            (Rereading my post; poorly worded. I was referring to them being turned on – not burning at full tilt)


          • Giles 3 years ago

            I’ve triple checked. They have been turned on to ensure in running order. But they have not been dispatched.

          • Kev 3 years ago

            OK thanks

  22. Aluap 3 years ago

    I think Frydenberg is carrying out the coaition policy to badmouth SA and its Labor government as much as possible. I’d like to be a fly on the wall in Frydenberg’s office to see how compentent he actually is at his job. It’s much easier to make things up than to create real and significant policy.

  23. Peter Wynn 3 years ago

    Well, here’s what the issue is, Frydenberg is the puppet for the coal industry and basically laments any positive development that reduces reliance on coal. He is more concerned with Josh Frydenberg’s job than the truth.

  24. ChannelSixtyNine69 3 years ago

    “So until we can have adult conversations about energy”
    – Simon Holmes

    Yeah, like that will ever happen, so long as we have conservatives infesting our parliaments and the media.

    Marshall, the SA Liberal leader has said he will sell off the gas-turbine generators when the contract runs out and make SA more dependent on NSW power. This is Marshall’s plan if he becomes Premier after the March election.

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