How many times in a year is it OK for the grid to go down?

People who plan things like drains and flood levees usually consider the frequency of events that challenge the capacity of the system. So they plan for 10, 20, 50 and maybe 100 year events as well as they can to calculate the cost/benefit ratio of the options. If it really matters they conduct exhaustive due diligence analysis to consider what could happen in the worst conceivable case.

Did the people who planned the entry of unreliable energy into the grid every hear about due diligence and worst case scenarios? Like the choke points in the supply of wind and sunlight.

Did they consider what would happen when the unreliables drive coal-fired power stations out of business? Do they have shares in gas companies?

Apart from South Australia we have been shielded from the reality of this situation because there is just enough reliable power to get by most of the time. Did the South Australians learn anything from the experience?

This issue can only be resolved after a frank admission on both sides of politics that we should never have gone down this path in advance of storage. Step up to the plate Albo and show us that you are more about the Australian people than you care about Green preferences.

WHAT IS THE POINT OF WIND POWER? The % contribution of Wind to the evening peak (after sunset) in recent weeks from 25 July to last night. 6, 2.4, 3, 2.5, 2.5, 3.5, 4, 5, 1, 4.5, 7, 4.5, 15, 16, 4, 10, 1.3, 6, 10, 6.5, 7, 15, 10, 14, 15, 15, 9, 13, 4, 3, 5, 8, 4, 4.5, 5, 7, 10, 3, 5, 6.5, 17, 14, 3, 7, 2, 10, 6, 6. What is the point of doubling, tripling or even quadrupling that if we lose two more coal-fired plants?

UPDATE. Investment in wind and sun stalling in Australia, demonstrating that the unreliables depend on government assistance and can’t stand on their own. Fancy that. And so cheap too!

COMING UP, electricity-free kitchen appliances, h/t bemused.

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35 Responses to How many times in a year is it OK for the grid to go down?

  1. Delta

    This issue can only be resolved after a frank admission on both sides of politics that we should never have gone down this path in advance of storage.

    Not true. The issue is that we should never have gone down this path. The reason for that is simply that storage can never be guaranteed to work at all times when it may be needed. Forgetting for the moment the almost insurmountable obstacles of marrying most types of storage with a functioning electricity grid, even if the technical challenges could be overcome (and I say they cannot), eventually you run out of storage.

    For example, just think about Snowy 2. Technically, pumped hydro would have to be about the best type of storage because of its technical characteristics – rapid response, intrinsic frequency control, provision of decent kinetic energy — but here’s the challenge, what would be the operating algorithm?

    My colleagues tell me it would be the pool price for electricity – so when the electricity price is low, Snowy 2 would pump and store water ready for use (BTW 72% turn around efficiency at max load — so each generated MWh requires nearly 30% more electricity to have that 1 MWh available!). Back to the operation – what happens if the reservoir is full and what happens if the reservoir is empty? Should some reserve capacity be retained in the reservoir to allow the hydro to pump to capture the next otherwise unusable intermittent wind power? If so, how much and then what happens once the reservoir is full?

    Similarly, should the reservoir be run right down or if not, what level should be retained? In fact this is the Hydro Tasmania scenario some years back during the carbon tax when they decided to make a killing selling power into the NEM. They ran their dams down to next to nothing in the expectation that the dams would refill which at that time they did not.

    Simply “storage as a solution” will not always work. Eventually you run out of water or are unable to pump and store energy because the reservoir is full. Overall this wouldn’t matter if there was sufficient traditional dispatchable power available. However, Australia is heading down a path that can only end in tears with power failures, all entirely predictable.

    Interestingly AEMO, at last, are taking action to require the intermittent generators to offset as least some of the problems they create but I don’t see that as being enough with the instability that is being introduced. AEMO has been focussing on short term fixes to the grid but it appears that they also need to learn the lesson that generation needs to follow the load, something that intermittent renewable generation cannot do.

  2. Rafe Champion

    They are only shifting the deck chairs on the Titanic.
    I don’t claim to know what needs to be done but I can’t see what the intermittent generators can do that makes a difference under the present system unless they simply close down and let the coal stations make some money.
    “It’s the incentives, stupid.”
    One of my points is that the ALP has to get serious because really major changes are required and the Coalition can’t do it alone, even if they want to.

  3. W Hogg

    If failure of the grid is classed as “demand management” then it’s pretty much at least monthly. And remember BHP was told that their Olympic Dam expansion is unwelcome.
    – they were ridiculed for thinking in the first world they could expect the grid to supply their needs
    – when they said “it’s OK, we will build our own dedicated coal plant as we’re pretty much constant baseload profile” that was even more horrifying

  4. Ben

    As long as we don’t end up with another federal renewable target or other incentive scheme we will eventually come out the other end.

    Electricity is state business. Taylor is right to stay out of it as far as possible.

  5. Dr Fred Lenin

    Sorry Rafe this is a religion and you are nit allowed to question it,besides it is being done under the new Westminster system ,you know the one that takes the value out iof voting by destroying Brexit .
    Anyone who thinks they are going to generate at home with their own generator is in for a shock ,thay cant let you embarass their green system by showing people reliable energy is possible , they will regulate and tax that to death . Reliable energy is history , untill the people change the political system in spite of politicians . We owe a vote of thanks to the remoaners in Westminster who proved beyond doubt that politics is broken beyond repair and drastic change is needed to destroy creeping global communist fascism

  6. When the very existence of the world is at stake and councils throughout Australia are calling climate emergencies, due diligence doesn’t matter. It’s all about:

  7. mem

    Investment in wind and sun stalling in Australia, demonstrating that the unreliables depend on government assistance and can’t stand on their own. Fancy that. And so cheap too!

    At no stage have I seen anyone suggest an audit of the wind and solar farms to see that what has been promoted and subsidized has been produced according to schedule. A little bird in the industry let me know that in many cases wind farms are garnering investment in say 40 towers but in actual fact only a small proportion are installed and operating before the original owners sell out and move on.The banks involved in organizing the investments are quite happy with this as they earn more in the investment transfers. So as a special request to Albo I would also ask him first to do an audit of all subsidized wind and solar farms to see what us taxpayers are getting for our money.

  8. John Constantine

    Alcoa Australia was ordered to to cut the power usage at its majority owned Portland Aluminium smelter on Thursday evening as extreme heat pushed power demand in Victoria and South Australia beyond the power grid’s available capacity.

    Rationing and deindustrialisation is the whole point of the lefty push for ruinables.

    Your smart meter will be linked to your social credit score, dissenters can freeze in the dark while wokeness is rewarded.


  9. Fang

    Why does everyone forget, that a lot of “Country” foke, have access to diesel 6kva+ generators! And a lot of my neighbours have asked how much it cost me to have a grid isolator switch and portalable power input! (Which has doubled in cost in two years!)
    As rural foke are a resourceful and smart bunch! Your gobble worming, due to carbon dioxide is null and void due to 50000 diesels plugging away to help keep the lights on and kettle hot! 😉

    And we all know that when grid goes down! Rural areas will be first to be put on on forced black outs! As we carn’t have latte sipping cranks in capital City’s missing out, can we! %$#$%%”$

  10. BoyfromTottenham

    W Hogg – even better I remember seeing a news report that BHP was pondering a small nuclear power plant to supply the power for its (unfortunately since shelved) huge Olympic Dam expansion. I am familiar with this project – it was massive and would have created about 15 to 20,000 jobs (effectively creating a new medium sized town) in a remote area, mining uranium, gold and copper. How convenient – a nuclear power plant next to a uranium mine! Such efficiency.

  11. And this is where we’re headed: Soon it’ll be back to the old hand saws, augers, pedal sowing machines etc, rather than devices only dreamed of back in the 1800s. Soon even the wireless may come back into fashion.

  12. Texas Jack

    For those who think Snowy MkII will be of any use – google the Tasmanian Hydro debacle. When Basslink failed and the dams were all dry (having been drained to quickly profit from the emergence of the carbon tax) Tasmania had no alternative but to resort to diesel generators. How’s your carbon footprint looking now Tasmania?

    There are only two solutions – coal or nuclear.

  13. Muddy

    What is the collective noun for envirovandals?
    A candle.

  14. Roger

    Investment in wind and sun stalling in Australia, demonstrating that the unreliables depend on government assistance and can’t stand on their own.

    No, no…as our esteemed media constantly inform us, that’s because of uncertainty caused by the void in Commonwealth government policy.

    That’s Newspeak for the government is scrapping subsidies (or so they say).

  15. Squirrel

    All we ever needed (and this has been the case for at least the last 10-15 years) is a policy based on two principles –

    1. We neither lead nor lag genuinely comparable countries – we act in line with what our peers are actually doing (not what they are promising)

    2. We move with the technology, particularly for storage (that’s actual, workable, affordable technology – not the “miracles” that are always just around the corner, but which never quite happen)

    A federal government which had adopted and stuck to these principles would have had a comfortable majority of the people consistently on its side, and would have avoided the spread of the mad zealotry which now bedevils any attempt at rational discussion of our options.

  16. RobK

    Delta is right. It’s a point I have tried to express for some time, gleaned from personal experience. Storage on a fixed cycle such as a daily one used by pumped hydro, peak-shaving baseload demand is entirely different to trying to guess a chaotic supply. It is different temporally over a wide range of time scales. It is different in the amount of energy required to be stored and it is different in the output power required. Potentially, you may need to carry the entire load with stored power for an indeterminate time. you won’t know for sure when these massive loads and supplies are to occur. It’s a disaster that can only be partly mitigated by redundancy of supply and storage, the extent of which is determined by the safety factor required, or more likely, affordable. This redundancy implies lower capacity factors, so higher costs, less profit. This scheme needs a lot of transmission infrastructure and generating capacity. It has many potential points of failure and will need a lot of management. It is a silly idea.

  17. Chris M

    Morrison should pass a law stipulating that all commercial “renewable energy generators” must have storage proportionally equal to their generation to ensure smooth supply of power. With windmills each one could have heavy weights suspended on cables as an energy store for example, up to the windmill installer. But intermittent bursts of generated power into the grid are illegal going forward.

  18. duncanm

    Did the people who planned the entry of unreliable energy into the grid

    Better not to assume such things.

  19. Zyconoclast

    Comment from the link:

    Knut SEPTEMBER 13, 2019 02:27 AM
    Keep it up, soon you will get rechargeable batteries that can power it and a simple electric motor will replace the crank. The elegant design should survive.

  20. Tom


    Renewable energy is a mental illness.

  21. MikeO

    If you look at wind in 2018 there were 73 times that the output went below a capacity factor of 6% for an hour or more in one case 21 hours. If you look beyond that and look into the number of such outages for shorter duration is probably more like a thousand. This is not a single station this is the lot combined of those that are connected to the eastern grid. A 350 MW generator would produce about 6% of the wind capacity.

  22. Herodotus

    Storage, schmorage!
    It’s not going to happen.

  23. struth

    Here we are still arguing about the effectiveness of the weapons used by our enemy to destroy us without even understanding who our enemy is.
    John Constantine gets it as does too few others.

  24. Elderly White Man From Skipton

    The gaping hole is our energy mix is gas. Until the various Feds ignored the obvious and allowed a ridiculous over-expansion of LNG export (from a single point in Qld!) without apparently confirming the resource effect, we had domgas at about $2.50/Gj locally. If it can be bought today – large contract supplies are at best very short – the prices are roughly triple that value or more.
    Gas is fundamental to any reliable system in Australia at any time. It is even more vital when we have a lot of renewables.
    Right now the most likely scenario is we will keep extending the life of increasingly unreliable old coal generators and gradually make it impossible for nAustralia to maintain energy-related industry.

  25. Bob in Castlemaine

    Why stop at kitchen appliances I’m sure the inner city latte set would be happy to use electricity-free laundry appliances too – after all, saving the planet…….

  26. Kneel


    To further enrich those who already have more, by stealing from those who have less.
    To save the planet, of course!

  27. Dr Fred Lenin

    All the good things total renewable power will bring ;
    Loss of industry ,we can always buy from overseas.
    Stopping mobility will keep people at home and creat more community spirit .
    NBN can be closed down so people cannot create offence to government .
    Increase in education people learning how to live without power .
    Overseas travel on government business only,lowering carcbon footprint
    Encourage a spirit of neighbourliness like in East Germany in the 1970s .
    Create more decentralisation as people move out if high rises with no lifts ,
    Complete centralisation of government in Canberra maybe ?
    Compulsory vegan diet to save the planet .
    Compulsory homosexuality to reduce number of mouths to feed ,
    Increased migrant intake of illiterate peasantreligous fanatics to keep our SJW reputation high .
    So you can see where we are heading ,its good to kniw whats coming ,innit ?
    We can keep bprrowing to keep the agenda rolling comrades .

  28. egg_

    The Global QoS for Telco (e.g. your interwebby) is a total of one hour outage per annum per node.
    AEMO is turning the Grid into the Dark Ages – literally.

  29. flyingduk

    The best way to store solar energy is coal and oil…

  30. egg_

    The Global QoS for Telco…

    I.e. Essential Services.

  31. Iampeter

    Why does Albo need to show us that he cares? This entire mess was created by the Coalition.
    The Coalition has no plans to deregulate any green policies. Or anything for that matter.

    What on earth could this have to do with Albanese? You’re like a 19 year old pretending to discuss politics from 1980 and still getting it wrong.

    I don’t claim to know what needs to be done…

    You don’t know what needs to be done about government regulations destroying our energy sector?
    Why are you blogging on a libertarian, right wing blog?
    Don’t you have a whole website on politics and books on the subject?

    I mean, I don’t want to be mean, but what even is this…?

  32. classical_hero

    Electric free whisking is called using elbow grease.

  33. Jim Simpson

    Pardon the pun guys but it seems to me that you’re all “Pissing in the Wind”. Surely a better solution to our energy crisis would be to:

    1. Follow America’s lead. Withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord – now.

    2. Discontinue ALL Renewable Energy Targets (RET) & Clean Energy Targets (CET).

    3. Terminate all Federal subsidies – be they for Renewable Energy and/or fossil fuel generation. No favourites! A level playing field!

    4. Introduce a 100% Quality of Service (QOS) standard for all energy suppliers (force majeure accepted eg earth quakes, asteroid strikes etc but not the usual vagaries of the weather when the sun don’t shine or the wind don’t blow) to ensure reliability of supply for an essential service.

    5. Impose substantial financial penalties upon those energy suppliers who fail to meet prescribed minimum QOS (Quality of Service) standards ie; perform, or perish.

    6. Revisit wholesale pricing, common to all energy suppliers, designed to provide a fair & reasonable ROI (Return on Investment) that meets forecast 24-hour demand by the AEMO (Australian Energy Market Operator)

    7. Remove the ban on nuclear to enable energy providers to make their own decisions as to the merits, or otherwise, of developing a nuclear power generation industry, in transparent, open competition with all energy sources, including fossil fuel (coal or gas), wind, solar, Bio, hydro – their choice, their risk!

    8. Repeal the Governments Direct-Action Plan & related ‘Safeguard Mechanism’ legislation that the Carpetbaggers rely upon & is the basis upon which our energy costs are increasing (the new invisible Carbon Tax that few understand, courtesy of Malcolm Turnbull with bi-partisan support from Labor & The Greens passed Xmas 2015 that became Law July 2016) .

    9. Should this policy not be attractive to the power generation industry, tough… just re-nationalise it!

    If these broad policies were adopted, Australia wouldn’t need the plethora of parasitic Government bureaucracies that burden the industry. We’d need just one; to ensure QOS standards are met, an adequate ROI is provided & substantial penalties are applied for failure to perform.

    Nor would it need the fanciful Snowy Mk II pumped hydro scheme & attendant CapEx.

    Australia would then have a future (as we once did) as a world-class, low cost energy producer driven by fully transparent, competitive market forces focussed upon meeting their QOS obligations if they are to survive. Essential if we are to compete globally.

    And there would not be any adverse impact upon the world’s climate.

  34. MikeO

    Jim I doubt the rules you outline will be necessary. Remember South Australia and its blackout well I think we headed for a major blackout that is possibly three states at once. Watch the scramble for reliable power then. This nonsense of renewable energy can survive in Europe and the USA where they can always tap into energy either from nuclear or abroad. South Australia relied on getting electricity from Victoria and nearly got away with it but blacked out anyway. But Victoria and New South Wales are reducing the available baseload energy supply. We are not building renewables to keep up with the reduction of baseload. Since 2014 we have increased the amount of renewable highly variable power by about 1 GW but at the same time reduced our baseload power by much more than that. The government governments set up a market and sold the generators to private enterprise. Then they created sovereign risk by proceeding to meddle big time with the market. Private enterprise has a response to that, invest no more run down the asset and get out. That’s what’s happening. The states who are the only ones who can start increasing baseload when disaster strikes will have to do that themselves. When you consider it takes quite a while to bring new baseload on stream it must be expected that maybe a decade of problems await us.

  35. Jim Simpson

    Hi MikeO – Yep, I do indeed remember the SA debacle well & share your views. The progressive decline in baseload power generation is likely to create more problems of like nature, perhaps as soon as the coming 2019 summer months.

    However, my ‘thoughts’ above are focussed entirely upon development of a fair & equitable long term Energy Policy that’s agnostic to technology.

    Working from the consumer back – I don’t care how, or what the ‘Gentailers’ use, to deliver the ‘goods’ as it were. That’s their pejorative. Just as long as they do so in accord with clearly defined QOS standards & contractual obligations on delivering reliable, dispatchable & affordable power 24-hours/day.

    All Govt ought do IMHO is clearly define the rules that the ‘Gentailers’ must comply with (ie QOS standards & substantial penalties for failure to perform) & then leave the ‘Gentailers’ chose how best to compete among themselves to deliver the power they’ve committed to in accord with the rules of the game.

    If any one Gentailer believes they can deliver their agreed power generation commitments 24-hours/day by way of the ‘Unreliables’ of Wind & Solar, then why should we argue with that? Fine with me. And I suggest by all other end users too. I couldn’t care less how, or what the ‘Gentailers’ use to produce their warranted power output. Just as long as it’s provided in accord with predetermined commitments & they face substantial financial penalties for any failure to deliver.

    Mind you, common sense tells us that once those Carpetbaggers currently pushing the ‘Unreliables’ barrow are faced with no subsidies on the one hand & substantial financial penalties for failure to deliver power 24-hours/day on the other, will, like as not, depart the scene faster than a speeding bullet.

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