A renewable fiction: Myths mainstream media refuses to let go | RenewEconomy

A renewable fiction: Myths mainstream media refuses to let go

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Australia’s mainstream media fail to understand – and appear to have no interest in asking – that new technologies can make the grid cheaper and more stable, rather than turning to old and expensive alternatives.

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For reasons that are not entirely clear, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar appear to have gotten the better of mainstream media.

For years now, many in mainstream media have been propagating myths about renewable energy in general, and wind and solar in particular. It’s unclear why this is so – whether it is simply about ideology, politics, the protection of vested interests or simply the fear of new technologies and new ideas.


Since the big price spike in South Australia and then the blackout, however, the myth making has reached plague proportions and has spread to some surprising corners.

From the arch conservative Andrew Bolt of News Limited to Chris Uhlmann at the ABC, and via so much of the Murdoch media, the Fairfax Press, commercial TV and radio and rather too many in ABC radio and TV, the myths have been perpetuated, egged along by conservative politicians.

The instances are so many that it is impossible to count, let alone list, and for this article we will ignore the cheap sloganeering such as “renewables are a fraud”, “wind energy doesn’t work,” and “wind energy is a boondoggle.”

The problem we identify in the following examples is that there still seems an inherent bias against wind energy, and it appears to be based either on a lack of understanding of how energy systems work, or how they are changing.

They seem convinced that renewables are the primary cause of high electricity prices, that fossil fuel plants don’t need back up, that transmission lines were only built to link remote and unreliable wind farms.

They fail to understand – and appear to have no interest in asking – that new technologies can make the grid cheaper and more stable, and that we should be accelerating the transition rather than slowing it down and turning to old and expensive alternatives.

The public are not easily fooled. Most don’t go into the details of the blackout, and maybe it’s the images of fallen transmission towers that have been enough to convince them that renewable energy was not at fault.

Still, the media debate, which informs and influences policy, is still being derailed by assumptions that are wrong or misleading, sometimes with the support, and often at the behest, of those in power.

Here is just a taster:

“Isn’t it an inconvenient truth   … that we can get to renewable energy (including the Coaliton’s 23.5 per cent target by 2030) … but it is going to be more expensive?” – ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann in ABC interview with energy minister Josh Frydenberg.

Er, no. The Abbott government’s review of the RET, which was looking for a different answer, found that the RET  would lower prices. The expert panel into Queensland’s proposed 50% RET suggests it will be cost neutral at worst.  That’s because the reduction in wholesale prices offsets the cost of any subsidy.

Coal might be cheap to mine and shovel, but in Victoria coal produced for less than $20/MWh is being sold to consumers for more than $340/MWh, which is why millions of households are finding that using their own solar makes their bills a lot cheaper. Australian utilities will find wind and solar will offer savings when they are required to replace ageing coal and gas plants.

Along similar lines, columnist Des Houghton wrote in Brisbane’s Courier Mail about the Queensland RET: “Along the way the rush to renewables will destroy the cheap power advantage provided by Queensland’s coal fired power stations.”

Again, Queensland does not have cheap power. The cost to regions beyond Brisbane and the South-East corner has to be subsidised by some $600 million a year. The cost to households even in the Brisbane area is more than $350/MWh, inflated by gold-plated network costs and wholesale, network and retailer margins. Worse, if you don’t actually use much electricity, high fixed charges mean that you will be billed $720/MWh for your supply.once-upon-a-time

Uhlmann had another go in that same interview: Isn’t the truth, that people will find out, that the transition actually is expensive, we’ve already seen the wholesale prices go up and that will be reflected in retail prices.”

To which Frydenberg eagerly responded: “You’ve seen that in July this year when the wholesale price of electricity went in one day from $100/MWh to $14,000/MWh.” 

As the minister well knows, these high price events used to happen regularly years ago, but have declined significantly since wind and solar have provide competition to coal and gas, and removed or contracted many of the demand peaks. What happened on July 8 was that the gas generators simply exploited a moment when there was little wind generation, no solar, and no interconnector. They – the gas generators – ruthlessly exploited their market power.

That would happen rarely, if ever, if the minister urged the market policy maker to change rules that currently make it difficult for battery storage to compete with those gas generators. And most wholesale price rises passed on to consumers are the result of rising gas prices, which was the situation across Australia in June when gas prices hit record highs, some times four times their historic cost.

“South Australia now gets 40 per cent of its power from renewable energy. That’s on a good day. On a bad day — when the wind doesn’t blow or blows too hard — it relies on energy imported from the brown coal power stations of Victoria.”  Peta Credlin, former chief of staff to ex prime minister Tony Abbott and now Sky News and Murdoch tabloid commentator.

South Australia gets 40 per cent of its power from renewable energy over the full year. On a “good” day, it will get 100 per cent or more, and it will export that to Victoria. On a “bad” day, it will do what the state has been doing for decades, importing power from Victoria. Imports are little changed from a decade ago and actually fell sharply before the last coal generator in South Australia was closed.

“And that’s the problem with renewables — you’ve got to have a backup for when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.” Credlin again.

That’s the problem with any source of energy, you need back-up. South Australia has gone from zero wind and solar to 40 per cent without the need for any additional back-up to be built- it was already there to provide support for the existing fossil fuel generators and to meet the changes in demand and demand peaks. On that front, nothing has changed. In the future, smarter and newer technologies such as molten salt storage, battery storage and pumped hydro will replace the slow and clunky (and dirty and expensive) peaking power plants, and will reduce the need for grid upgrades.

“It would probably have been much easier to limit both the duration and the extent of the blackout if the state had alternative sources of energy in operation that could be quickly ‘dialled up’ to fill the gap.” Jennifer Hewett, AFR.

As the head of Siemens Energy told the same paper, even gas plants attached to the lines that collapsed would have tripped, suggesting the blackout was unavoidable. As AGL Energy said, if you want better security, add more renewables, not less, and create a series of micro-grids. And what alternatives is Hewett suggesting?

South Australia was not short of energy during the blackout, it had more than 2,000MW of fossil fuel capacity sitting idle, too slow to respond to the events unfolding around them. And when called upon to restart the grid, they didn’t work. One emergency “back-up” generator in Port Lincoln, laughably, apparently ran out of diesel. A coal-fired plant will have taken much longer to restart. Again, the solution is not old technology, but new technology. See battery storage.

“Most of the transmission towers fell after the power was cut.” Chris Kenny in The Australian, the main editorial in The Australian, Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun and other Murdoch writers.

So it must have been wind energy then! Give me a break. Enough towers had fallen to bring the three main transmission lines down and to stop them carrying electricity. It wouldn’t matter whether 3 or 300 towers fell after the event.

“Even worse, wind energy was next to useless when it came to restarting the system.” Kenny, and the Australian editorial pages, again.

And so were the fossil fuel generators paid millions to restart the system. They failed. And power was not regained until the extension cord from Victoria was re-established. It is something of a scandal that AEMO won’t identify the generators which failed to deliver on their highly paid contract to deliver an essential service.

“We’ll put aside the rather important question of whether the (transmission towers) were blown down because they weren’t built robustly enough, because the scattered nature of wind turbines requires so many of them that it would cost too much to ‘gold plate them.” Terry McCrann, Herald Sun

That’s not the worst or dumbest thing that MCrann has said about renewable energy. Not by a long shot. But it does illustrate the extent he will go to demonise the technology, and won’t allow any fact to derail that pursuit. The transmission lines were built well before the wind farms were even envisaged.

And so it goes on. What is worrying is that this media commentary seems in lock-step with the Coalition’s take on renewables.

As Labor’s Mark Butler pointed out after the AEMO report was released on Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and Frydenberg all suggested “intermittent renewables” played a role in the blackout. AEMO made clear that was wrong.

Joyce also suggested the wind blew too hard for wind power to operate, something that both Senator Nick Xenophon and Uhlmann had been keen to promote. Again, the AEMO report made clear that was wrong.

South Australian Liberal leader Steven Marshall blamed a failure of wind power to re-start the system. Again, the AEMO report made clear that that was wrong.

Finally, as is now clear, the Coalition is using the recent events to launch a scare campaign against renewables. It got The Australian to run several stories about the supposed $41 billion cost of the Queensland and Victoria renewable energy targets.

Queensland produced its own study which showed the cost of its plan would be less than one quarter of what Canberra claimed. Unsurprisingly, the Coalition has refused to release its costings, even before a Senate committee this week.

What it did admit, however, was that it took no account for the cost of replacing the fossil fuel plant that must retire with non-renewable generation. As they are finding in South Africa, the choices are obvious: cheap renewables or expensive coal and gas.


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  1. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    The lack of journalistic rigor from Mr Uhlmann is quite sad. He may as well join the commentators.

    • howardpatr 3 years ago

      Like Abbott, Uhlmann, can, can another ex-semminarian, always claim that their minds were ruined in their first seven years of life – they just can’t come to grips with science; especially those behind evolution and renewable energy technologies. They both find solace in believing their god created the planet earth about 6,000 years ago.

      • Chris kime 3 years ago

        Time to move on from words written 2000 years ago based on fear and guilt.look at the outcome of the written word,some good has been held but antiquated ideas have been a breeding ground for misinformation
        Power and a reluctance to accept reallity.bibble or koran or any mark on paper is irrelevant without an inhabitable globe.you can ignore or accept reallity.we know where lnp stand..

        • Colin 3 years ago

          “Time to move on from words written 2000 years ago based on fear and guilt.”

          Oh please. You cannot be serious!

          “look at the outcome of the written word,some good has been held but antiquated ideas have been a breeding ground for misinformation…”

          I would love to see a link to a reputable source for some evidence to back up that statement. I look forward to your reply.

          Have a nice day.

      • Ian 3 years ago

        Sorry mate, but you are a male genital organ trying to tack your religious views onto a totally religiously neutral subject. Renewables does not equal atheism and coal does not equal church. It’s not the first time you have made such puerile comments. If a jihad or crusade was ever warranted it would be against biggots like yourself ! Knock the major political parties all you like but don’t try your neo Marxist claptrap on religion.

        • Chris kime 3 years ago

          The trouble is ian these christian conservatives believe forward thinking and sciense are the work of the devil.change is bad,sciense is meddling.we have no time for their bullshit..

          • Ian 3 years ago

            Each to their own, I guess, but for me , my religious beliefs are totally compatible with a love for renewable energy and our world’s transformation to something more sustainable. It’s totally diametrically opposed to your atheist views but still on this one topic of renewables we can work together. It might be surprising but the coalition were not voted in because of their energy views but for a diverse range of other reasons. They would be in power not because of their pro coal policies but inspite of them.

          • Chris kime 3 years ago

            And the big man said let there be light (from 100%renewables).
            People of faith should b leading the way.unfortunately this seems not to b the case..

          • Colin 3 years ago


            “People of faith should b leading the way.unfortunately this seems not to b the case..”

            Not so.

            People of faith are leading the way on action on global warming. Unfortunately, a small number of fundamentalists – who should not be considered genuine Christians – are playing the role of “false prophets” denying man-made climate change. Sadly these denialists are getting all the publicity and giving Christianity a bad name when it comes to modern science.

            You might want to consider a site run by Robyn Purchia called EdenKeeper.org: “Eden Keeper exists to illustrate all the beauty of one of God’s greatest gifts to us – the Earth! We need to appreciate it, and care for it. Edenkeeper.org is here to help show you how!”

          • Colin 3 years ago

            Our environmental sins and the consequent need to repent of them bought back earlier memories of the orthodox Christian teaching on the Fall of humanity into sin and its effects on our (now broken) relationships with: the orthodox Christian teaching on the Fall of humanity into sin and its effects on our (now broken) relationships with:
            1. God; 2. Our Neighbour; 3. Ourselves; and 4. Creation.

            Dr. Milne is a genuine evangelical Christian (commonly know as a born-again Christian) please consider his take on this issue:

            “In relation to the created order
            Humanity loses its harmony with the natural order and our God-given stewardship of the environment gives place to sinful plundering. This is manifest as exploitation, the needless destruction of the world without thought for its created beauty or intrinsic worth. It is also manifest as pollution, the selfish and rapacious use of raw materials, contaminating the oceans and the very atmosphere, all too often in the interests of economic profit, luxury and self-indulgence.”
            — Dr. Bruce Milne
            Lecturer in Biblical and Historical Theology
            Spurgeon’s College, London, United Kingdom

          • Colin 3 years ago

            Thanks Ian.

            As a committed Christian I’m with you all the way on that one.

            You might want to consider:
            “The Largest Church in Brooklyn is Going Solar

            Founded in 1979, the Christian Cultural Center (CCC) is the largest church in Brooklyn. With over 37,000 members in its congregation, the CCC is the largest evangelical church in the New York region and one of the largest independent churches in the US.”

            Source: http://edenkeeper.org/2016/09/19/largest-church-brooklyn-going-solar/

            More great work being done by the people of faith on climate change!

        • howardpatr 3 years ago

          Keep on keeping on with your god bothering and your denialism.

          • Colin 3 years ago


            “Keep on keeping on with your god bothering and your denialism.”

            What’s “god bothering”?

            Your second point makes no sense. Ian has made clear that he does not deny global warming and is actively involved in being part of the solution.

    • Jo 3 years ago

      He IS a commentator!

    • Marcelo 3 years ago

      You don’t understand. He is pure establishment. Its not omission or casual bias. Its deliberate misleading.

  2. Rod 3 years ago

    It seems the only trustworthy source that gets any attention these days is Four Corners.
    Surely there is enough material on the South Australian issues and the Victorian and Queensland RE targets to warrant a dedicated show.

    • Chris kime 3 years ago

      I agree.the time is now.before the facist lnp defund the core of the abc and all the good journos.its ok chris ullman,sky will have you..

  3. Chris kime 3 years ago

    What is wrong with australia.we have these conservative neolib imbacile’s all thinking they know what is best for this country,which buy the way, is totally ignoring all the facts about
    Climate change, loving the sound of of the shit comeing out of their mouths.the rest of us need to hold these missinformed ,deluded, and intellectually lazy commentators to account and shut them up with the facts.
    Thankyou so much giles you give us some hope buy pointing out the burden of these fact deniers.cheees

  4. Cooma Doug 3 years ago

    This is a very good article. Many people in the industry are now talking this way. Some of us have been for a long while.

  5. Malcolm M 3 years ago

    How does the internet hit rate of reneweconomy compare with The Australian behind its paywall ? If the hit rate gets up enough, it could become essential reading for Ministerial press advisors.

  6. Geoff 3 years ago

    CRIKEY …
    Giles your articles are so repetitive. I understand you want “renewables” to take over the world… But. As the pragmatic engineers keep saying “renewables” and Base Load coal generation are apples and oranges. SA should swallow their pride and build state of the art coal generation and sell to Victoria instead of being cap in hand customer of Brown Coal.
    BTW we all know nuclear in SA is the ultimate solution. Not sure Tom K has the balls to back this logical solution.

    • Chris kime 3 years ago

      You seem like a very sad and misinformed person.the numbers are in.
      Coal is redundant, nuclear massively expensive not to mention many many risks.ccs,what a charade thats turned out to be.gas has turned out to be a way for generators to milk the system before they transition to 100 renewable.if you r going to comment please educate yourself.there are numerous articles on this site that might help.if you like the world as it is things need to go 0 carbon
      Before 2050 with conservative estimates.you talk of repetitive.all i can think of is the liberal party and fellow deniers trying as hard as they can to
      Deny any facts and spread misinformation.all i can say is why?

    • Nick Thiwerspoon 3 years ago

      What absolute utter twaddle. Wind is the cheapest source of power. Industrial scale solar is not far behind. Concentrated solar power with storage costs about the same as coal. And industrial-scale batteries cost not much more than peaking power gas. Nuclear power is the most expensive power source, and as for getting anyone to accept a nuclear power plant in their neighbourhood, good luck.

      SA could easily run its grid on solar, wind and CSP, with batteries for grid stabilisation. Solar for most of daytime usage, wind for day and night, CSP for peak periods.

      To argue that we “need” coal or gas is to argue that we will allow world temperatures to just go on rising, when the rise that has already taken place is dangerous. We do not need coal or gas, except during the transition to 100% renewables,

    • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

      Bring on the Mildura interconnector. Soon you’ll get your fill of clean SA wind energy.

    • john 3 years ago

      Nuclear have you seen the cost to build the English plant?
      Last i read it was $14 billion dollars or perhaps Pounds which ever this is madness plus.
      If we wish to look at reliability of the grid Germany had an average of 14 minutes Australia 234 minutes per year for black status.
      Germany has a large amount of renewable energy integrated into its grid.
      Personally here in the last year i have suffered well over 8 hours of blackout and no cyclone just normal dismal service.

    • Ian 3 years ago

      Some things are worth repeating, no. If the truth is stated then the story will not change, will it? But you are right renewables and coal are as different as apples and oranges and in many ways mutually exclusive. Wind and solar are cheap to run and opportunistic, quick to ramp up and quick to fade depending on the intermittent resource. Coal is only cheap to run, if run continuously, and is terrible at dispatchability. The whole gripe that the coal generators have is that wind and gas badly undercut them and at certain times in the day make coal’s power generated totally useless. The baseload song has been sung and has pretty much dropped off the music charts, because there are reasonable engineering solutions to energy reliability. Other newer numbers like synchronicity, interconnectivity, wind knocking out transmission towers = wind as a bad energy resource – these need discussing. Besides what’s wrong with using the old brown coal Jalopy until the shiny new interconnected battery, solar, wind, hydro, salt storage system is fully up and running?

    • Peter F 3 years ago

      Geoff I was a bit of a fan of nuclear and like you particularly in SA. However then I did the sums, both technical and financial. Currently available nuclear power plants are between 1 and 1.3GW. and they don’t like being trimmed much below 60% of peak output particularly in the second half of the refueling cycle.

      Minimum demand in SA is around 600 MW and in most cases there will be some wind running or solar or gas so the plant will need to find export demand for around 500-600 MW and on a windy night again competing with wind and sometimes finding that there is not enough demand from Victoria or capacity on the interconnect.

      To solve that problem, Japan and France have built a lot of pumped hydro (almost 60% of peak nuclear capacity in Japan) or interconnects to other markets. That capacity can also be used to backup the plant in case of an outage. However, if you only have one nuclear plant you must have backup equal to the peak capacity so a 1.1 GW nuclear plant (AP1000) needs 1.1GW of fast acting capacity. i.e a combination of gas spinning reserves and pumped hydro. Now pumped hydro is great for a 4-5 hour shutdown but refueling takes 4-6 weeks every 3 years so that means all of the nuclear capacity has to be replaced by gas for that time. So someone has to have a large gas plant actually running at almost zero load just in case all the time and then gets to work hard for 6 weeks every three years.
      So we need new interconnectors and new standby gas and probably a large amount of pumped hydro. If we are going to build all that gas and pumped hydro, why not just use it to back up wind.

      There is another little trick to nuclear power. If the reactor is disconnected by a SA style event for 2-3 hours there is a built up of Xenon 135 which “poisons” the neutron flux and stops the reactor working. The Xenon-135 can take 25-35 hours to die down before the reactor can start up again. Then it can take another 30 hours or so to reach full power. Imagine how much money the gas generators are going to make during that time

      Now to the cost. In SA a nuclear plant might manage 75% utilisation while on line (same as France) and therefore 72% allowing for refueling, generating around 7TW.hrs per year.

      Plant Vogtle in the US is currently less than half complete, 40 months late already after 5 years of construction and currently estimated at US$21b including finance costs for two units, if there are no further delays. Now it is a very early example of the AP1000 so we could expect a 15% reduction on the next one, if built in the US. But we have no experience in nuclear building and none of the skills and heavy welding, lifting equipment so we learn by doing or import a lot of expensive French or American labour and we are only building one unit. So less 15% for learning curve +20:30% for local costs +5% for seawater cooling +10% for one unit not two so A$17.5b for one AP1000, plus storage + gas backup and by the way it will take 10 years from permitting to full power. Then add about $2-3b for the storage and $1.5-2.5b for a dual circuit interconnect to the Sydney basin and using Pelican Point + Osbourne as the constantly running “spinning reserve”.

      Permitting in the US and the UK where there are experienced regulators take 3-4 years. How are we going to do it quicker, so in total we can expect a 15 year project from today.

      Operating costs for nuclear are pretty cheap, probably around US$25-35 per MW.hr. say A$40 but at a generous 8.5% weighted average cost of capital and 45 year life, the interest and depreciation works out at A$278 per MWhr + $40 operating costs. Be generous and say $310. Forward prices in SA now for 2020 are $83/MWhr so the proposed nuclear plant plus infrastructure would increase the already high SA cost almost 4 times

      With falling wind prices, $17.5b over 15 years can build about 10 GW of wind. As the capacity factor is increasing with every new generation of turbines, we can expect about 45 GWhr of annual generation. Now even if we added 25% of that amount of wind to the existing fleet we would already be generating all the power SA needed from wind so again we need gas and extra storage. The advantage is that even though one or even three wind wind farms could be taken off line by a storm there would still be plenty generating so with 1GW of storage there would be plenty of time to power up gas turbines from cold. Thus although there might be more gas generation over the year, there would be very few times where the generators are running “just in case” so overall gas costs would be lower.

      Leaving gas and storage costs the same as for nuclear, (they should be much lower, but leave that for another day) We have operating costs for wind turbines at about $15/MW.hr and capital and depreciation over 25 years at the same 8.5%. so we are adding about 2.5GW of wind at a cost of $4.5b, Lets say a new interconnect but because we don’t have the Xenon problem it problem doesn’t need to be large or robust and for the sake of the exercise leave the storage the same. so now we have a total system of $4.5b + $1-1.5 interconnector + $2-3b for storage say $8b generating about 11 TWhr. or $123/MW.hr with no subsidies i.e. less than 40% of the cost of nuclear even including the excessive storage.

      Those are just a few of the reasons nuclear won’t work in Australia

    • Coley 3 years ago

      “BTW we all know nuclear in SA is the ultimate solution”

      You, and all the other native Australian Ostriches might believe this, but, let’s hear details of your safe, reliable, economically viable nuclear option!
      If your really interested, we have Hinckley point here in the UK which most politicians here would love to export and in doing so relieve themselves of the most disastrous decision ever made by a supposedly elected assembly.

    • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

      You understand Geoff that your large base load coal generator will cost more then solar or wind to build. Then it is effectively solar energy anyway. It just happens to be stored in the ground and is 50 million years old. We have to dig it out and burn it, making a mess and wrecking the planet.
      It will also create the worst network security risks, because it is so big and failures so unpredictable. We have to provide expensive infrastructure to allow for its potential failures.That’s what we do now and it’s crazy.
      Then just to put the nail in the coffin, when the market design is such that it encourages new technology and load side ancillary service, the coal generator will be priced out of the market.

    • Brunel 3 years ago

      Another nuclear troll!

      Is Mr Musk not a pragmatic engineer?

      And you do not know the meaning of “swallow their pride”.

    • Marcelo 3 years ago

      You don’t understand. Solar will soon (on average) be cheaper than the transmission costs let alone the addition of power generation costs.

  7. Martin Sevior 3 years ago

    Here are some simple questions. If Victoria and NSW reaches 40% renewable energy via wind and solar, where will Vic, NSW and SA get their power from at night when there is a high pressure system sitting over SE Australia? (Which happens quite regularly.) Note we’re talking about a 14 Gigawatt shortfall. Add in Queensland and it’s a 20 Gigawatt shortfall.

    How much do you think would cost to build that amount of power storage and/or transmission lines? The Snowy system can put out 3 Gigawatts at Max capacity. What do you think it would to build the Snowy system over the next 10 years?

    The current level of additional transmission lines often called “gold plating” already in place has doubled the price of electricity over the past 10 years. What do you think 20 Gigawatts of capacity will cost?

    • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

      Nice Credlin question there. Read the article, Giles has already addressed this question. 40% renewable energy is a yearly number, not a daily number. With 40% renewable energy there will be days when renewable generation will be up near 100% and fossil fuel generation will be down near zero. On other days renewables generation will be down near zero and fossil fuel generation up near 100%.

      Supplementary to that, high pressure systems usually bring sunshine, so a few strategically placed solar thermal generators with molten salt storage would go quite a ways towards supplying nighttime renewable power in times of low wind energy.

      • Martin Sevior 3 years ago

        I did read the article. SA solves the problem of wind intermitancy by importing power from Victoria, which right now, is mostly generated by brown coal.
        Well the problem is suppose now VIC/NSW/QLD all get to 40% renewable energy via wind/solar.
        How much will the interconnectors cost to import the gigawatts of power needed? (They don’t exist now).
        How will this power be generated anyway?
        I agree that there are solutions to these problems but they have to built and included in the cost of the transition to a high renewable fraction for Australia.
        Maybe Solar Thermal is the answer. Maybe pumped hydro. Maybe batteries. But they have to built because if they’re not Australia will stick with fossil fuels.
        So back to my question. What is the cost of all this?

        • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

          Those states you listed, they now provide 100% power to meet demand. Again from the article, the market has backup generation to cover all
          demand whatever the situation (transmission faults aside), and that will always be the case. So we already have the backup we need to move to 40% renewables without building any new plant or any new interconnectors.

          Nobody is saying we should retire any type of generator until it is absolutely superfluous to requirements including backup. VIC for example has enough generation to power the state when the wind isn’t blowing and sun isn’t shining, and supply SA with 600MW over the interconnector, and retire Hazelwood (for starters).

          Interconnectors will probably be required when we go above 40% renewables nation-wide, but that is a long way off into the future and storage will be a big player by then. Battery storage will probably have undergone an order of magnitude price plummet that will turn the market on its head, and the interconnectors might just turn out to be unnecessary.

        • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

          Those states you listed, they now provide 100% power to meet demand. Again from the article, the market has backup generation to cover all demand whatever the situation (transmission faults aside), and that will always be the case. So in theory we already have the backup we need to move to 40% generation from renewables nation-wide without building any new interconnectors.

          Nobody is saying we should retire any type of generator until it is absolutely superfluous to requirements including backup. VIC for example has enough generation as backup to move to 40% renewables accumulated from the times when it is available, which is the pertinent thing here, and be able to power the state when the wind isn’t blowing and sun isn’t shining, and supply SA with 600MW over the interconnector, and retire Hazelwood (for starters).

          More and larger interconnectors will probably be required when we go above 40% renewables nation-wide, but that is a long way off into the future and storage will be a big player by then. Battery storage will probably have undergone an order of magnitude price plummet that will turn the market on its head, and new interconnectors might turn out to be unnecessary aside from the ones already under consideration such as the NSW-SA interconnector. Look I don’t have all the answers but I do know we need a far greater percentage of generation from renewables and storage than we have now in order to meet our climate targets so we need to push ahead with it.

    • Marcelo 3 years ago

      Forget the grid. Solar will make that obsolete in less than two decades.

  8. George Papadopoulos 3 years ago

    Giles, among all the ‘myths’ you talk about one fact stands out (as per AEMO). It was the wind farms shut down after some voltage spikes occurred, and that was what put the strain on the Heywood interconnector which then tripped and plunged SA into darkness.

    • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

      I have to say as a former grid controller, the coal gens would have made this event worse if there were more of them on the night. There were control issues with some wind gens. That has been fixed.
      This is a market. Markets don’t do stuff without reward or incentive. So we re design the market and reward reliability and innovation. This market is designed for out dated concepts. This market would not reward the wind generation companies to do the optimum reliability options. But it is clear to me that technology innovations that are already available can be encouraged by market rule tweaks. Wind and solar will be much more secure than large base load has ever been. It will also be much cheaper to bring into play than the present concepts being applied.

      • George Papadopoulos 3 years ago

        I see any logic in your response – just opinion. Why do you think that coal generators would have made the problem worse?

        • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

          Looking at the hz and voltage trails during the line failures, coal gens would have cascaded off line first. If by some reason they stayed on during the disturbance the inertia and voltage control problems would have been made worse by large coal gens.

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            Why? Wouldn’t they have ridden through the faults as required under their licence conditions? As to frequency problems, thermal generators would have provided more system inertia, thereby reducing the RoCoF. The very high RoCoF may well have been the reason for the state blacking out (as opposed to UFLS being implemented).

          • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

            The thing that brings a system to black in the end is voltage collapse.
            I would suggest that a 500mw coal generator tripping would do it via frequency collapse at the loads seen in SA. But voltage collapse is the killer in most cases.

            Transmission lines generate higher voltages at light load. In fact a 330kv transmission line that is open at one end at 330kv can be 350kv at the remote open end. This is because they are effectively a large capacitor. As the line loads up they change from a capacitor to an inductor which will actually consume mvars and reduce the voltage.
            The voltage will reduce directly proportional to the square of the load current. So at rated load we would expect the voltage to be solid at either end of the power flow.
            Trouble is that a parrallel feeder tripping when things are going bad in a traumatic weather or system event, will cause a load spike on the remaining line. This causes an exponential voltage collapse. This can trigger a voltage collapse across the grid, a brown out situation and there is no choice but to shut the system down which will happen in the blink of an eye automatically.
            With renewable energy spread across the load, this greatly reduces the risk of voltage collapse.
            It also greatly reduces the infrastructure requirements.

          • George Papadopoulos 3 years ago

            You talk of voltage collapse. That is far more likely to happen with the variable output of wind farms than a baseload generation facility…

          • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

            Variable outputs from dispersed small scale gens eliminates the voltage collapse issue.
            Large coal gens in a network of SA size creates a serious problem in this respect that is costly to manage.
            Small scale control options across the grid on both sides of the meter is the optimum approach.

          • George Papadopoulos 3 years ago

            Yes, that true is you can work out how to control the elements of weather…

            Sometimes I wonder about how intelligent some people are!

          • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

            We are changing the weather.

      • Andrea 3 years ago

        Regarding your comment “This is a market. Markets don’t do stuff without reward or incentive”, well yes, but participants in the market are required to meet technical standards, and there may be penalties for failing to meet these standards. In this case, some wind farms didn’t ride through a series of faults (though it is not clear to me if they were in breach of the technical standards). If generators don’t meet the required standards (or only deign to do so when incentivised) then our electricity systems would be very fragile indeed.

        • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

          Indeed the system is very fragile. The main reason for this is that we ram energy onto the grid not knowing if it is needed or not. We spent more then half the money on providing that top bit of energy that isnt actually needed. We do so because the system will collapse if we dont. The last steps in crisis is load shedding.
          What a maket can do is incetivise a process for system security that costs very little by comparison.

          • Andrea 3 years ago

            Our electricity systems are not fragile – that is why statewide blackouts are so rare (and why we are having this conversation). Unfortunately it is more fragile in SA – as shown by the events of 28/9, and because they are more likely to rely on load shedding rather than FCAS. But the point I was making is that system security is not something to incentivise – it is something to mandate through requiring participants to meet technical standards. I understand that this can lead to gold-plating if not handled properly. But generators should not have some sort of choice about whether or not to stay online during a fault, especially when failing to stay online leads to a system crash

          • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

            Generators are paid to provide the necessary ancilliary service. It is a market. Trouble is the technology to do it at 10% of the cost is available.

          • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

            One day in 2001the loads were very high in NSW and low in Victoria. There was a cold front hitting Melb and heat wave in sydney.
            This caused a huge load transfer from Vic to NSW. The high line loading caused voltage colapse risk along with high levels of risk in many respects.

            The major 330kv lines connecting vic and nsw were fully loaded.
            Trouble was an algorithm for a line running across the snowy mtns had winter time settings on it in error. The actual temperature was 40 deg c plus. This line lowerred to the ground from induced heat, started a bush fire and caused the separation of nsw from vic.
            Because vic was exporting so much at the time vic frequency shot up to 51 hz plus and nsw down to 48.8.
            Also, because the split effectively split Snowy in half, it could no longer control the frequency automaticly for either state. I had to do it manually by instructing colleagues to control 3000mw by hand whilst watching the two different frequencies.

            Whilst this was going on there was a bit of load shedding going on in nsw and a lot of voltage control problems.

            I had to allign the frequencies via manual instruction whilst talking to a man at a 330kv circuit breaker in Victoria. We managed to line things up in corordination with AEMO and my crew and re connect the states.

            I tell you this because of what could be done with load side technology. It just would not have been a problem. Response in milli second time frames, in optimum location, automatic, with zero disruption to anything.

          • David Osmond 3 years ago

            Hi Cooma Doug, I was wondering if you could help explain, why, when SA lost the ~445 MW of wind, the Heywood interconnector took up the slack? It clearly didn’t have the capacity to do so.

            If it hadn’t done so, then the state would have only had a 445 MW shortfall, rather than a ~900 MW shortfall, the rate of change of frequency would have been far less dramatic, the FCAS response market would have acted to help manage the shortfall, and if it wasn’t able to fully fix the problem, then the under-frequency load shedding scheme may well have saved the state from the system black. As it was, it seems Heywood’s response seems to have stopped all of these preventative measures from happening.

          • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

            If a major line trips on the grid they reclose within a few cycles, allowing time for a fault to clear. This could be a lightening strike for example. The line will reclose and the system recovers quickly with a few power swings.
            Indeed in situations where there are few options and power levels within limits, some systems wait longer and have two reclose attempts before locking out. One time in a substation in NSW in a storm a radial feeder tripped and reclosed then locked out. I was there and manually closed again and it remained in service.
            But in this modern grid there are thousands of algorithms in real time annalysis. If a feeder trips the market price nodes respond and change if the line locks out, line loadings vary on the system to reflect the bidding and the system security priorities.
            In this case there were no options. Only two parrallel paths. One trips and the other attempts to take it all. Voltage collapse is certian and things behaved as I would expect.
            In 20 yeas time this would not have happenned. The market of the future would have been paying load side to reduce loading to cover such a threat and response on load side will be immediate and non disruptive. Non disruptive load shifting sounds a bit better then system black.

          • Analitik 3 years ago

            Could you please provide an example of non disruptive load shifting?
            Unless you have a large smelter than can be instantly dumped (and then reconnected after a short period) what else can be shed instantly without disruption?

          • Cooma Doug 3 years ago

            Have a walk around your house and think about it.

          • Analitik 3 years ago

            7 seconds isn’t long enough to ramp up ~450MW with the thermal units that were online and in fact the larger amount was lost 2 seconds prior to the Heywood Interconnector disconnect.

            Batteries would have been the only FCAS that could react fast enough to prevent the Heywood Interconnector overloading.

  9. Marcelo 3 years ago

    100% renewables as soon as possible is the only way forward. Any other talk towards any other direction is nonsense and immediately dismissed. Its unacceptable, obsolete, inferior and unwanted. No new coal mines, no new sales of petrol vehicles, long distance travel restrictions, the inclusion of agriculture and aviation in our fossil fuel phase out plans, its all coming our way, very soon.

  10. Les Johnston 3 years ago

    Renewable energy provides much material for myth-loving Journalists to work on. The lack of factual evidence, or rather creative use of factual evidence provides the groundwork. Critical analysis in this article helps uncover the mythical accounts.

  11. Brian Bartlett 3 years ago

    As Bob Beale ex SMH says it is all about distract, deny, defer and delay. Stop worrying about it and get on with changing your friends, neighbours, businesses and local council members to a better way of thinking.

    Put your money in to better appliances and drop you power consumption. Add some battery backed lighting in your house so when the next ‘blackout’ happens, it won’t be long, they can drop over for a chat while they wait for their lights to come back on.

    Actions always speak louder than words but if your bored go down and annoy your local Fed of state pollie, their staff are great listeners, with some facts and why your not voting for their poor performance. Tell them how you don’t have blackouts anymore.

    And stop reading/watching the news as much. The last few paras by Derek Jensen in this article may be useful. Maybe we need to let go.


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