The report from the Australian Energy Market Operator has triggered the usual response from all the usual suspects, with the role of wind energy being the major focus of the Coalition, and their backers in the Murdoch media, Fairfax and the ABC.
Strangely, the role of the gas generators has been given little scrutiny, but the AEMO report – and you have to read between the lines to get the full picture – does not paint a flattering view of the gas fleet before, during and after the blackout.
South Australia has more than enough gas capacity to meet any demand situation, but on September 28 most of it was either not running, not available, or it failed – particularly when highly paid services were called in to action to restart the grid.
It is a critical point. Much of the media response has focused on wind, particularly the Murdoch media and the ABC’s Chris Uhlmann, who, quite bizarrely, is now painting himself as a victim, saying he is accused of being a “heretic” for daring to lift the veil on wind energy. Remember, it was he who predicted the whole of Australia might get blacked out if Australia continued to invest in renewable energy.
But this is what he said on Thursday: “If those who claim to be friends of renewables continue to respond to any criticism with hysterics, then they will be responsible for ensuring the budding renewable industry suffers irreparable reputational damage.”
No, it’s about facts. And on Thursday, Uhlmann was at it again, promoting another classic fossil fuel lobby line: “(Wind) is intermittent so all of it has to be backed up by baseload power for those days when the wind does not blow.”
Actually, all generators need back-up, be they coal, gas, nuclear or renewable. Most studies show that renewable energy, particularly when distributed, needs less redundancy than fossil fuel generators. AGL Energy boss Andrew Vesey says if you want the most secure grid, you go for distributed energy, and that means renewables.
The reasons why there is so much gas capacity in South Australia – and was all built well before wind and solar came along – was the need to support the coal generators, and to provide the variations and the mid-day demand that coal cannot meet.
Solar has filled in much of the daytime demand, stuffing the profits of the gas generators, and forcing them to spend a significant amount of their money into an intense and rather successful media and lobbying campaign.
But on that afternoon and evening on September 28, the gas generation fleet was remarkable for its absence, and there are some critical question raised by the AEMO report: Why did gas fail when it was called upon to restart the grid? And why the secrecy? AEMO has no hesitation identifying which wind farms stopped generating and when?
But it refuses to identify which fossil fuel plants – which are paid millions of dollars (costs past on to consumers) to deliver an essential service – failed to deliver when asked.
Electrical expert Trent Deverell sent in a detailed email to RenewEconomy this morning after going through the AEMO report in great detail.
He says there are key questions to be asked of South Australia’s usable gas capacity, particularly the role of the providers of SRAS (System restart ancillary services) capability and the obvious weaknesses in legacy gas generation, and is dependency on procedures that were written before the era of distributed power generation.
But Deverell wonders why, if as AEMO said it was in a heightened state of alert and had brought emergency measures into place, why it didn’t think of either reducing demand on the interconnector to give it more capacity to respond to any unexpected incidents, or to wake up the gas generators.
Here’s the rest of his email, with some minor editing:
Nearly all the state’s gas capacity was not available:
AGL’s Torrens Island [Gas Thermal]
– Units A1, A2, A3, A4 and B2 – All cold (480+240MW unused capacity)
– Units B1, B3, B4 – Running at roughly 33% capacity (delivering 250MW of 600MW spinning capacity)
Engie’s Pelican Point [Gas Turbine]
– Units A & B + CGST – Both Cold (160+160+165MW available capacity)
At 16:18 Transmision Towers get flattened, SA generating capacity & Victorian Interconnector overloads and trips – SA grid collapses.So, let’s start with Plan A of the Back Start procedure.
At 16:32 SRAS #1 (Presumably Origin’s Quarantine PS Unit), black-start capable with multiple units (216MW in total), ordered to power up with ElectraNet switching to facilitate power to auxillaries and main units at Torrens Island PS next door.
At 17:13 SRAS #1 starts supplying power to Torrens PS to enable auxillaries, but by 17:55 it is diagnosed they can’t supply enough power to enable any Torrens PS main unit restarts. [Suspect one of the Quarantine PS units not available].
Oops …. let’s go to Plan B
SRAS #2 (Origin’s Osborne PS), black-start capable, but advised they can’t deliver power to Torrens PS due lightening strike to their plant. Would also require ElectraNet to facilitate HV route to Torrens PS to enable a power-up. Plan ditched…. Ditto 210MW of Gas capacity
Oops again. Let’s go to Plans C (D & E)
At 17:23 Torrens PS restart from Victorian supply initiated requiring 275kv route switched from Heywood thru South East, Talem Bend, Cherry Gardens, Mt Barker South, Magaill, Torrens Island bulk substations.
At 18:36 Engie, which owns Pelican Point Point Station, offer to make their “off-line” units available with 4 hours notice.
At 18:43 Torrens Island PS auxillaries switched from Quartantine PS power to Victorian Interconnector supply, and Torrens PS begins main unit power ups procedures at 18:54.
At 19:00 Adelaide CBD commences limited re-connection via Victorian Interconnector and to provide load for Torrens (& Pelican Point re-connections).
At 19:50 Pelican Point PS has auxillaries connected to Victorian Interconnect power, and prepares for start-up.
At 19:55 Quarantine PS quoted as on having only 4 (of 5?) gas units on-line
At 20:58 Torrens Island PS gets “A2” unit on-line. Capable of 120MW… Hang on, all the “A” units were cold at 16:18!!!
At 22:02 Torrens Island PS gets “A4” unit on-line Capable of 120MW… Hang on again, another “A” unit, what about the warm “B”‘ units..
At 22:05 Pelican Island PS gets “GT #1″ unit on-line Assume GT-stage only delivery of 160MW
At 22:08 Snuggery Point PS quoted as being on-line Assume Delivery 63MW (Diesel) [still running at 00:005]
At 23:31 Torrens Island PS gets ‘B1” unit on-line…. Capable of 240MW
Confirming the NEM Watch chart captured at 00:05 – SA Gas & Diesel providing >800MW + Victorian Interconnector
South-East Wind zone 100-250MW reconnected before 03:50, releasing diesel & some gas capacity to return to reserve.
Okay at this point some questions…
1) What happened to Torren’s Island B3 [240MW] and B4 [240MW] Units… did they get broken during outage event, and B1 which was an operational unit, but took five (5) hours to return to service.
Additionally, why were these SA Gas units NOT used…..
* Torrens A1 [120MW], A3 [120MW], B2 [240MW]… unused cold = Total 480MW
* Pelican Point #2 & CGST capacity [160+165W]… unused cold = Total 240MW
To sum up, the best part of 1.2 – 1.5GW of gas generation capacity remained unused, off-line or was outright unusable for various reasons.