Vic network fault causes outages in South Australia, conservatives blame renewables

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Major fault on Victorian transmission cases network separation and power outages in South Australia grid, and conservatives blame wind and solar.

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A major fault on the Victorian transmission network overnight caused power outages in South Australia for up to an hour, and forced the Portland smelter in Victoria to also go offline.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said that at 01:33 AEDT on December 1, the South Australian power system separated from Victoria, due to an unknown issue on the Victorian transmission network

“The root cause still under investigation,” AEMO said, but added “it is important to note that this event was not related to the Black System event in South Australia on September 28.”

It is believed that the fault lay in an Ausnet feeder line to the Heywood Interconnector in Western Victoria, when a transmission line conductor “hit the ground.”

network south australiaIt was a case of bad timing, as network repairs elsewhere had put constraints on the grid and that left it exposed to unexpected incidents. If this had happened in a normal time, no one would have noticed.

That didn’t stop conservative politicians and commentators from blaming wind and solar. Murdoch’s Andrew Bolt declared it to be more proof that renewable energy cases blackouts, and state Liberal leader Steven Marshall followed suit.

That earned a sharp rebuke from state energy minister Tom Koutsantonis, who said that South Australia had operated effectively as an island, even though some customers lost power as the local network adjusted its frequency and had to shed some load.

“Once again, Mr Marshall has ignored the facts and jumped at an opportunity to blame renewables for the outages. I can only assume he didn’t bother to check where the fault lay.”

AEMO said approximately 220MW was lost in South Australia (equating to approximately 200,000 customers) due to the need to balance the frequency of the network.

South Australian customers had power restored at 02:45 AEDT. The Portland smelter in Victoria was also disconnected from electricity supply for three hours and reports said that BHP’s Olympic Dam mine in South Australia also lost power for several hours.

At 05:41 AEDT, the South Australian power network had been reconnected to the national grid. Prices during the event jumped as high as $14,000/MWh, as gas-fired power stations fired up. Paul McArdle from Watt Clarity has more on the prices here.

AEMO said it is working closely with Victorian transmission network service provider AusNet Services to identify the cause of the fault. “Further details will be supplied following further investigation, however it is important to note that this event was not related to the Black System event in South Australia on 28 September 2016.”

That blackout was also blamed on renewable energy, even though three main transmission lines were blown down by 260km/h winds and the local grid owner and the main generation company said no generators would have withstood the impact of the storms on the network.

However, questions have been raised about the decisions by the market operator, which chose to take no preventative measures, and for many underlined the fragility of a centralised grid, and the risks of storms, bushfires and other outages on an elongated network.

It has led to calls for a think about the design of electricity markets, and a push to localised grid and local renewable generation. AGL CEO Andrew Vesey, and many others, said the best security could be offered by more localised generation, and that meant renewable energy, and more storage.

Environmental groups said the latest outage underlined the need for new technologies such as solar towers with molten salt storage and battery storage.

“A cleaner and more resilient electricity system underpinned by renewable energy and storage is something all South Australian politicians can support,” said Friends of the Earth’s Leigh Ewbank.

He noted Bruce Mountain’s analysis on RenewEconomy that solar and battery storage already offered cheaper electricity to households than the main grid, and this could add to network security.

“The economics of renewables and batteries has profound implications for consumers, solar and battery producers and installers, electricity retailers, centrally dispatched generators, network service providers, market operators, regulators and governments,” Ewbank said.

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17 Comments
  1. DevMac 2 years ago

    Bolt is to be read as satire, pure and simple. Once you can get into that frame of mind he comes across as a comedic genius.

    Blaming rooftop solar for an overnight power failure. Perfect example.

    (I’m aware what I’ve said is bending the truth but, you know, it seems to be the fashion).

  2. DogzOwn 2 years ago

    But poor old Bolt has so much stand-up comic competition these days, from Turnbulll, Joyce, Frydenberg, Hunt, Brandis, Dutton, Morrison, not even in the same league as Pyne, Abbott, Hanson etc.

    Meanwhile UK has an interconnector that works, to France, up to 3GW, for surge when so many kettles switched on at end of episode(s) of East Enders. BZE Renewable Super Power nominates HVDC power export to Indonesia and CST plant already being built in Morocco, CST to HVDC all the way to northern Europe. So it’s more than maybe possibe.l

  3. John Saint-Smith 2 years ago

    It is well known that Dolt is being paid, big time, by people whose agenda is the destruction of the renewable energy industry and to throw tens of thousands of workers on the dole, thereby precipitating a further slide into recession and helping to justify draconian austerity measures from the Federal Liberal Government, and relaxation of already weak environmental regulations so that they can deliver secretly promised billions to their international corporate puppet masters.

    Why can’t I make outrageous unproven statements? This is the Trump post-truth era. If dolt is not constrained by anything so boring as logic, let alone facts, he’s fair game for a bit of push back.

    • Mark Brown 2 years ago

      Re payments; Prove it!

      You seem to have a one eyed point of view just as many on the far right have!

      History tells us that popular Group-Think at the present time does not always be right!
      An always open mind has seemed to be the better road to travel?

      • John Saint-Smith 2 years ago

        Satire! As DevMac points out! I don’t have to prove anything, anymore than Dolt proves what he says – because it isn’t true. This is the Post-truth Trump era. Get used to having the other side tell lies like the Right has done for decades!

  4. John Noonan 2 years ago

    Unfortunately the complexity of the NEM allows ignorant comments to sound credible. The NEM is a very complex network and whenever Black Starts occur there is way too much finger pointing. When the Black Start Event happened in Adelaide on Wednesday 28th September 2016, the same ignorance abounded.

    I have written a detailed explanation of what went wrong. No Power Engineer in their right mind would allow the NEM to Operate across Transmission Lines in an Extreme Weather Event. Why were 4 of the 5 Adelaide based Gas Fired Power Stations 100% offline, and the 5th and Largest (Torrens Island Power Station) operating at around 25% capacity? This level of incompetence virtually guaranteed a Black Start Event. For more detail read …

    Part 2.3 The Megaproject Paradox: Failure of a National Electricity Market
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/part-23-megaproject-paradox-failure-national-market-john-noonan?trk=pulse_spock-articles

    • Ken Dyer 2 years ago

      John, I would have thought the problem was simple. Single point of failure on one interconnector with no alternate backup route. Perfect example of the shortcomings of a centralised network, that is now under pressure because the source of electricity is becoming more distributed and the network cannot cope.
      One only has to look at the way central mainframe computing with dumb terminals was made obsolete by the distributed processing of local and wide area networking and the advent of personal computing to understand the problem.
      Perhaps one should point this out to Mr Bolt as he labors away on his electronic typewriter. Well, I suppose the way he looks at it solar is at fault.

      He sounds a a bit like the well known journalist Abernathey J. Botherwit (not this real name) who in 1900 bemoaned the advent of motor vehicles because the local vegetable gardens were lacking in fertilizer. Bring back the horse was his byline.

      • John Noonan 2 years ago

        Hello Ken.

        It is appropriate to point out that there were 2 x Interconnector failures. I am pedantic enough to point that out because we have a Premier that thinks it would be smart to add a third Interconnector at great expense, this time to NSW. He does not understand!

        In an extreme weather event, any Engineer who has worked for any of the Australian State Grids will tell you that you turn on all Power Stations in the State to mitigate against the risk of a Black Start.

        AEMO offers the lame excuse that “Normal Operation” of the NEM does not allow them to direct Power Stations (like the 5 x Gas Fired Power Stations in Adelaide capable of generating a combined capacity of around 2GWatts) to turn on. They claim that after a “Black Start Event”, they are allowed to suspend “Normal Operations” of the NEM to resolve the issue.

        I argue that AEMO was made aware of the forecast Extreme Weather Event in SA by BOM in the order of 2 days ahead of the event. “Normal Operations” of the NEM should enable AEMO to suspend “Normal Operations” in the face of an oncoming Extreme Weather Event and turn on the Power Stations, to mitigate against the risk of a Black Start. It would be cheaper, safer and more efficient to operate the NEM this way, than to respond to failure like they did.

        I am of the opinion that only a Class Action will resolve this matter.

        Kind regards,
        John

        • Ken Dyer 2 years ago

          Thanks John for the explanation. I also read parts of the Megaprojects document. It seems to me that business continuity is in the too hard basket for AEMO, and possibly even disaster recovery. With a situation of privately owned power stations, added to by several renewable wind farms, the AEMO has a situation of over servicing of power generation with a grossly inadequate network that has many points of failure. In short, AEMO has failed in its obligation to supply power to the end users according to its charter.
          If one could overcome the ignorant finger pointing of commentators like Bolt, the shortcomings of AEMO may well become evident. But you wont see that any time soon, when international conglomerates remain in cahoots with international media outlets such as the Murdoch press to maintain the status quo. I do not think that a class action would fix the situation, but I do think that a total rethink of the dogs’ breakfast of our national electrical supply system needs to be done. Whether our political masters have the political will and guts to go against corporate interests remain to be seen. I have my doubts. In the meantine I will continue to vote with my dollars, thatis, my solar PV dollars.

        • MrCyberdude 2 years ago

          I agree with your comments but who pays for the price increase associated with this.
          It will be the residents of South Australia and potentially NEM participants, who are already paying more than anyone else because of the over capitalisation of wind generation.

          • John Noonan 2 years ago

            Hi MrCyberdude. The NEM is being mismanaged at least in the Privatised states. Privatised owners are lining their pockets in their own self centred vertical markets with no though for appropriate management of the NEM and its consumers. There must be a major change to rectify the problem. The State or Federal Governments must step into the Privatised markets with ownership, construction and Operations and Maintenance of new Fossil Fueled and/or Renewable Generation solutions that compete with Privatised Generators to bring stability and safety back to the NEM. Its a free market, so there should be no impediment to our Governments to do so.

          • MrCyberdude 2 years ago

            I can’t disagree with what you have said, in fact COAG setup AEMC to manage the NEM so it’s doable.
            Below is a condensed version.

            AEMC’s mission statement is this;

            To improve consumer outcomes from the strategic development of energy markets, through rules and advice.

            Vision:
            Flexible and resilient markets that benefit consumers.

            Values:
            The shared values of the AEMC are leadership, engagement and integrity.

            Leadership reflects our desire to lead the debate on key issues of energy market development and engage with governments, consumers and market participants to promote dialogue and understanding. We value different perspectives and welcome meaningful debate on energy market issues.

            Engagement is at the core of everything we do.

            Integrity speaks to the respect we have for our stakeholders, our high standards of impartiality, objectivity and the transparent processes…..

            .
            .
            So a starting point for AEMC, after AEMO’s 145MW shortfall for 2017/2018, should be an immediate discussion with Hazelwood’s owners ENGIE, about mothballing 2 units to ensure Energy Security.

            There is the potential for 2019/2020 standby operation if energy security requires it.
            The alternative is the potential for a Victorian SystemBlack that would be much more severe and costly than South Australia’s blackout.

            In terms of alternate peaking supplies like battery storage there is the real possibility that a system based on the Solar Thermal plant in Morocco (NOORo) could replace a Hazelwood boilers. This is the molten salt version thermal side of the solar thermal plant.
            This could be powered by Hydro contracts and would represent the storage half of the equation in the renewables sector, most importantly the cheap half.

            .
            Read more here, especially the Molten Salt storage component that allows 24/7 heat exchanger steam generation that integrates with existing steam turbine technology.

            http://www.poweroilandgas.sener/en/project/central-receiver-plant-nooro-iii

          • John Noonan 2 years ago

            Reasonable suggestions MrCyberdude …

  5. DJR96 2 years ago

    Having taken an interest in this whole sorry sage after hearing the outright false statements and claims that renewables were to blame, I’ve come up with my own analysis:-

    I assume you’ve all read the reports so far:-
    http://www.aemo.com.au/Media-Centre/Media-Statement-South-Australia-Interim-Report
    http://www.aemo.com.au/Media-Centre/Update-to-report-into-SA-state-wide-power-outage
    http://www.bom.gov.au/announcements/sevwx/sa/Severe_Thunderstorm_and_Tornado_Outbreak_28_September_2016.pdf

    So after analysing all that I can provide some interesting details.

    Yeah the wind was seriously strong. Seven tornadoes with wind speeds as high as 260kmh developed during the storm, some crossing paths with transmission lines. Little wonder some pylons blew over.

    Yes some of the wind turbines reduced output or disconnected altogether.
    There is a few things going on here.
    Wind turbines need about a 30kmh breeze to generate at full capacity. They can keep generating at full capacity up to around 90kmh at which point they have to reduce to be able to not over-stress the pylon structure it stands on. This likely occurred at some units but it’s not been publicised yet just which ones or by just how much they reduced due to high speed speeds.
    They can tolerate wind gusts over 200kmh, so they’re pretty tough. And in fact none of them suffered any structural damage as a result of the storm.
    Almost all of the wind turbines detected disturbances on the grid (voltage sags/surges) and went into a ‘fault ride-through’ mode. When they do this they also reduce output to keep a buffer up in case of any further irregularities, but soon build back to normal generation if it senses the grid being ok.
    Unfortunately, many of them were also programmed to disconnect altogether if they go into this ride-through mode a number of times. Many only after just two occasions. Others 6 or more.
    So every time there was a fault in the transmission lines, either shorting, disconnecting or even re-closing after a trip, a disturbance occurs that the wind turbines detected.
    Also not made very clear is which wind turbines (if any) had to disconnect because there was no active grid to feed-in to due to failed transmission lines. Just like a home solar inverter, if they’re islanded they can’t operate.
    So yes, a fair chunk of wind capacity was lost due to this. But not due to excessive wind velocity!

    The reports say that the synchronous generation (Torrens Island and Ladbroke Grove), and the Murraylink HVDC transmission line all did what they were supposed to do and weren’t damaged at any time. What it does not say though is whether they were called upon to increase capacity as a result of some of the wind generation dropping off. Because it appears all of the shortfall was being brought in via the Heywood interconnector.

    Now this is the bit the reports don’t cover but if you analyse the graph on page 12 of the first report, you can see the disturbance caused by the 2nd trip of the Davenport-Belalie line at 16:18:09, and the loss of the first group of wind turbines (their 3rd detected fault). Then for 4 seconds after there’s a nice wavy line in the graph. This is due to the synchronous generation in Victoria and Torrens Island nearly losing synchronism. They were starting to fight each other and that puts huge extra loads on the transmission lines connecting them (Heywood). But it recovers after 4-5 seconds. Had that been all the disturbances it would have been all ok despite the Heywood line running more than 100MW over its rated capacity. It was coping.

    But then the Davenport-Mt.Lock line is tripped, and more wind generation is lost, creating another major disturbance which also messed with synchronisation. The system had not recovered from this (needing 4-5 seconds) when an attempt to re-close that line is made, totally screwing up synchronism, this time causing the load through Heywood to spike over 850MW which causes it to trip, disconnecting it from Victoria. Without all that energy coming from Victoria, the remaining generation could not supply demand, voltage and frequency plummeted which tripped all other generation off-line. Black system.

    The ONE thing that could have prevented the black system, was to not attempt re-closing that Davenport-Mt.Lock line. Just when the system urgently needed to be shedding some load, it tried to connect more. The Heywood interconnector was already running over-capacity and the system was struggling to stay synchronised.

    The irony here is that all grid connected inverters, whether that be your home solar system or the big wind turbines, have to by design specified in Australian Standards regulations, check for the presence and quality of the grid before feeding-in any energy.
    I don’t think it is too much to expect that the national grid operators should have to check beforehand whether conditions are safe and capable of connecting transmission lines and other elements before doing so. This would appear to be a monstrous gaping hole in safe operating procedures that need remedial action to ensure a more reliable network. These re-closers need to be centrally controlled and not independent units so that the network monitoring and control computers can manage them.

    AEMO seemed to not be aware of some of the software settings built into the wind turbines. In particular, the ‘number of fault ride-through events before disconnecting’ one.
    The wind turbine operators have all since adjusted them to 20 events.
    Significant generators like these are depended upon and every effort needs to be made to prevent any sudden unexpected losses in generation. It’s fine to ramp up and down at a reasonable rate that allows enough time for other generators to be able to adjust to. If the grid is live, let them generate at any time voltage and frequency is within operating limits. Inverters are capable of operating safely over a much wider voltage and frequency range than synchronous generators. Need to take advantage of that.

    Furthermore, I don’t know whether they already are or not, but they ought to comply with the latest AS4777 standard that requires they have reactive power control. This would see them providing leading phase energy when frequency/voltage on the grid is reduced, and vice-versa. This would provide some active grid support when synchronous generation is struggling. This may be achieved with a software upgrade, or may require a retrofitted control board from the manufacturer. Either way it should not be too difficult to implement, but the benefits very significant. The same also applies to the inverters at each end of the Murraylink HVDC. It too technically could provide the same support.

    So there you have it. Some insights you may not see elsewhere.
    It will be interesting to see if AEMO recognises these issues too.
    We’ll await their final report later this month.

    • MrCyberdude 2 years ago

      Thanks for your insightful comments, but are they accurate?

      A central controller for reclosing sounds like a good idea, that will be complicated with implementation. What you are talking about is bringing an entire industry from a line protection system of the 1900’s into a live integrated system and I’m not convinced it will be implemented successfully.

      I note from documents that the protection settings to be implemented in the South Australia wind turbines are….. “PROPOSED” mitigation measures.

      507MW Multiple ride-through capability – 19 within 2 minutes
      372MW Multiple ride-through capability – 20 within 120 minutes (also 20 within 2 minutes)
      593MW Multiple ride-through capability – 9 within 30 minutes

      Where did you actually read that they “have all since adjusted them to 20 events.” ?
      Cheers

      • DJR96 2 years ago

        Thank you. Accurate? We’ll have to see if the final report confirms my views…..

        I have to admit I had generalised when I said 20. The numbers you provide look familiar but I couldn’t recall where I had seen them to check. At least the 20 is one of the numbers used!

        But it does raise the question though. There seems little point in having such a setting. The grid is either present and operating or it isn’t at all. One would think that for so long as the grid is present the wind turbines should be able to feed-in. If the grid parameters are so far out of normal operating range, protection systems in the grid will do something about it, even if that means tripping the line off.
        If the network really needs to prevent power being fed in, DRM technology could be used to provide the signal to reduce output.

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