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Your views: on renewable energy, blackouts and polls

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Today, readers debate the reasons for a statewide blackout, and the push for 100 per cent renewables.

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Please explain energy claims

Commenting on the story: South Australia’s accidental experiment in renewable energy

Could the author please explain, what am I missing as this seems rather obvious?

 What’s closure of the northern coal plant got to do with this?

“Three transmission lines north of Adelaide got knocked out by the storm. This cut off the west and the north of the state from the rest of the grid. Most of the state’s generation, from wind farms, went with it.”

 If there was no wind generation, and the power was coming from northern power station in Port Augusta, wouldn’t the same thing have happened? – Michael Simmons

At the start of 2016, the then boss of the AEMO – which is like the air traffic controller of the grid – was a guy called Matt Zema. Zema, a South Australian, had become increasingly anxious about conditions in his home state. He could see the fragility of the grid and yet he was powerless to act, because nothing had happened except prices were down and a coal-fired generator had closed. Like Roy Scheider at the start of Jaws, Zema knew something was wrong, but he had no justification to close the beaches. When Northern closed, South Australia was in uncharted water. The big gap in firm (dispatchable, controllable) supply sent wholesale electricity prices up by 23 per cent, and power bills with them.”

I have dealt in the SA electricity market since it commenced in 2001 as an electricity broker, and authored a number of papers at the time of the electricity problems of supply and price (during 2016,17 and 18).

Electricity prices in the wholesale market took off in SA around about October 2015, when it was announced that Alinta had approached the State Government, seeking the government to fund the ongoing costs of the township of Leigh Creek (this was not an unprecedented idea, as this had occurred previously with other government and mining towns).

I believe they were after funding for three years – but it may have been four for the township.

Nevertheless, when this news broke (in late 2015) and Alinta said without this sort of assistance they would close northern power station and it was known that the SA Govt had said no, then the forward market (wholesale market) took off, increasing by 30% in late 2015 and into early 2016, and then when NPS was shut down in April 2016, the prices shot up again by another 30 to 40%.

To state that the prices in SA during 2015 were falling due to the increase in renewables is a falsehood. Bruce Holland

Tell them they’re dreaming

Commenting on the story: Strong support for 100 per cent SA renewables target: poll

This is a ludicrous push poll by the Australia Institute.  Moreover it’s dishonest because they know – or should, otherwise they have no business saying anything in this space – that contrary to the clear implication of their question, it is much harder and more expensive to go from 75% to 100% renewables, than from 50-75 or even 25-75%.

This has been demonstrated by multiple studies including recently by authorities such the AEMO and OECD. SA-based researchers have outlined the issues, in a peer-reviewed article.

Proponents of 100% renewables as the be all and end all of climate action in Australia should consider very carefully how much they are gambling, given no jurisdiction anywhere in the world has got within a bull’s roar of 100% using primarily solar and wind.

Already, at the current relatively low levels of intermittent renewable penetration, economic headwinds are starting to be felt by wind and solar projects due to failure to take total system costs and requirements into account.

This is where naively only looking at generator cost in isolation (“wind and solar are now cheaper”) falls down without considering its performance characteristics i.e. lack of dispatchability.

 This is why electricity costs have risen with renewable penetration even as costs of those generators have fallen. Anti-intuitive, but predicted by economists, and the data are now becoming clear.

 Design of a reliable power system is a matter for engineers, not popularity contests.  Polls such as this are worse than useless. – Mark Duffett

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