South Australia says national grid holding back renewables

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SA environment minister says outdated grid and “straitjacket NEM” is greatest hurdle to the rapid and efficient growth of renewable energy generation.

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South Australian environment minister Ian Hunter has named Australia’s outdated National Electricity Market as one of the biggest hurdles to the eastern states’ rapid transition to renewable energy generation, in a speech at an energy conference in Sydney on Friday.powerlines_1

“It’s clear the NEM was a great piece of market reform for the 90s, but it’s not the 90s any more,” Hunter told the Local Energy and Microgrids Conference, hosted by RenewEconomy in Sydney on Friday.

“We need to revisit those rules once more and try to get away from this straitjacket that the NEM is now.”

Hunter, whose state’s world-leading rooftop solar penetration and bountiful wind energy resource will the share of variable renewable energy generation capacity to 50 per cent this year, said that the transition – while a huge success for the SA economy – had been difficult and painful due to in-built network constraints.

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Ian Hunter

“The troubles that we’re dealing with will come to visit you all,” Hunter said. “We are really a forerunner for what will happen in the rest of the country.

“You need to have a real grid; a grid that operates as a grid, not as a quasi-grid or a half-grid that’s bound up in red tape and rules that really don’t allow for free trade across borders of electricity,” he said.

One of the main grid reforms Hunter is lobbying for is the installation of new network interconnectors between the eastern Australian states.

“That’s where I think the pressure from the renewables (sector) needs to be,” he told the conference. “We need a new interconnector, a thicker, stronger interconnected to NSW… a second interconnector to Victoria,” he added, noting that this was something the current NEM rules didn’t allow.

“The challenge for our state, now, is how do we accelerate this transition and take advantage of the benefits of being a leader?

Building a “greater interconnector” between the states, Hunter argues, would mean SA could play greater part in delivering its world class renewables resources to all of the NEM: “And that is an opportunity we want to grasp,” he said.

“This takes into account the significant sunk infrastructure costs already in the grid. Why would we throw that away? Why wouldn’t try to make that work better? I think that’s the logical thing to do.

“So that greater interconnection is really going to be helpful I think, to give the time to the eastern states to go through this transition. It is difficult. It is painful,” he said.

An “educative account” of this, referred to by Hunter at the conference, is last November’s network outage, which was quickly blamed on the state’s high wind energy penetration, but was subsequently found to have been caused, not by renewables but by a faulty signal that caused the line linking South Australia to the rest of the grid to trip and then disconnect.

“What (this outage) shows us is that we are vulnerable,” he said. “To have a very efficient energy sector, you need to have great interconnection.

“You need to have a real grid; a grid that operates as a grid, not as a quasi-grid or a half-grid that’s bound up in red tape and rules that really don’t allow for free trade across borders of electricity.”

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10 Comments
  1. Robert Comerford 3 years ago

    I’ll be a devil and play the advocate. Do we really need such a big grid any more? Would smaller localised grids be better with renewables, Gas turbine generators that can eventually be fed with renewables for the times that there is little sun and wind as part of the mix might remove the need to have connections long distance?

    • Alan S 3 years ago

      I believe a reliable, stable Australia-wide (WA isn’t connected to SA) grid is the first priority. That will encourage energy feed-in using the methods you describe. Then add storage at transmission nodes and near consumers to reduce the load on the transmission system. If it all works then perhaps consider disconnecting. Expensive – yes in the short term but probably less than $55 B for subs and with longer term benefits. It might even create a few jobs .

    • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

      It’s always windy somewhere, or at least, becalming is easier to anticipate and plan for than the vicissitudes of thermal generators. The wider grid gives you more choice of generator, more certainty, less risk. A larger market could create competition and value.In the short term you as consumer may not have a wider choice, but your retailer would. With further reforms you’ll be able to take advantage of windy opportunities further away.

  2. Alan S 3 years ago

    Ian Hunter seems to understand the problem, the solutions and the opportunities. What’s holding us back are the politicians that don’t.

  3. Mark Diesendorf 3 years ago

    Ian Hunter is spot on. To allow further tapping of South Australia’s huge wind power resource, a new transmission spine is needed to connect SA to the main grid in eastern NSW via Broken Hill. This would also allow the proposed wind farm at Silverton near Broken Hill to be built to its full proposed capacity of 1000 MW. The new transmission line could also collect electricity from future solar power stations in western NSW. Furthermore, if hot rock geothermal power ever became a commercial reality in central Australia, it could be connected by spur line to the proposed new SA-NSW transmission at Broken Hill.

    This proposal has been around for several years, but not pursued by the National Transmission Network Development Plan. It seems they only do cost-benefit analysis at the margin. Neoliberal economics excludes planning for the medium- and long-term future.

    • Mike Dill 3 years ago

      If there is enough capacity from Broken Hill into eastern NSW, then Hunter is right that adding a ‘thick’ link from BH into SA is sensible in the short term. That would push the evening peak in Sidney well into the night.

      Unfortunately it might not end up being cost effective in the longer term, as local power production from renewables in NSW, VIC, and ACT, may end up being less expensive than the cost of transmission. With ACT going 100% renewable, they might end up with some extra closer to the demand.

      Can someone quantify the cost of the connector?

      • Mark Diesendorf 3 years ago

        At present there is not enough transmission capacity from Broken Hill to eastern NSW.

  4. Mark Diesendorf 3 years ago

    BTW, connecting WA to SA would entail a huge cost with little benefit. WA is capable of transitioning to 100% renewable electricity, based mainly on wind and solar, without interconnection, and SA wind needs the big potential market in the east, not the small market in the west.

  5. Malcolm M 3 years ago

    What he is advocating is the exact opposite of the “thin grid”. How would investment in new major transmission lines pay for itself over say a 30 year time-frame as the price of solar panels and battery storage declines so rapidly ? However there are other investments in transmission capacity upgrades that could be achieved at much lower cost, such as up-rating and dynamic rating of the inter-connectors.
    1. Up-rating – the NSW-Qld inter-connector at Glenn Innes looks small relative to the Vic-NSW inter-connector at Murray 2, yet both have a similar rating. And the Murray 2 line is supplemented by smaller high voltage lines near Albury and Mildura.
    2. Dynamic rating should be designed to maintain cable temperatures below a threshold of (say) 60 C. This temperature is a function of line amperage, air temperature, wind speed and solar radiation. It should be feasible to forecast the dynamic amperage limit from the numerical weather forecast grid. This would tend to increase the capacity of a line at night, under cold temperatures, and under high wind speeds. These are precisely the conditions under which there is an excess of wind power in SA and Vic, which could be exported to NSW.

  6. Mike Dill 3 years ago

    Building out the Solar+Storage at Port Augusta with more storage for the extra electrons from wind may be more sensible than building a new set of transmission lines.
    If you want a big project, electrify the rail line between Port August and Adelaide to justify a more substantial electrical link internal to SA.

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