Blaming renewable energy for power outages is wrong, and worse, potentially dangerous, according to a new report.
The warning comes from the Grattan Institute’s Keep Calm and Carry On investigation into the reliability of our electricity network.
The February 2019 report found that in the past decade, 97 per cent of all outages were due to faults in the poles and wires that transport electricity to homes and businesses.
These outages have nothing to do with how the electricity was generated. Indeed, a lack of generation on hot days caused only 0.1 per cent of all outages since 2009, the report found.
Wrong and dangerous view of renewable energy blackouts
The public perception that Australia’s electricity grid is becoming increasingly unreliable with more renewable energy – and is only getting worse – is wrong.
The report found equipment breakdowns, falling trees, inquisitive animals and crashing cars all cause power failures in local networks.
The report found Queensland and NSW spent $16 billion more than was necessary on “gold plating” poles and wires in the wake of blackouts in 2004. These network costs were the biggest contributor to residential power bills in Queensland and NSW over the decade.
Warning against interventionist policies
The perception of ‘unreliable renewables’ could also affect electricity prices. That’s because if politicians over-react to public concern and rush to intervene in the market, electricity bills could increase.
For example, politicians and media commentators linked South Australia’s 2016 state-wide blackout to high penetrations of wind power. This renewable energy blackouts blaming led to a wild increase in national reports linking blackouts to wind and solar energy.
The report also warns against interventionist government policies, such as the Underwriting New Generation Investment program. The scheme could see governments provide subsidies to high-emissions energy sources, rather than solar installations and wind farms.
Keep calm and carry on with renewables
While increased levels of wind and solar power do create challenges for the grid, these challenges are manageable. Grattan Institute director Tony Wood said Australia needs a “cool-headed policy response”, not “panic and politicking”.
“Increased renewable generation does create challenges for managing the power system,” he said.
“But if we keep calm and carry on, these challenges can be met without more big price increases for households and businesses.”