The laughably incompetent efforts by Turnbull and others in the Liberal Party to blame renewables for the South Australian (SA) blackouts of September 2016 have been covered here before1. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) blamed overly sensitive protection mechanisms in some SA wind farms. An extreme weather event destroyed three large transmission lines which caused them to trip, and a sequence of other faults resulted in voltage drops on the SA grid. As the number of these faults grew, power from windfarms dropped as their protection features kicked in. As this power dropped the Heywood Interconnector from Victorian tried to make up the shortfall. This overloaded it, so that its own protection system kicked in and shut it down. SA has an automatic load shedding system, but the change was too great so that this system failed also2. So, to say it was the fault of renewables is at best stupid, at worst a premeditated lie.
After this debacle, the South Australian government decided to go it alone, in the absence of anything like a coherent policy from the Federal government. It developed a $550 million plan to prevent the same thing happening again. This public intervention into the SA energy system seems to have frightened off private investment, most notably by AGL. This backing off was hammered by SA Premier Jay Weatherill, who said “When they [the then Liberal Government] privatised ETSA [Electricity Trust of South Australia], they left the power in too few hands. We’re taking the power back for the people of South Australia”3. The Managing Director and CEO of AGL, Andy Vesey, was the grinning face behind Jay Weatherill when he lambasted Josh Frydenberg in the now legendary confrontation between the two. It is worth watching4.
SA plans included a battery storage system (recently completed), a renewable technology fund, a new state-owned gas-powered electricity generator, incentives to use SA gas to generate power in SA, and an energy security target. Of course, the Federal government ridiculed the concept of the battery. Treasurer Scott Morrison stated that it was “so at the margin it barely is worthy of a mention”. He added: “30,000 SA households could not get through watching one episode of Australia’s Ninja Warrior with this big battery. So let’s not pretend it is a solution. I mean, honestly, by all means have the world’s biggest battery, have the world’s biggest banana, have the world’s biggest prawn like we have on the roadside around the country, but that is not solving the problem.”6
Despite the ridicule, the Tesla battery is having a big impact on Australia’s electricity market, far beyond the South Australia grid where it was expected to time shift a small amount of wind energy and provide network services and emergency back-up in case of a major problem. In mid-December, one of the biggest coal units in Australia, Loy Yang A3, in Victoria, tripped without warning very early in the morning, with the sudden loss of 560MW of power, causing a slump in frequency on the network. The rapid response of the Tesla big battery to an event that happened nearly 1,000km away stunned electricity industry insiders7. It wasn’t contracted to do so, but it did so because it could. This has happened again, with the Tesla battery jumping in long before any other generator could power up.
This battery has proven so successful, that Victoria is going to install a smaller version (20MW), and this may be the first in a series. Some of the funding is being provided by the Federal Government6,8. However, you will hear no announcement to this effect from the Federal Government, because that would mean admitting they were wrong, something a politician will never do. This is particularly disgraceful when, at the same time, they are contemplating throwing money at assorted coal mines, and even suggesting that the government build or fund a coal-fired power station. All this is being contemplated as we watch the impending destruction of the Great Barrier Reef9. These people have been bribed by the fossil fuel industry and are only concerned with the continuation of donations from that industry, rather than the nation’s future. They are beneath contempt.
It should be recognised that the SA Government gas fired power station is yet to eventuate. What we have as a back up at present are two sets of diesel powered generators (one in the north of Adelaide, the other in the south) that were sourced from overseas at a very considerable cost, not to mention the fact that they cost an arm and a leg to run, but there is no real choice, particularly with the forthcoming election. In a couple of years time these are meant to be reassembled as a gas fired power station somewhere to the north of Adelaide. However, there is the small matter of the state election on March 17. If the ALP win they will presumably continue with plans for the gas fired power station. I am not sure what the Liberal policy is and Nick Xenophon has no policies on anything much. I have no faith in any of them. The present government is hopelessly incompetent, the Liberal opposition barely exists and the Xenophon mob will no doubt do some stunts.