How Tomago aluminium smelter supports the power grid

Remarkable information in the Hunter Business Chamber submission to the NSW Inquiry into the future of RE in New South Wales.

Tomago provides critical energy security to NSW and the National Energy Market (NEM) because it has the largest interruptible load in the NEM. It can reduce load by as much as 630MW in as little as five minutes to ensure blackouts are averted when there is a system security risk. By way of comparison, the next largest interruptible load in NSW is 50MW. The grid cannot currently operate without the fallback option of being able to request that big industry users power down. Tomago Aluminium remains reliant on electricity from thermal sources because renewable energy is too expensive to be commercially viable for the industry and does not guarantee the required reliability.

Tomago Aluminium, located near Newcastle, uses more than 10% of the state’s power supply. Currently, near 9 in the evening, the statewide demand is 8.3GW. 10% is 830MW and NSW wind production at the moment is 460MW. That is 30% of the installed capacity that is almost precisely the average supply.

It would be interesting to have a complete record of the curtailment instructions from the AEMO to the high-end power users to provide the “Emergency Supply” that is called up to avert widespread blackouts. That figure for Tomago is the only number I have seen, can well-informed Cats please help!

The full submission from the Hunter Business Chamber.  There are some entertaining plans for RE projects including the replacements for Liddell!

AGL has committed to retire the coal-fired Hunter Valley plant in April 2023. Liddell can deliver almost 1.8GW,  enough electricity to power 1 million homes and the Australian Energy Market Operator identified an 850MW gap in dispatchable power when Liddell closes.

AGL has developed the NSW Generation Plan, a program of alternative energy initiatives, including investments in new low-emissions technologies, to replace Liddell.
AGL plans to replace Liddell with the following:
o The Newcastle Power Project – a 250MW gas-fired power station in Newcastle (see details below);
o A second gas-fired power station in NSW of 500MW capacity;
o 1,600MW of renewables, including solar power;
o Up to 150MW of demand response;
o The 250MW “Liddell Battery”;
o Converting generators at Liddell to synchronous condensers;
o 100MW upgrade to Bayswater Power Station;
o Possible pumped hydro project.

Watch that space!

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24 Responses to How Tomago aluminium smelter supports the power grid

  1. Entropy

    Of course, buggering around with aluminium production as a penance to Gaia is real a sound business practice. Why not just shut the energy hungry monster down altogether? It isn’t as though we need the income. We can just print money instead.

  2. Zyconoclast

    Why not just shut the energy hungry monster down altogether?

    That was point nine in the AGL plan

  3. Colonel Bunty Golightly

    I’m beginning to think the proposed Green Mecca isn’t such a bad idea. Once everything is shut down and the need for large scale electricity generation is removed we can rely on unicorn farts to power our lentil heaters and candles to provide both light and warmth. Addy Bandt has promised a guaranteed wage and I won’t have to work to earn it. Drugs of all sorts will be readily and cheaply available. Dunno whose gunna pay for it but I don’t care cause it won’t be me! I’m just gunna sit back and brew my dandelion wine and enjoy basking in the ambience of knowing that I am one with nature and it isn’t costing me a cent or any effort! And, in the unlikely event it all falls, over we can just take money off the rich. There are so many of them we will be able to live this idyllic life, unfettered and unencumbered for as long as I live. Hee, hee!

  4. Colonel, nicely written. Unfortunately I think there are quite a few in LaLa land who actually think what you write is perfectly practicable and sensible.

  5. Tim Neilson

    Normally I’m opposed to State ownership, but in this case…

    ScoMo or Gladys should nationalise Liddell late in 2022 and say that, since AGL were planning to close it in a few months its value to AGL was negligible, and that’s all the compensation they’re going to get.

    Then AGL would have to go to Court and argue for extra value on the basis that the value of Liddell to them was that they could close it and drive up the price of all their other electricity.

    The government should then argue that if Liddell was shut down they would have built a brand new coal fired power station at least equal in size, so AGL’s arguments are illusory.

    Popcorn spot prices would skyrocket.

  6. NoFixedAddress

    AGL Energy Ltd should be forced to drop the word Energy and call itself Alinta Gobbles Lots of Subsidies Unlimited.

    To think that the Australian Gas Light Company was decimated for this mob!

  7. DaveR

    In the current unstable power environment Tomago Aluminium should be charging the grid operator a hefty price for being a large base load consumer, which keeps the base load coal generators going; and for rapid, large load shedding which allows the grid to stay up.

  8. Hodor

    Alcoa smelters were misused in the same way quite often, especially Portland.
    Oh no you say, not in danland, couldn’t happen.
    The wingnuts kept plopping cheap aluminium throughout the world, energy prices went up and up and what did Alcoa do?

  9. Rayvic

    It would surprise if the capital cost of a new 1.8GW HELE coal power plant would exceed that of the AGL plan over the HELE plant’s 40 year life, Furthermore, it would surprise if the wholesale power price of the HELE station would exceed that of the AGL plan, given that the motive behind AGL’s plan is to charge higher prices.

    Tomago Aluminium should be charging the grid operator the maximum supply price allowable during grid power shortages.

  10. min

    Angus Taylor certainly has not watched The planet of the Humans . He is coming out tomorrow to announce new policy , more technologies to reduce emissions , more biomass, more batteries , more renewables . I cannot believe the rubbish 7 were spruking tonight about it . No way will Australia recover from depression we are heading for.

  11. Actually Tomago is one of the reasons Eraring power station got the go ahead as it essentially became the ground floor tenant of one of the four 660MW units, at an extremely attractive energy price for a period of 20 years.

  12. Jim Simpson

    The ‘Unreliables’ of wind & solar must stand & compete (excluding subsidies) on a level playing field & they must do so on a fully transparent basis.

    They must compete against not only fossil fuel technology (ie gas and/or coal fired power stations), but also against nuclear technology too (the current ban against it should be removed ASAP to allow nuclear to offer energy on a level playing field).

    All technologies should compete for the delivery of reliable, affordable & dispatchable, base load energy 24/7 with substantial financial penalties applying for any shortcoming on the part of power generators.

    Their performance should be measured against predetermined QOS (Quality Of Service) standards that ought require 100% availability, 24h/day. Should that competitive environment not be attractive to energy providers – tough. We should immediately re-nationalise the Energy industry & return it to whence it came – the responsibility of respective State Governments.

    If the ‘Unreliables’ can deliver optimum QOS 24h/day, reliably & at a cheaper rate, then they will surely win hands down! In that event, I’ll then be among the first to buy shares in those companies.

    However, I’d have to sight their respective Business Case(s) in advance & associated ‘financials’ before I’d invest my ‘hard earned’ in them.

    The recent Michael Moore documentary ‘Planet of the Humans’ hardly inspires confidence in that the ‘Unreliables’ can deliver that level of competitive QOS 24h/day.

  13. Mark M

    … and still the global warming happens:

    “A pair of cold fronts will set off a volatile mix of weather in parts of South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland, bringing blasts of heavy rain, thunderstorms and damaging winds in the coming days.”

    https://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/australia-weather-cold-temperatures-rain-expected-over-the-weekend/news-story/1c3b3e0198c4de0b4d6b0b7cfef4545a

    No amount of ruinable energy will prevent that.

  14. Mark M

    “Solar households in South Australia are facing mounting risks of their rooftop panels being shut down to avoid destabilising the grid as regulators, policymakers and network owners race against time to reform market rules and modify the power system.
    The energy market operator last week emphasised the increasing difficulty of keeping the grid stable amid world-leading levels of “invisible and uncontrolled” rooftop solar.”

    https://www.afr.com/companies/energy/solar-rooftops-too-hot-to-handle-for-aemo-20200506-p54q84

    Home owners with solar are squealing because they miss out on the money.
    Look out when they realise they have been grifted.

    Fact:
    If all solar panels stop producing tonight, nothing would happen.
    They actually do this every night and nothing happens.
    Now, imagine if all coal power plants stop producing tonight.

  15. Herodotus

    Angas Taylor appeared as Morrison’s “power ranger” intent on lowering power prices.
    He’s a damp squib and his list of RE shill projects is tantamount to a charge sheet.
    Guilty.

  16. Herodotus

    Solar and wind, intermittent and puny, are bad for the grid?
    You don’t say!
    We are ruled by idiots.

  17. Mike O'Ceirin

    It is interesting what is proposed to replace Liddell. There is about 750 MW of gas and in the context of Michael Moore’s film plays right into it. I note that wind and solar are an automatic lie. For instance 1600 MW of wind is proposed. Which actually means less than 500 MW on average if you want to compare it to the gas. I have not found anywhere though in this how do you close an aluminium smelters in five minutes? I thought that produced a disaster or is it for very short periods? For the energy companies it makes a lot of sense to shut down coal assets. In many cases those assets were practically given to them and if that drives the price of electricity up it is to their advantage. Of course all this means manufacturing in Australia moves offshore principally to China. What could be possibly wrong with that? When I read the reactions of our state premiers as regards the Wuhan virus I am convinced we are governed by fools.

  18. Rafe Champion

    Not quite on topic but a demonstration of the amazing amount of engineering ingenuity that is being devoted to increasing the cost of power.

    A 14MW offshore turbine with 222m rotor diameter. For comparison, most of the newer turbines in Australia are probably rated at 2.5 or 3MW.

  19. Mark M

    Just incase you thought their abc didn’t know …

    Concerns over plan to switch off household solar panels when grid is unstable
    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-20/concerns-over-plan-to-switch-off-household-solar-panels/12267162

  20. Yarpos

    Now they have waited until the horse has bolted to wake up to reality, it will be a long long time before they have enough systems converted for them to have any useful control, and of course it is a public sector IT project so that should add layers of delay and dysfunction.

    Really we should be going back to first principles instead of granular arguments about so called RE. We are in the middle of a grand CO2 experiment right now. Even the alarmist media and academics are calling it an “extreme emissions reduction” What has happened to global CO2? Nothing, Rational minds knew this would be the case as humans contribute so little to the overall level.

    So if lowering human CO2 does nothing overall, why are we torturing the world with rapid and excessive use of so called RE? as always follow the money. It changes a boring industry with long term cash flows into a dynamic one where short term profits can be harvested at public expense.

  21. Kneel

    “Actually Tomago is one of the reasons Eraring power station got the go ahead…”

    I was involved in commissioning #4 at Eraring and also the substation at Tomago – that was certainly acknowledged to be the case at the time.

    Funny thing about Tomago – the potlines use carbon rods to create the arc. These “wear”, creating plenty of carbon dust. Tomago substation is downwind from the potlines, so they literally have to wash down the sub on a regular basis or splat! – arc city (until they trip off). 100+MW arcs are noisy bastards…

  22. My understanding is that a smelter can only reduce output for a short period before costing millions in lost production and potentially rectifying damage to pots. So if the wind and solar output stays low for a prolonged period , Houston we have a problem!

    In any case it’s extremely expensive no matter what and they would have to be compensated for their loss, which of course will be added to our costs.
    https://www.metalbulletin.com/events/download.ashx/document/speaker/6548/a0ID000000X0jWmMAJ/Presentation

  23. Rafe Champion

    They have to be paid tens of millions for lost production when the move works. When it happened by accident at Portland after the power failed a pot line seized up and the state govt had to pay megabucks. Someone here will know where to find the details.

    This was a report at the time in 2016, the compensation would have been decided later.

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