How intermittent energy kills coal- and the grid

The damage inflicted by a good wind day. The first version of this post focused on  choke points that are the fatal flaw of Renewable (unreliable) Energy. This is a reminder about the way RE kills the coal-fired providers and  eventually the whole grid if the windrush continues. On Sunday March 16 the black coal supply fell to the lowest level that I have observed: this was 8.4GW and on Sunday between 11am and 3pm it fell to 8.1. That was the result of substantial wind and also rooftop solar until it began to fade near 3 (Sydney time). Then black coal ramped up sharply, followed by gas and hydro.

8GW is half the capacity of the black coal plants and most of the time they run between 10 and 12 that is probably close to the limit of economic viability. The picture tells the story.

The shape of things to come, see also Perth. Smaller grids are more prone to disruption of course, so in Darwin the intrusion of RE threatens blackouts.

Households and businesses in the Northern Territory face an immediate and growing risk of costly electricity blackouts because governments and regulators have failed to adequately prepare for the growth of renewable energy, industry experts say.

The Territory Labor administration’s hand-picked solar tsar, Alan Langworthy, has joined the recently departed head of the ­region’s leading fossil fuel generator, Tim Duignan, to blow the whistle on a range of problems.

Mr Duignan was sacked late last year over a system-wide blackout in Alice Springs that an official report linked to a single cloud.

SA WATCH. At 7.30 this morning SA was exporting 105MW of power, by noon it was slightly in the red and at 1.30 they are taking in 60MW. They are generating 402MW towards their meagre demand of 877MW  and the mills are running at 20% of capacity.

SA at 5.30.  Importing 101MW. Next to no wind, 6% capacity in SA and contributing 120MW!! Australia wide 16% capacity, 1.1GW  to meet 24.5GW demand. 4.4% Go wind!

SA at 7.30.  Demand 1636, local supply 1236, wind 92, 6% of demand, 4% of  capacity. Importing 400MW.

SE Australia NEM at 7.30 Demand 24.9GW, wind providing 1.3GW, (5%)  at 19% of capacity.

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13 Responses to How intermittent energy kills coal- and the grid

  1. Aynsley Kellow says:

    How did we allow policy to be decided by those who do not seem to understand the basic engineering realities of the system they are governing?
    Those who tell us that ‘renewables are cheaper than coal’ have a lot to answer for. The latest estimates from Lazards tell us the they are NOT on the basis of the Levellised Cost of Energy (LCOE). If we add the acknowledged SYSTEM costs, they are a long way off. These include back-up, the costs of transmission systems that have load factors of only about 30%, and the destruction of the capital value of dispatchable generation.
    All these are acknowledged in the literature on the economic literature on the
    System LCOE. Did the policymakers, regulatory lawyers and Turnbullites not read any of this?

  2. Rafe Champion says:

    A typical example of “solutioneering” described by Roger James in his layman’s guide to the philosophy of Karl Popper. Based on his observation of postwar government policy and planning in Britain.

    Jumping to a solution before clearly formulating what the problem is (or indeed if there is one at all) or how success or failure are to be judged. Achievement of the solution then becomes the goal; and, when opposition develops, the problem becomes how to get the solution accepted, while the question of how best to solve the original problem, if there was one, never gets discussed at all. I call this mistake solutioneering.

    Read it all on line.

  3. Rafe Champion says:

    Here it is in the Premier State, solutioneering writ large! In caseyou can’t get to it, it is a piece in the SMH about Matt Keane’s plans to spend a few Bil making us the RE powerhouse of the nation. In your face Daniel Andrews! Eat our dust you South Australians!!

    NSW will attract $11.6 billion of private investment and create 2400 new jobs under the Berejiklian government’s ambitious 10-year plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

    The plan, the first of its kind in Australia, will drive about two-thirds of the investment to regional and rural NSW and is expected to save households $40 a year on electricity bills.

    It will be “the foundation for the state’s action on climate change” and will also deliver a 35 per cent emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030.

  4. BoyfromTottenham says:

    Thanks, Rafe, but perhaps you should have made it clear that the Renewable Energy Target (RET) legislation is one of (if not THE) the main reasons why FF generators are being rendered unprofitable. This iniquitous legislation is cunningly designed to be de jure neither a tax or a subsidy, but to be both de facto. This is achieved in at least three ways – forcing retailers to buy whatever RE is generated regardless of need, thereby denying FF generators access to this capacity; guaranteeing RE generators a subsidy (currently about $35/MWH via the sale of LRET ‘clean energy’ certificates) for every MW that they send to the grid, on top of what they are paid by the ‘market’; and a ‘tax’ on consumers due to retailers having to increase the price of electricity to recoup the cost of them being forced to buy these same ‘clean energy’ certificates from RE generators. The sheer scale of these combined effects is rarely reported – it amounts to a transfer of between $1 and $2 BILLION a YEAR from electricity consumers to RE generators, extending out to 2030 IIRC. For what benefit? And why is no single politician willing to argue for the RET to be abolished?

  5. bemused says:

    Ah, it’s obvious. All that toxic stuff on the bottom four or so layers is preventing renewables at the top from performing properly. Clearly if you got rid of those toxic layers, the renewables would take over. Problem solved. You’re welcome.

  6. Did the policymakers, regulatory lawyers and Turnbullites not read any of this?

    Never let the facts get in the way of a good profit.

  7. Kneel says:

    “All these are acknowledged in the literature on the economic literature on the System LCOE. Did the policymakers, regulatory lawyers and Turnbullites not read any of this?”

    It wasn’t in the “executive summary”, so no, they didn’t read it.

  8. Aynsley Kellow says:

    BoyfromTottenham (or should I say Spurs Lad?),
    I did a paper on environment and economy for the conference in late 2018 on the Third Howard Government (later a chapter in the subsequent book). I chided Howard for introducing MRET legislation in 2001 and then subsequent regulations to give it effect. I was in Paris doing research at the OECD and IEA, so could not attend the conference, but I understand Howard accepted my criticisms.
    The problem was that this set a precedent – what Aaron Wildavsky called in his study of budgetary politics ‘the camel’s nose’. (It might be difficult to get a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but if you are to have any chance, you must start with the nose). I therefore quoted Cornford’s Principle of the Dangerous Precedent – that nothing should ever be done for the first time.
    The problem was MRET was initially 9,500 GWh of new generation (old hydro didn’t count), or about about 4% of electricity generation, but the ALP increased that to 45,000 gigawatt-hours, which was an even larger percentage, because prices almost double and demand was suppressed (who knew? demand was price sensitive?), and then split it into the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) of 41,000 GWh for utility-scale renewable generators, and an uncapped Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme for small household and commercial-scale generators. Abbott Government, thankfully reduced LRET to 33,000 GWh in June 2015.
    By the way, beware of the claims that ‘gold plating’ of distribution assets was the reason domestic prices increased. According to the Averch-Johnson theory, you would expect that under rate-of-return regulation, but here we have assets needed to cope with maximum demand, but utilised less on sunny days because of rooftop solar, so the cost recovered per kWh is less. While these are ‘fixed’ charges, they are higher per consumer.
    There are also problems of voltage fluctuations on local networks (including higher than standard voltages), but I’ll leave it to the engineers to explain the and the damage they do.

  9. Aynsley Kellow says:

    I should add, and as I have pointed out elsewhere, there are some ANU enthusiasts for renewables (especially solar) who have quite misleadingly cited the prices acceptable to renewables generators as the costs – ignoring the fact they also receive income for RETs, as well as ignoring system costs.

  10. Rafe Champion says:

    Thanks Boy from T, I have so much trouble understanding the RET that I baulk at the task of explaining it to anyone else. It is really diabolic to make the system so complicated and untransparent that it is very hard to know who is paying (and why) and who benefits (and how). Right now I am trying to explain one thing at a time for the benefit of people who are starting from scratch.

    The reason for hammering the choke point is to show that the RE thing simply cannot work as expected, it is like squaring the circle or a perpetual motion machine, you can make clever and impressive (and expensive) efforts but RE cannot succeed until massive storage is readily available.

    The next thing is the comparative price of various kinds of RE and conventional power.

  11. David Brewer says:

    Aynsley:

    By the way, beware of the claims that ‘gold plating’ of distribution assets was the reason domestic prices increased. According to the Averch-Johnson theory, you would expect that under rate-of-return regulation, but here we have assets needed to cope with maximum demand, but utilised less on sunny days because of rooftop solar, so the cost recovered per kWh is less. While these are ‘fixed’ charges, they are higher per consumer.

    Just to get this straight, do you mean by this:

    (1) that spending on distribution assets has increased to cope with the variable output of renewables, and not (or not only) due to the Averch-Johnson effect, which would predict such increased investment from the fact that regulation has tied profits to investment? AND

    (2) that, therefore, the additional investment in distribution assets should be attributed solely or mainly to renewables? AND

    (3) that, therefore, since renewables and especially solar are often low- or no-output, the per-megawatt cost of that additional investment is higher than it would have been if the investment had been needed anyway for the pre-renewables system?

    I probably have not got this straight, so any clarification welcome!

  12. Aynsley Kellow says:

    David:
    Yes – the distribution network (retail) has to be built and maintained to cope with maximum grid demand, even though it is only used to capacity when the output from rooftop solar is at a minimum and demand is highest. Those with rooftop PV want to be supplied when they need it. There will be no initial change, but this has to drive up fixed costs over time, regardless of what is happening to marginal costs of generation.

  13. David Brewer says:

    Aynsley – Thanks, and yes that rings true. We now have lots more poles, wires and transformers, of greater durability. But this is necessary to cope with the lower quality, more variable and intermittent product flowing through them. It isn’t “gold plating” in the sense of unnecessary over-engineering, but more like policy-induced waste of resources on fixed infrastructure.

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