Readers of Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian newspaper would have been fascinated to learn this week that the South Australian government had apparently ignored advice in 2009 to limit the amount of wind energy in their state’s grid to 20 per cent.
South Australia has, of course, gone well beyond that, with wind energy now meeting more than 40 per cent of the state’s electricity demand, and rooftop solar another 5-6 per cent. The combined total is likely to exceed 50 per cent by the end of the year, well ahead of its 2025 target.
But this target is under attack from the fossil fuel industry and their proxies in the Murdoch media – as Media Watch documented so well on Monday – and by some in the ABC itself.
On Sunday, the ABC’s political editor Chris Uhlmann wrote that it was “well documented” that any more than 20 per cent wind energy created problems for the grid.
We debunked that piece of nonsense with this story – The ABC’s Uhlmann gets in wrong on renewables. Again – on Monday, which noted that the CSIRO regarded anything up to 30 per cent penetration of wind and solar as “trivial.”
On Tuesday, The Australian followed on from Uhlmann, and with gusto, in this report titled Energy crisis puts the wind up Jay Weatherill (subscription required).
It quoted federal energy minister Josh Frydenberg, a fierce critic of high renewable energy targets and premier Jay Weatherill’s recent sparring partner, saying the South Australian government “had ignored warnings eight years ago that increasing the uptake of intermittent sources of power beyond 20 per cent would have negative consequences.”
The Australian report said:
“Clear warnings were given to the Department of Premier and Cabinet in 2009 that the power grid could cope with only 20 per cent of wind generation before it became unstable. A report by McLennan Magasanik Associates said: “A level of 20 per cent wind capacity is proposed as a level that can be achieved without compromising grid stability.”
We’re not sure whether The Australian was fed this line or actually checked the report out for themselves.
We talked to one of the authors of the report and were provided a copy. Yes, there is a brief reference to 20 per cent, in light of the inter-connector limits at the time, but this is how the report concluded:
“A renewable energy target of 40% of total South Australian generation by 2020 for a high demand scenario in South Australia is a reasonable but stretching proposition given the expected rate of technological development and the Commonwealth commitment to a 20% renewable energy target for Australia by that time. There are no significant technological constraints to achieving such a target. It is more a question of whether such a target would correspond to the most economic solution for meeting the national renewable energy target. That is, whether it would be economic to deploy the necessary infrastructure resources to remove barriers to entry for renewable energy in South Australia.”
Just to be clear, we put that text in bold. We thought the quote must have escaped The Australian, the federal energy minister’s office, and perhaps also the ABC, presuming they had actually looked at that report.
Below is a screen shot of that report’s conclusion, just to show that we are not making it up.
The report does mention possible limits to a 20 per cent wind share, but mostly in the context that the current federal target was limited, which might make it difficult for South Australia to aim for 40 per cent, and because of the limits of the interconnector to Victoria.
At the time, the link had a capacity of 400MW, and the McLennan report said it would need to be lifted to at least 600MW to accommodate more wind – which it has been. (Although some people say it should have been upgraded further).
This is the remainder of the McLennan report’s conclusion, in full.
“The main threat to achievement would be that energy efficiency growth could be strong and economic growth weaker in the face of high carbon prices. If that occurred, the generation base upon which that 40% were to be calculated would be some 30% to 35% lower than projected in the high case and the 40% renewable energy might find it difficult to reach commercial operation in the presence of lower market prices and infrastructure constraints.
“Even if the high growth scenario were to be achieved, a 40% target would require an early commitment to interconnection development to provide investors with the necessary confidence to proceed.
“It therefore depends on how the South Australian Government wishes to apply such a target. If it is to guide the market place on what is achievable within the State and not relying on interconnection development, then 30% would be appropriate as it could be achieved by a number of feasible and foreseeable pathways. A more stretching target of 40% relies on fulfilling the expectations in geothermal development and applying resources to network development so as to provide investor confidence to proceed with project development.”
As one of the authors of the report told RenewEconomy on Tuesday, 2009 was a long, long time ago. Since then, the costs of solar have fallen by 90 per cent, the cost of wind has fallen by 50 per cent, and geothermal – touted in this report as a likely contributor – has disappeared off the map.
Even more encouragingly, new technologies such as battery storage and smart software have emerged, at a competitive price, which will help integration of even greater penetration rates of wind and solar. Pumped hydro is now being recognised, as is solar thermal.
But there we have it. A report that says South Australia could easily aim for 40 per cent renewable energy is portrayed as a warning that 20 per cent is the natural limit. It boggles the mind.
Weatherill – to his credit – keeps on repeating that the blackouts and near misses in South Australia have not been about technology choices, but about grid management. Even AEMO agrees. But some journalists don’t want to know.
The CSIRO outlines a scenario for 86 per cent in that state by 2035. Zinc refiner Sun Metals is building a solar plant because it is cheaper than coal-fired generation in Queensland. The former head of Hazelwood says that solar and battery storage is already cheaper than baseload gas.
But don’t expect to read much about those exciting developments in much of the mainstream media. They just don’t seem interested.