back to article Software glitch, not wind farms, blacked out 60,000 in South Australia

Yet another reason that isn't wind farms has emerged for recent blackouts in the Australian State of South Australia: dodgy software. The ongoing politicking sparked by last year's “megastorm”-driven blackouts was revived earlier this month, when a heatwave swept across the country and caused another round of blackouts in the …

  1. druck Silver badge
    Boffin

    Power optional

    If all you've got is windmills, don't expect to grind corn unless the wind is blowing.

    1. Oengus

      Re: Power optional

      If all you've got is windmills, don't expect to grind corn unless the a suitable wind is blowing.

      FTFY because not all wind is suitable (not too strong, not too light but just right) for these windmills.

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis Silver badge

        Re: Power optional

        The Chinook, the Khamsin, the Mistral, the Freemantle Doctor - now the Goldilock.

      2. dbannon

        Re: Power optional

        hey druck, Oengus

        I wonder if you read the article, it is pretty clearly presenting yet another reason why renewables are NOT the problem.

        "... not all wind is suitable ..."

        Possibly but not here mate ! In the first incident in particular, there was a lot of wind, and the wind generators were very happily lapping it up when lightening strikes took out transmission towers.

        In the second case, yes, there was less wind and a bit less power. Exactly what was forecast with plenty of notice to warm up the kit there for exactly that reason. But that did not happen and three times the necessary load shedding took place because of a "software" issue.

        So, great to see comments but a bit of relevance and accuracy please !

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: Power optional

          lightening strikes took out transmission towers...

          So, great to see comments but a bit of relevance and accuracy please !

          Lightning doesn't take out transmission towers, but wind certainly does.

          ElectraNet was first warned in 2005 of the risk that 43 of its ­towers could collapse in windy conditions because of corrosion and degradation of foundations.

          Story here.

          I seem to recall Julia Gillard referring to the required repairs as "gold-plating" and refused to fund them.

  2. P. Lee

    >Yesterday, the power station's owner Engie said that's because its number two unit was accumulating losses and has been mothballed since July 2015.

    >Ever since last year's blackouts in South Australia, the state's high proportion of wind power has been blamed as the reason for blackouts, leading to a push for “clean coal” to provide “stability” to the grid.

    The gas generator wasn't being used enough to be profitable, so they want to use coal instead?

    It looks to me like the company just didn't want to carry enough spare capacity to cope with the spike in demand during the heat. A bit like the water companies in the UK selling off their reservoirs for building on and then cutting supplies during hot summers due to "drought."

    I know nothing of the industry, but it appears to me that if energy usage spikes during the heat, then solar might be a better bet than wind. At least at night, demand should ease off as office-blocks turn off their air-conditioning. Either way, you need to cater for peak rather than average, capacity, which is going to be "a financial burden" on the generating company.

    1. veti Silver badge

      All you really need to know about the industry is (1) a lot of Australians work in coal mines, and (2) China has recently sharply reduced the amount of coal it imports, meaning that the Australian mining industry now has massive overcapacity.

      Everything else follows from these simple facts.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        There aren't *that* many Australians working in coal mining. The number is currently around 50,000. Which represents about 0.2% of the population. Hardly what you'd call "a lot".

        On the other hand, the coal mining *lobby* is extremely powerful.

    2. Mark 65

      Gas only produces if price spikes above $300 or thereabouts. It also needs to be a predicted spike sustained for long enough to justify turning the unit on. You then need to make sure you have enough fuel to run it. Given they lost $17m related to the plant the previous year it was mothballed so there would likely be no fuel contracted for it. Hence they had no appetite for switching it on.

    3. Pompous Git Silver badge

      I know nothing of the industry, but it appears to me that if energy usage spikes during the heat, then solar might be a better bet than wind.
      Energy-use spikes when you get a blocking high. That means no wind. Dunno about Adelaide, but at my mother's place north of Melbourne I can recall temperatures in the low 40s well after sunset. Good luck running your solar-powered air-conditioning after sunset :-)

    4. Adam 1

      You also need to take into account the new gas export infrastructure that has come online in recent years. Prior to this the supply and demand equation was primarily domestic consumers. Now gas prices follow the international market as many producers can make more by selling it overseas. As a result, wholesale prices have at least doubled and this ruins the economic assumptions behind such plants. But hey, at least Chevron, Santos ExxonMobil et al contribute to our collective wealth by paying a fair share of tax.....

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Prior to this the supply and demand equation was primarily domestic consumers. Now gas prices follow the international market as many producers can make more by selling it overseas.
        The interesting thing here is that when the opportunity for long-term domestic contracts was available, Australia's state governments* were giving preference to new coal-fired power generation. Now they want to punish us for the consequences of their decisions decades ago.

        *The exception here is Tasmania, but hydro's status as a renewable is deprecated by the Greens. Go figure... Maybe it's because hydro is dispatchable.

  3. Mark Exclamation

    It's nothing but money!

    During the power demand peak, the spot price of electricity rose to around $14,000 per kw/h. The real reason they didn't switch on the Pelican Point gas generator to take up the shortfall, was simply because by switching it on, the spot price of electricity would have plummeted (supply and demand principles), and those (private) power generating companies would have made less money. For those companies, denying people their power was more profitable than ensuring supply.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: It's nothing but money!

      During the power demand peak, the spot price of electricity rose to around $14,000 per kw/h.
      I find that difficult to believe. If true, then the electricity generator's shareholders will be screaming blue murder. The retail cost here in Tasmania is 26.065 ¢/kWh so there was a huge margin for profit: more than $13,999.74 for each kw/hr supplied! The spot price is what the electricity supplier is paid prior to it being sold to the consumer.

      The real reason is somewhat more mundane. There is a great shortage of LNG due to nearly all of Australia's production being committed for export. That means what little is available is highly priced and no doubt this made firing up Pelican Point a loss-making venture. Hint: private power generators are not charities; they exist to make a profit for their shareholders. Deliberately engaging in loss-making ventures is rather frowned upon by the shareholders.

      1. veti Silver badge

        Re: It's nothing but money!

        GP is incorrect, but not as much as you think. The actual peak spot price was around $14,000 per MWh, not kWh. So "only" $14 per kWh. (Source: AEMO report, here.)

        These sorts of price spikes are actually not uncommon. I first observed them in the UK industry in the early 90s, a couple of years after it was privatised. In Australia, they've been occurring periodically ever since the early 2000s. This event was mostly unusual in that the "spike" lasted more than half an hour.

        And GP is correct in so far as it is - as far as anyone can tell - caused by generators gaming the system. As you correctly observe, they're in business to make money. And it turns out that supplying 2800 MW at $14,000 per MWh is more profitable than supplying 3000 MW at $100/MWh. Who'd've thought.

        1. Mark Exclamation

          Re: It's nothing but money!

          Ooops, so I was inaccurate, but I was only out by a factor of 1000 :-/ ! But even so, the principle is the same - the (private) power generating companies' priorities are 1. Make as much money as possible. 2. Supply power reliably to everyone. Seems their priorities need to be re-arranged by law. This is why, IMO, essential services (power, water, etc) should NEVER be privatised, but in most places it's already too late.

          1. veti Silver badge

            Re: It's nothing but money!

            IMO, a good compromise is to bake fixed financial penalties into the regime. For a domestic consumer, there would be a clause saying something like:

            - if you ever lose power for more than 15 minutes, you automatically get $10 off your next power bill

            - (if the outage persists for 1 hour, make it $20. 2 hours, $30. 3 hours, $50. And so on.)

            (Exception: suppliers can avoid paying compensation if they give notice of a cut, up to 2 hours duration, at least 1 week in advance, specifying the date and time of the outage to within 1 hour.)

            Who, specifically, has to make the payment for each outage would be determined by an independent tribunal (in Australia's case, probably convened by AEMO).

            What this would mean is, if 10,000 homes have to go without power for 2 hours, then somebody in the industry is out of pocket to the tune of $300,000. It may not completely eliminate the gains of price spiking, but it would put a thumb on the right side of the scale. As well as giving some compensation to the long-suffering consumer.

            1. Pompous Git Silver badge

              Re: It's nothing but money!

              Here in Tasmania compensation is paid for power cuts. Surprised it isn't elsewhere.

              Supply Reliability Guarantee

              We recently were paid $160 and because the power loss was mostly overnight, it inconvenienced us very little. Wood-fired cookstoves don't need electrickery to run :-)

        2. uncommon_sense
          Thumb Down

          Political Insanity?

          The Left and the Right coming together to create a bigger disaster than any of them could have managed alone..!

          The Left wants GREEENNN Energy, regardless of cost and the common sense notion that Mother Nature is not a very reliable provider of it.

          The Right wants Capitalism, Privatisation and the lowest possible cost, regardless of the need for Maintenance and Forward Planning(Excess Capacity to deal with spikes).

          The UK currently has 5 percent excess capacity. Let us all hope that the next summer will be COLD!

          Have i missed anything?

  4. Winkypop Silver badge
    Flame

    Clean Coal [TM] !!!

    It's the future, let's party like it's 1899!

    OR

    The future is renewables, get on board or get out of the way.

  5. Infury8r

    Gas fired capacity ain't sufficient to generate power

    Stop trying to shift responsibility off intermittents.

    Having 'capacity' is only ½ the issue.

    Unless there was a gas supply contract in place, the power industry wouldn't have had the fuel availability to make up the shortfall.

    The issue is entirely the fault of intermittents' proponents.

  6. cantankerous swineherd

    hasn't anybody down under heard of batteries?

    1. HAL-9000

      Obviously they know about batteries down under, just recently the prime minister had a rather large upgrade to his solar setup including batteries.

      Do actions speak louder than words?!?

    2. david 12 Silver badge

      >hasn't anybody down under heard of batteries?

      Batteries don't quailify for wind/solar subsidies. There are a few large battery installations associated with the networks, but AFAIK none associated with the suppliers.

      As part of the fallout from the blackouts, Aus governments are looking at regulatory models that (1) require greater supply reliability, and/or (2) directly subsidise batteries to match intermittent supplies.

  7. manitoublack

    Clean Coal - That's cute

    Clean Coal doesn't and will not ever exist. Yes you 'can' pump CO2 underground at a huge energy expense, basically sapping a significant (30% at least) of your total output. Then to make up the electrical shortfall, you need to generate more electricity, burning more coal (or gas) when then also needs to be pumped underground. End result is power become stupidly expensive, and you have to mine 40% extra coal (which burns more diesel in the mining process) so please stop being ignorant. Clean Coal is a Hippie/Political dream.

    Also in SA where are we going to get the coal from. We just closed out only coal mine and coal fired power station.

    While I'm a Labour voter, there energy policy sucks and is driving big business out of the state. In addition to holding up major infrastructure investment. Simply because there is not enough power in the state. And what power there is is more expensive than anywhere else in the country.

    There is but 1 real solution. SA is home to >10% of the worlds known Uranium reserves. There is a community and work force at Port Augusta that knows how to run a power station. There is also all the electrical distribution infrastructure at Port Augusta. We have refineries and smelters at Olympic Dam and Port Peri.

    Connect the dots: Mine Uranium at Olympic Dam (and Beverly SA / Ranger NT,) Nuclear fuel (enrichment) processing and recovery at Port Peri, 3GW 3 Unit Nuke station at Port Augusta, Waste facility at Radium Hill.

    Charge the world $$$$$$$$$$$$billionssssssssssssss. reprocess their fuel and store their waste. Power the state for pennies on the $:)

    Pity no politician has the vision and scare mungers play on ignorance.

    Regards

    Jordan

    1. JohnMartin

      Re: Clean Coal - That's cute

      While I kind of sort of agree with you, I've been told by people I trust that the economics of uranium based Nuke reactors aren't that good when you factor in the whole of the lifecycle costs and the security infrastructure you need to put around enriched U235. I'm not a nuclear physicist, nor do I play one on TV, but I'm reasonably convinced that small scale fusion reactors will be viable by the time the issues with a uranium based power industry could be profitable in south australia. Optimistically a 100MW fusion reactor the size of a jet engine and weighing a few hundred tons fuelled on radioactively stable hydrogen isotopes should be ready for prime time before 2030.

      Of course producing the tritium locally would probably require a source of lithium and a source of high energy neutrons, and THAT would make sense building near Olympic Dam .. once we get that, then you have a nice clean source of base load power that can be distributed in such a way that you could build a properly resilient transmission infrastructure, AND keep it fuelled using reasonably familiar materials handling techniques.

      I agree with you though, the problem is that people are thinking about the solutions far too narrowly, and IMHO the problem isn't generation, its transmission and the dubious decisions about selling natural monopolies to profit making corporations who are subject the the short term myopic quarterly reporting regime of the stock market.

  8. david 12 Silver badge

    Software glitch, not wind farms, blacked out 60,000 in South Australia

    That is to say, the gas powered generator had been turned off because it didn't receive the same RET subsidies as the wind generators did. A software glitch, not wind farms.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Software glitch, not wind farms, blacked out 60,000 in South Australia

      No, the gas generator wasn't turned on because when it is turned on it reduces the owner's income. More than 80% of Australia's LNG production goes to Japan and most of the remainder goes to Korea and China. While Australia is looking like being the world's biggest exporter of LNG some time next year, that extra production is all committed under long-term contracts. What little that's available for domestic consumption is expensive.

      That is not to say the local energy market is not being distorted by subsidy. It most certainly is and we are seeing the entirely predictable consequences.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon