Unreliable energy, a road to ruin?

Researching for a talk at Humanist House in Sydney next week turned up some intriguing factoids. Energy Consumers Australia produced a handy 240 page Energy National Energy Regulation Handbook. People have been busy the last decade or two creating a Kafkaesque landscape of agencies and regulations to achieve the “overarching objective” of the Australian Energy Market Agreement (COAG 2004) namely “the promotion of the long term interest of consumers with regard to price, quality and reliability of electricity and gas services.” What could go wrong?

Well for a start the National Energy Guarantee now late and lamented but the same objectives march on, sustained by several thousands of pages of legislation.

Each of the National Gas, Electricity and Energy Retail Laws were passed into law initially as
Schedules to Acts of the South Australian Parliament:
12.1 the National Electricity (South Australia) Act 1996 (SA)
12.2 the National Gas (South Australia) Act 2008 (SA);
12.3 the National Energy Retail Law (South Australia) Act 2011 (SA).
13. The Laws passed into legislation in South Australia are then incorporated by reference into the law of the other participating jurisdictions through local legislation of their own.

And so on…

In total, the primary Laws, Rules and accompanying regulations for the NER, as passed in South Australia without taking into account any of the modifications in other jurisdictions or any of the Procedures, comprise over 4,000 pages of legislation. (page 5)

Relax, they are from the government and they are here to help.

Surveying the landscape of power demand and supply, it seems from the much-loved AEMO Dashboard that the demand goes up and down between 19GW at night and as much as 28GW at the evening peak. As I write it is 28, previously 27 was the most I have seen. Wind and Other contribute 6%.

Looking at the power stations in SE Australia the five active coal stations in NSW have capacity of 10.2GW, the nine in Queensland can deliver 8.4GW and three in Victoria 4.7GW (counting Loy Yang A and B as two). Total 23.3.

Gas in the four states can provide 10.6GW and hydro 6.2GW including 3 in SA from a partnership of Tas Hydro and SA Water.

So we are not short of conventional power. More on the situation with unreliables later.

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23 Responses to Unreliable energy, a road to ruin?

  1. stackja

    Does conventional power make enough money when unconventional subsidies exist?

  2. Singleton Engineer

    I suspect that the mentions of energy measured in MW is out by a factor of 1000 and would like to suggest an edit of MW to GW in each instance.

    Otherwise, delightful article.

    As an engineer, I rue the day when lawyers and economists took over the helm of the nations’ electricity generators and then stood impotently by as one mad gaggle after another of politicians kicked the can down the road and accepted without question the wishes of populists and dreamers against the advice of the professionals who actually understood how things work.

    Now it is the carpet-baggers’ turn.

    But how to unscramble the omelette?

  3. Aynsley Kellow

    Rafe, I think the units should be GW, rather than MW. The current price in Tasmania is -$0.61, while in NSW it is $356.64!!

  4. Tim Neilson


    I keep reading that here in the People’s Republic of CFMMEUistan there’s “load shedding” i.e. the Hunchback of Spring Street uses taxpayers’ money to pay for the state’s industry not to provide productivity and employment.

    That is, the demand may be artificially suppressed to stay within the supply.

    If that’s so, then maybe we are actually short of conventional power.

  5. Rafe Champion

    Tanks, I have fixed the wattage:)
    What has happened to Wind in Tasmania, the mighty turbines at Woolnorth are supposed to tap into the relentless gales sweeping in from the Indian Ocean but the output is pretty regularly next to nothing.

    The price in Tasmania is always low and today it spent some time in negative territory.

  6. John Constantine

    It is simply a road to deindustrialised decolonisation.

    They are fighting world war three against injustice Nazis and don’t care about collateral damage.


  7. Rafe Champion

    Thanks for the reminder Tim, I knew that happens at times and I should have mentioned it but that part of my brain was off line. Some of our resident engineering nerds can probably explain. Maybe it is the delay in firing up the coal fired turbines, but there is a deal of gas as well and that should come on line quicker, not to mention the hydro, I wonder how much hydro is regularly on line on the mainland?

  8. RobK

    Dispatchable power has a capacity factor to consider also. Usually due to scheduled maintenance but some for unforseen failures. The CF decreases with age, generally. The summer demand on the NEM I believe can reach 33GW mark. Transmission losses can start to climb to 30% if long leads are used. Hot weather decreases capacity of turbines and solar PV. Normally you should have spare capacity for contingency. They really don’t have much to spare unless its windy and or sunny.

  9. Rafe Champion

    Yes Rob on reflection there is a maintenance factor, both scheduled and emergency, and each will increase with elderly equipment. I should have indicated that they are max or “plated” figures and would run down with age and other factors you mention.

    Something that will come up in talking about the new sources, the difference between plated capacity and delivery, today I counted 3.3GW of Wind capacity in SA, at the time it was delivering about .8, this evening it is up around 1, not far short of the meagre demand in the state.

  10. Bruce of Newcastle

    Wind plus solar are 6%, which seems reasonably typical from what I’ve seen on NEMwatch. Right now it is 8% including WA. That means to get to Labor’s 50% requires roughly 4 to 6 times as many solar panels and wind turbines to be built. (Hydro is 13% at the moment – it counts as renewable too, but with no prospect of more of it.)

    Four to six times. If the productivity of the extra capacity is the same.

    The current capacity obviously has been built on the best sites for wind and solar. The windiest locations and panels on roofs aligned in the right direction.

    So any new build is going to be progressively on worse and worse sites. Unless they go offshore with wind turbines, and that is maybe 3 times as costly with reduced turbine lifetimes, we’re probably talking a dozen times as many wind turbines and solar panels to make up for the lower efficiency. Crazy.

    And when the wind doesn’t blow it tends not to blow across the whole of the eastern states, if a big high pressure system is moving through.

    The cost of Labor’s policy is going to make the NBN look like a kiddie playground by comparison.

  11. RobK

    SA often has gas spinning reserve even when its very windy. Gas is paid extra for Frequency Control Ancillory Services. AEMO will direct energy in such a fashion that transmission lines have some degree of protection from RE surges. Rerouting energy over short time frames causes a phase shift of voltage relative to amperage (power factor) because different lines have different impedence. Rotary devices can adjust easily and with conventional baseload these things are gererally fairly steady.. with RE its all over the place and this has a big bearing on transmission efficiency. Lots of losses due fo heating powerlines.

  12. RobK

    What BoN says is right and it gets to the point that a glut occurs when very windy/sunny, so RE will be curtailed of output, thus further reducing their capacity factor. (This hapens now due to transmission constraints) . In the end all assets will not be fully utilizable and the costs will rise accordingly. Bad news for everyone.

  13. Aynsley Kellow

    I just wish our politicians and bureaucrats would at least read the likes of Sir David McKay and MJ Kelly:
    <a href="http://https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/mrs-energy-and-sustainability/article/lessons-from-technology-development-for-energy-and-sustainability/2D40F35844FEFEC37FDC62499DDBD4DC&quot; rel="nofollow".
    I particularly like Kelly’s conclusion: ‘humanity is owed a serious investigation of how we have gone so far with the decarbonization project without a serious challenge in terms of engineering reality.’
    Renewables can make a contribution – but only at the margins of a system dominated by dispatchable capacity. The costs of system back-up (battery, pumped storage) should otherwise be charged to renewables – which cannot compete without the RET. Quoting the Levelled Cost of Energy is the ultimate deception

  14. Aynsley Kellow

    Oops! I think I made that entire para a link!!!

  15. Rafe Champion

    My edit didn’t help much, do you want to post again and I will delete excess comments:)

  16. Mark A

    Bruce of Newcastle
    #2805102, posted on August 29, 2018 at 8:36 pm

    The cost of Labor’s policy is going to make the NBN look like a kiddie playground by comparison.

    BoN, last night there was a dispute whether our politicians were just stupid, self-serving greedy baskets or somehow under UN influence.

    Nobody can be this stupid on their own.

  17. Dr Fred Lenin

    If the mongrel career politicians can pass 4,00 pages of this bullshit they have too much time on their hands ,make politics a part time job on$20 an hour with no overtime expenses or paid staff then the useless bastards would have to get a real job to survive , or go on JobStart.

  18. John Constantine

    Once we have electric cars, we can plug them into our backyard caravans when the rolling blackouts hit.

    From camping to houses to camping in three generations.

  19. Mark A

    John Constantine
    #2805133, posted on August 29, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Once we have electric cars, we can plug them into our backyard caravans when the rolling blackouts hit.

    This is the craziest part of it all.
    We are running short of and towards unreliable electricity and at the same time promoting electric cars.

    How stupid can you get?

  20. John Constantine

    The gridlock fear is that there is a tipping point, where a blackout means a percentage of the cars are electric, a blackout means they can’t charge up and people try to sneak home in them anyway.

    Once a certain number of choke points in a city are blocked with electric cars with flat batteries, how long does it take to pull the mess apart and resume traffic flow? they all gotta be towed away, not just refilled with a bit of petrol like a car run out of juice.

    Headology says people will try their luck and see how far they get.

  21. Tel

    Once a certain number of choke points in a city are blocked with electric cars with flat batteries, how long does it take to pull the mess apart and resume traffic flow?

    For Sydney traffic that would only need about four or five cars.

  22. Quite some years ago, the Canadians applied the principle that governments should not compete with their taxpayers.

    Apply that principle here and we solve the energy problem and the ABC problem in one swipe. Come to think of it, the immigration problem, too.

  23. RobK


    My recent presentation: “Power system control or market control of a power system”

    By Kate Summers | Published Tue, 28 August 2018 | Topic Market Reform

    On Wednesday 15th August 2018 I was happy to speak at University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College about a topic that I see as a very important one to the ongoing stability of the electricity grid (and hence to the continuation of the energy transition).

    As I note during my presentation, it seems to me that we have moved from centralised planning but distributed control, to a market with decentralised planning but centralised control.  This is apparent, for instance, in market provisions for ancillary services.  I am not sure that we all understand the implications of this.

    Readers at Wattclarity might also appreciate this presentation, which follows on from my article about Fast Frequency Response posted in March 2017:

    An interesting 60min presentation looking at an aspect of FCAS dealing with hunting of frequency control partially caused by poor integration of digital and rotory manchine control. Some interesting comments on the lack of engineering input to system design.
    Presented by a power engineer with RE background. There are many other issues than mentioned here but interesting insights into the systems workings.
    If seems worse than I expected.

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