Windwatching to anticipate life after Liddell

It is generally accepted that we will lose up to 15GW or 60% of our coal power by 2040, and maybe sooner if the states and Zali Steggall have their way. It is supposed to be replaced by some 30GW of new RE capacity.

Simple arithmetic based on readily available information on the supply of sun and wind indicates that the plan cannot work. At the inevitable low (choke) points of supply 30GW of RE capacity delivers practically zero electricity.

Yesterday was a particularly good day for the RE enthusiasts. The wind blew between 30 and 40% of capacity all day and at noon 2.3GW of wind plus field solar approaching 2GW and rooftop PV at 5GW delivered 37% of the demand on the grid. In the chart below the rooftop PV is white for contrast. None of the minor players were contributing enough to be visible.

There are two points to draw from this exercise, one is the need to look past the high points to find the low points of RE supply. The second – do we need the RE that we have at present?

First, looking low instead of high.

37% is a very gratifying number for RE enthusiasts but the measure of the capacity of RE to replace conventional power sources is not the high points of supply but the low points, in fact the very lowest point, unless we are prepared to put up with regular power failures if we try to get by with with less than 100% of conventional power available for the times when there is effectively no input from the sun and the wind.

The AEMO warned that we had virtually no spare capacity after Hazelwood closed, so what happens when Liddell goes in 2023 as planned and we have 1.8GW less capacity in the system?

Ignoring solar power that is not available most of the time, how much wind capacity is required to guarantee 1.8GW of power 24 hours a day, 365  days a year (and 366 in leap years)?

Will it work to double the current 7GW of wind capacity to 14GW?  At the average of 30% that is 4.2GW that is more than 1.8  but we know that the fleet performs under 10% of capacity several times a month, and some of those dips go as low as 2% in my experience and veteran wind watchers have (very rarely) seen next to no wind for days on end.

So what is the AEMO plan for the green energy transition, given the stark reality of the choke point problem?

Second, what is the use of the RE we have at present?

37% of the power, some 9+GW looks like a great contribution but is it necessary? Consider the unused conventional power capacity at noon yesterday when black coal was running at 9.2GW, brown at 4.0, gas and hydro each below 1GW. 7GW of coal capacity was not being used. Both gas and hydro can run up to 5GW although presumably not for long periods.

On those numbers the RE in the system is surplus to requirements but putting it on line has cost many billions in subsidies, doubled the price of power and driven coal stations out of business, with more to follow.

One more thing. The high points of solar power are doing more harm than good in the smaller grids in WA and the Northern Territory where voltage fluctuations have emerged as a major issue. The same problem applies here but not yet to the same extent.

Wind power has become Australia’s primary source of renewable energy after it produced more electricity in 2019 than hydro capacity for the first time.

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13 Responses to Windwatching to anticipate life after Liddell

1. yackman says:

The problems you are highlighting Rafe are quite challenging to communicate I have found. The term “choke point” suggests to me a restriction such as insufficient transmission capacity rather than a “Supply Gap”. The latter term is how I like to think of the constraint. The terminology doesnt change the facts of course.

2. yarpos says:

Agree with yackman , but it is just one of a range of so called RE issues that are not discussed or well understood by the average person. Basic capacity, variability, non scheduled, frequency control, over voltage, transmission limits, diffuse power etec there are many challenges to be dealt with and orchestrated before a basic supply can be emulated.

The average person has no hope of comprehending these things. They hear the rent seekers and gullible politicians muttering about storage, batteries, pumped hydro and my personal favourite “the battery of the nation” so they imagine its all under control because that’s what they want to beleive and historically the power has just been there right?

3. RobK says:

I use the term “wind drought”, which relates more to successive low wind energy periods of days and weeks.
Many farmers who rely on agricultural windmills for stock water can relate to this as it determines the tank storage required for an average year and a given amount of stock to water.(one of many reasons for going to solar pumping for stock water)
The choke point that Rafe is pushing is real enough but not the whole story. Where i live there are generally two periods in a year when there’s a lull in wind energy for many days to weeks at a time (sometime in autumn and spring). Each year is different in timing and distribution of wind energy, much like rainfall is. The lulls can happen at other times too. These extended periods of wind drought have a major impact on storage and backup required. These deficiencies are well known to the wind energy industry but not dwelled upon because at low penetration it is of little consequence. All RE needs short term buffering, load shifting and bulk storage or backup. These auxiliary energy sources have different characteristics and solutions. All are expensive. All add to complexity. All are an intrinsic cost of RE. There is no “cheap power”(energy). Variable electricity supply is relatively worthless in a grid distribution system.

4. Rafe Champion says:

The average person has to be given one thing at a time, I suggest starting with the choke point and leaving all the other refinements and corollaries until they get the first step. There are several ways to go and the thing is to find the image that works for the audience.
There is the weakest link in the chain – X GW looks like a strong chain but what about the weak link in solar supply when the sun is down, and the readily available information on the vagaries of the wind.
The empty petrol tank – your car holds x litres but when it is empty the car won’t go. The empty tank is solar at night and wind under 5 or 10% of plated capacity.
If they are blinded by total capacity, note the worldwide industry standard of 20% from solar and 30% from the wind. That is the first step towards explaining the low points.
The highway congestion image – the multilane freeway that becomes a parking lot when some lanes are out.
I use the choke point to make a comparison with air getting to the lungs. When the flow is stopped by choking or drowning the air supply that we enjoyed for years becomes irrelevant.

The usual rejoinder is storage by batteries so it helps to have the performance figures of the Musk machine in SA at your fingertips.

Possibly the biggest impediment is the fact that before the exit of Hazelwood it was not an issue because it didn’t matter whether the sun shone or the wind blew. As yarpos said historically the power has just been there right?

Early days in the diffusion of innovations! All those things that are a mystery to the average person will eventually become talking points in a widening circle.

5. RobK says:

Further, the wind lulls often coincide with over cast, low solar energy days.

6. Professor Fred Lenin says:

Doesnt matter a damn how much the bird killers generate now and then ,anyove with a bit of sense knows it too bloody dear and unreliable . Reopen Hazelwood ,keep Liddel ,modernise both usling Japanese technology . Sto Adani and build a power station on it to nake Australia great again with dirt cheap power .
Build uo]p nuclear power as a supplement .

7. B.A.Lert says:

Don’t the RE morons understand they are guaranteeing decades of unnecessary industrial churn using huge amounts of energy to manufacture things that produce a small amount of intermittent unreliable energy when, if they didn’t use that energy for manufacture it would be used to keep the lights on. It is much like the Murrey river irrigation where water ones used for growing crops is now pushed into the sea and turned into salt water. Then sucked back out in Adelaide and turned back into fresh water.

8. Hay Stockard says:

Maybe when the various Governments have sent the country broke there won’t be an RE rort. Let what is left of a market to sort it out on a level playing field.

9. Professor Fred Lenin says:

Hay stockard I agree
,only wealthy countries can afford such foolishness as climate ,facism,pofterphobia. Mussophobla feminazism and the other crap the less disposable income you have the closeryou get to reality we will end up closing four or five hundred universities onthe grounds we cant afford them. Dont think the Chinese and Indian students will save them those countries will be as poor as us we wont be able to buy their goods so they wont be making them result mass unemployment
. Perhaps “God forbid “ a war between the USA and China might lift the world economy?

10. RobK says:

The other point about wind mills is the power is a cubic function of the wind speed. They operate between 10 and 60km/h wind speed generally (some a bit higher by furling out of the path of the wind). The low end has virtually no energy to speak of and only winds over 30 km/h start to make significant power. At low wind speed the blades turn but nothing significant is output.

11. RobK says:

Oops, the energy in the wind is a cubed function of wind speed.

12. Herodotus says:

it produced more electricity in 2019 than hydro capacity for the first time.
But hydro would have produced more and more reliably at lower cost but for enviro-activists, cowed politicians, in-the-tank media, because we would have built more dams and power stations. Even so, what the hydro stations did produce was more useful being more reliable and cheaper.
Wind has been a disaster and will continue to be so until it has a stake through its heart.
In the age of Coronavirus we can’t afford to keep on the climate scam trail.
The national debt has to be controlled.
Stop subsidies now. Stop kneecapping industries.
Life the ban on nuclear.
Encourage new coal and gas stations, and new hydro.

13. Rob says:

Not enough attention is given to the life cycle of wind turbines (less than 25 years).
It won’t be long before we start replacing worn out windmills and thereafter comes a flourishing industry with tens of thousands to be replaced in an endless and horrendously costly cycle.

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