The Australian summer is a few weeks away and with it comes the threat of mass blackouts, caused by the chaotic delivery of wind and solar.
As temperatures soar, so does the demand for electricity, as businesses and households crank up their air conditioners to make life more tolerable indoors.
When demand spikes in Australia these days, grid managers are more concerned about whether or not the wind is blowing or the sun is up.
As the sun sets on a breathless 42°C summer’s day, demand hits the roof and wind and solar output hits the floor.
The last two summers saw numerous near misses in NSW, Victoria and SA. The wholesale collapse of the Eastern Grid was avoided more by luck than good management.
Under the euphemistic ‘demand management’, dozens of energy hungry businesses were simply cut from the grid; even hospitals were forced to power-down in Victoria: Australia Closes Coal-Fired Power Plants: Hospitals Forced to Cut Power Use & Power Prices Rocket
This summer the threat of a full-scale system black is even greater.
As we reported in last night’s post, talk about the ‘inevitable transition’ to an all wind and sun powered future has given way to the sober reality that the chaos that pair brings to the grid is a recipe for widespread disaster.
The threat hasn’t been lost on Australia’s power generators.
Renewables threaten volatile power supply, says AGL, Origin bosses
Perry Williams and Matt Chambers
10 October 2018
Power giants AGL Energy and Origin Energy have raised concerns over a surge of wind and solar generation creating a new wave of volatility in Australia’s electricity grid due to a lack of firm capacity to back it up.
“I think there is increasing risk within the national electricity market because the lack of a good mechanism means the firming generation that’s needed is not being built as quickly as the renewable generation is being built,” AGL’s interim chief executive Brett Redman told The Australian.
“That does start to drive towards a lot of volatility in the market and volatility is the enemy of existing baseload generation.”
While the power operator is confident of how the energy landscape will look in a decade, it warned of potential “choppy” markets in the interim.
“The next 10 years will be dictated by the quality of planning and quality of policy that goes with it and there is increasing risk that we’re going to see choppiness over the next 10 years,” said Mr Redman.
“And choppiness or turbulence is a different way of saying higher cost.”
Origin chief Frank Calabria said $10 billion of large scale solar had been approved as of the end of last year, noting that a new solar firm can be permitted in three months and built in 18 months, compared to about a seven-year period for coal plants.
But the Origin boss said this was a problem because it had not been coupled with a policy that recognised the intermittency of renewables, as recent problems in South Australia had illustrated.
“We still don’t have a policy that promotes either existing firm generation staying in the market or new investment in firm generation,” he said.