Energy security: Wind & solar power shone when coal failed in summer sizzle

Ageing coal-fired plants in Victoria are least reliable in national grid.

Australia is entering an era of dramatically increasing heatwaves, according to a new report. Our coal and gas power stations cannot cope with such extreme conditions. New analysis shows coal and gas failed to provide energy security during Australia’s heatwave earlier this year. It says solar PV generation and wind prevented far worse disruption and load-shedding.

The Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program report shows 14% of coal and gas generation failed during the February heatwave.

It calls for the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) to require “heat safe” back-up for coal and gas plants.

Fossil fuels failed to deliver energy security under pressure

The analysis found that during the February 2017 heatwave across south-eastern Australia fossil fuels failed the National Energy Market (NEM).

New analysis shows coal and gas failed to provide energy security during Australia’s heatwave in February 2017.

Wind and solar energy can help prevent Australia’s summer heatwave blackouts.

Across the NEM, 14% (3,600 MW) of coal and gas electricity generation failed during critical demand periods. This occurred in three states as a result of faults, largely related to the heat.

Seventeen per cent of gas-powered generation was unavailable during the peak demand period in South Australia,  leading to the February 8 blackouts.

In New South Wales, 20% of coal and gas generation failed, leading to load shedding at Tomaga aluminium smelter.

Queensland withdrew 7% of coal and gas generation during a peak, causing $13,000 MWh prices eleven times within three hours.

The report concludes that retailers should provide “heat safe” firming power to backup gas and coal plants. This could include dispatchable solar thermal with battery storage or additional solar PV to reduce peak demand on hot days. Battery storage could buttress dispatch into the evenings.

The legacy of South Australia’s 2016 blackout

Allegations by clean energy sceptics that South Australia’s wind turbines caused the September 2016 statewide blackouts are now disproved.

In that instance, two tornadoes caused three giant transmission towers to fail. This caused a sag in voltage across the rest of the grid. The wind turbines then disengaged from the grid automatically. This put extra strain on the SA-Victoria power sharing connection. It tripped, causing the blackout.

The wind turbines will now remain online in similar circumstances due to setting changes.

But that freak occurrence in 2016 has led to a persistent belief by some that renewable energy is unreliable.

It’s hoped this new evidence, showing wind and solar can be the solution to Australia’s energy reliability concerns, will have an impact on Canberra’s policy makers.