Friday, 7 October 2016

SA Blackouts and the Importance of Sequence

SA Towers

There has been a media frenzy – mostly from Newscorp commentators – about how the “Greenies’ were responsible for the South Australian power outages.

Let's forget for a moment that the Greens aren’t in power in SA, and have never made energy policy there.

To argue that the ratio of renewables to coal powered generation in SA is responsible, we should at least read the only report available as this is written on the causes of the problem.

 My reading revealed a couple of interesting facts.

The first is that any report of the sequence of events claiming that the wind generators dropped out before the pylons went down is wrong. 

From the report –
The weather resulted in multiple transmission system faults. In the short time between 16:16 and 16:18, system faults included the loss of three major 275 kV transmission lines north of Adelaide.
Generation initially rode through the faults, but at 16:18, following an extensive number of faults in a short period, 315 MW of wind generation disconnected (one group at 16:18:09, a second group at 16:18:15), also affecting the region north of Adelaide.

Now I’ve never been much good at using 24-hour time – it was always a pain in the arse when I was a Nasho, but I’m pretty sure that 16:16 is two minutes before 16:18 – correct me if I’m wrong.
So the wind generators disconnected after the transmission towers went down, not before. That contradicts what has been reported in much of the Murdoch media. 

Sequence is important. I discovered this when I had an unauthorized discharge with my SLR in Vietnam, when I cocked the rifle before removing the mag, and then pulled the trigger to show the weapon was cleared. It wasn’t.
So we’ve established the sequence (towers down first – wind generators off line a few minutes later). 

WA Towers (Barrow Island - Cyclone Olivia -1996)
What the AEMO* report doesn’t say is why the generators tripped. I’ve heard reports (interviews with engineers) that it was down to bad programming – we’ll eventually know when the final report comes out.

Now let’s look at those towers in the illustrations. The SA towers were pulled out by the roots. The West Australian ones deformed. Accepting that the wind velocities were much greater in West Australia (Barrow Island, Cyclone Olivia – 1996), a reasonable conclusion is that the WA towers were of better quality than the SA examples.

One major difference between the two states is that the SA infrastructure was privatized in 1999. West Australia’s is still in public hands. Remember how the LNP lost an election in Queensland around that issue?

 Remember also that poor maintenance on a privatized Victorian power network was the triggering event for the 2009 bush fires in that state. Remember the class action and the multi million payout?

It’s a reasonable conclusion that the parlous state of the SA infrastructure is a consequence over time of its privatization in 1999. The 23% increase in tariffs is also an outcome of that same privatization. There’s much more money in tariffs than maintenance.

Perhaps electricity consumers in SA should go to class action.

The most revealing extract from the AEMO report is this – The event resulted in the SA regional electricity market being suspended. 

Now that explains a lot..

To AEMO, it’s a “market”. I suspect the electricity consumers in SA have a different idea. They probably regard it as a service.

And the Newscorp reporting? Perhaps the answer lies here (excuse the pun).

*Australia Energy Market Operator

1 comment:

David Hallam said...

Nice post
this may also ad to the mix!

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