I have been commentating on electricity in my home state of South Australia for the past five years. So it may have surprised some that when the entire state (Yes, the whole place. Everything) went black a little over a week ago that I did not get right out there with comment.

There are two simple reasons for this.

Firstly, I was in China. More on that another time.

Secondly, and more importantly (wait for it)… I absolutely did not know or understand what had happened.

And, as I gradually took in news report, tweet, meme, media release in my inbox and op-ed, it became pretty obvious that no one else did either. What we have had is a week of furious politicking and spin, across the board, because seemingly no one was prepared to say “I don’t know yet”. It was seemingly more important to get preferred messages embedded in the public consciousness nice and early.

Our state government was quick to claim that this was an extreme weather event resulting from a catastrophic loss of infrastructure and literally nothing to do with our (frankly untested) energy mix. Yep, the wind event was hardcore, the pictures attest to that. Nope, I wasn’t buying the balance of that argument within the first hours because frankly no one knew. A piece from Tony Wood of Grattan Institute seemed to partially reinforce this, plying an argument I am tiring of: “It’s not wind, it’s that our system is not well structured to manage wind”. A lot of South Australians are struggling to appreciate that distinction and never really consented to being placed on the policy vanguard of system reliability in the first place.

Our Prime Minister (Turnbull), State Opposition Leader (Marshall) and independent Senator Xenaphon were quick to pin the blame all on the renewables, seemingly content to ignore a major, weather induced catastrophe that was hurting people in my home town even though at that time they, too, did not know.

The climate hawks had an interesting spin… apparently wind was the hero of the day, chugging away merrily until disaster struck and then swiftly back on deck.

“The fact is the system brought down all three generators for safety reasons after three transmission lines and nine towers fell. And wind generators actually helped restore power- the Snowtown wind farm was the second generator brought online”.

Andrew Stock of the Climate Council

Again, such a claim coming in scarcely after power was even restored is testing credulity because, yet again, they did not know. Independent energy commentator Tristan Edis asked us to compare this to a coal-induced failure in 2005… except that even did not black out the entire state. Fact is we seem to have nothing like this event on the record.


So frankly, the response in this first week has been mostly a politicized, tribal hot air. While I had my ideas and suspicions, I have been waiting for the reports to begin from the Australian Energy Market Operator. The preliminary report was released today and you can read it here.

So what happened? In brief and simple language, South Australia was rolling along merrily and in good shape when warnings of extreme weather came in. About 24 hours later when the extreme whether struck, we were asking for about 1800 MWe of power from our grid, which is connected to the much larger state of Victoria via two interconnectors. About half that power was coming from wind at the time, much of which is based in the north of the state, roughly 20% was coming from gas in South Australia and the balance (30%) was coming through the interconnectors (which is coal, basically).


IMPORTANT ASIDE: The wind generation is providing electrons and NOT frequency control ancillary services (colloquially, inertia) to the system. I discussed ancillary services in a recent post, please read it for more understanding of this. END ASIDE

A section of transmission line south of Port Augusta, near Melrose, was hit with extreme winds, quite possibly tornadoes, and wrecked. Eventually three lines went out of service and six wind farms reduced output. This sudden imbalance of supply/demand was felt as a major drop of frequency. In response, the grid started clamouring for frequency from the rest of the system to stay in operational range (49.5-50.5 Hz). So, virtually instantaneously, it was pulling in supply from other synchronous generators who felt the perturbation in the system, including across the interconnector.

“In the events leading up to SA region Black System, generation reduction occurred at six wind farms. There was no reduction in thermal generation. Each reduction coincided with a drop in voltage observed at the wind farms’ connection points”.

AEMO Preliminary Report

At first it was ok then…more supply gone…more frequency being lost…more clamouring for stability.

ASIDE: Why did the wind farms reduce output? I don’t know. At the moment, neither does AEMO to the extent that they are prepared to publish a finding, but I expect the experts have some ideas.

Additional analysis is required to determine the reasons for the reduction in generation and observed voltage levels before any conclusions can be drawn.

AEMO Preliminary Report


This need for more stability was felt as a demand for 900 MWe through an interconnector designed for 600 MWe. That’s too much. To stop potential for damage, the interconnector cut us off, and it was lights out for South Australia. The chart below from AEMO shows the last few seconds.


ASIDE: Does it matter? Yes, it matters. Folks reflecting on the old days where we had black outs in the suburbs every now and then and dug out the candles are missing something important. That was load shedding where those of us not badly exposed by power loss shared a little pain so others who are exposed kept power. Yes, we dug out the candles with a degree of cheer and then face-palmed when we tried to boil the electric kettle. These hierarchies still exist. Who is badly exposed to power loss? Smelters and foundries: when their product freezes in the wrong place it’s a multi-million dollar problem. Hospitals: they have back-up generators and sure as eggs some failed and people were transferred from intensive care. Food businesses. Street lighting. Traffic lights. These are just a few examples. It’s actually pretty damn important that this does not happen. END ASIDE.

So, what do we know now? Well, the new acronym on everyone’s lips is RoCoF: Rate of Change of Frequency. The system is designed to handle so much and no more and we exceeded it, asking for about 6-7 Hz per second when the maximum is 3 Hz per second. We didn’t have enough generators contributing frequency when we needed it. The chart below shows the frequency response. Note again, the x-axis of time is in seconds. That is the nature of frequency control. We can see that frequency correction occurs within tenths of a second but in the end, it all became too much. So, to reiterate my previous posts, saying that ancillary services are important is not a plot by anyone trying to stomp on renewables that don’t happen to provide them. They are an essential requirement.


Several important questions remain outstanding. Firstly and obviously we will want to know from AEMO their findings about the loss of generation from the wind farms.

The other questions are more nuanced. While the weather event was without question extreme and would always have had consequences, have we perhaps placed our system at greater risk by taking on a greater level of variable, asynchronous generation in form of wind than we were really ready to handle? That’s harder to answer, and asks us to perhaps model the event under different generating mix conditions. For example, we have a relatively clean, modern combined-cycle gas generator in Adelaide (Pelican Point), capable of providing up to 485 MWe that was providing nothing to the market at the time (presumably  it was priced out by wind: it has been operating at half-capacity at most since 2013 for this reason). Were this power station serving the market at the time would the events have proceeded differently? We have received recent warnings from AEMO on these changes in our supply and they could not have been much clearer:

If the RoCoF is too high, there is a risk that protection systems sensitive to RoCoF will trip generation in SA. This additional tripping of generation following separation has the potential to increase the impact of the event, increase the amount of load that is shed in SA, and lead to ongoing cascading tripping of generation in SA. As noted above, one of the factors that determines RoCoF in SA is the inertia delivered by the online generating units. Figure 2 shows the inertia in SA since the start of 2012. There is a clear downward trend. This is due to the increase in wind and rooftop PV generation that contribute little in the way of inertia and the consequent removal from service of synchronous generation, which is the major provider of inertia. The total inertia currently available in SA is around 16,200 megawatt-seconds (MWs). 15 In 2017, without Northern Power Station and Torrens Island ‘A’ Power Station, the total available inertia would reduce to around 10,000 MWs.

AEMO, Update to Renewable Energy Integration in South Australia, February 2016

The answer there seems to be “yes”. We have created conditions of greater risk of failure.

Do we need to ensure a greater balance of supply across our grid to spread our risk from transmission losses? Exploiting regional renewable resources like wind (and solar) may seem great, but part of making it cost effective is being as rational as possible with transmission infrastructure. That economic rationality leaves us open to losing hundreds of MWe, perhaps more, from a single point of failure. Ironically, we won’t connect large nuclear plants here for that type of reason.

It’s important to ask and answer questions like this, not to try and put renewables in the frame but to deal honestly with the challenges before us. It may be glib to just “blame” wind and ignore policy and market shortcomings (our failure to price pollution, for example). However I find it equally glib to blame policy and market shortcomings and ignore the inarguable technical shortcomings of wind generation as though we owe it to that sector to provide, and pay for, solutions. For me, that’s a little like the nuclear sector pretending the production of hazardous material is everyone else’s problem, not something to cost into the nuclear electricity. I don’t accept that argument for nuclear and I don’t accept it for wind.

I don’t want to revert to a dirtier grid. In my 2015 paper with Bradshaw and Brook I made it clear that we now have a cleaner grid thanks to wind. But we cannot lose security and reliability along the way in the way we just have. The very real potential for loss of support for our energy journey here in South Australia is palpable right now, with this event coming on the back of record high prices earlier this year.

I argue, based on the preliminary findings now available, that the way forward for clean energy in South Australia must include generation sources that are reliable and can boost the inertia in our system. Ideally we would be able to dot them around our grid to balance generation and mitigate risk from transmission failure. Ideally they would be good load followers to work effectively and economically with the wind generation. Basically, if we want to keep moving to clean while protecting and restoring reliability, we need small modular nuclear reactors.

So, take care before flogging this government. The move to wind has often been very popular here, and whether criticism is deserved or not for current conditions, this government has also shown tremendous courage in bringing the nuclear option to the table for South Australia, and right now they are asking us for our position.

In this commentator’s opinion it is up to us to demand a way forward for clean energy with nuclear involved in our system. If we don’t, we stand a real risk of turning around and going back.

Header image poached from Adelaide Now, who nicked it from ABC. Thank you to informal researchers for content and sources, you know who you are.






  1. I think you may be a bit unfair bagging the politicians who spoke out last week identifying renewables as the culprit. When Frydenberg was fully quoted once he was specific about frequency control, which AEMO now confirms.

    1. Well done him. Two points. Most were nowhere near equipped with the information. It was knee-jerk. Secondly, that just makes us all fight more. We need leaders to settle down and lead from the centre on these issues or we just get in our trenches and stay there.

    2. I think the subtleties of the matter were rather wasted on Turnbull and Joyce! No, they had partisan points to make, so they made them, early and hard.

  2. Thanks for this clear description of the situation.

    Three questions and a comment:

    1. Is the nuclear industry really pretending that the production of hazardous material is everyone else’s problem? I thought most externalities of nuclear power were already priced in, and have been for some time, at least in IAEA member countries?

    2. Providing a few few thousand addition MW seconds of frequency control should be fairly doable using a suitable battery storage system, or perhaps even a flywheel storage system. The cost of such a system shouldn’t be much more than a million Aussie dollars I reckon.

    3. I’ve heard that wind turbines and solar panels are being proposed that do have at least some integrated ancillary service capabilities, including frequency support (“synthetic inertia”). Not sure whether such features are being commercially applied much though. Presumably not.

    4. I like your suggestion of installing small nuclear reactors. There’s lots to like about such technologies. They can be owned and operated by individual communities. They can be installed at the best locations from the perspective of propping up grid stability without resortimg to grid upgrades. They’re excellent for (quasi-mobile) deployment at remote (mining) operations and -communities. Some of those small reactor concepts are very simple and rely on very basic nuclear technologies that are largely free of IP protection so could be developed by anyone who wants them. Of course, implementing anything nuclear is not so much about the technology as it is about the politics and paperwork, which tend to be a real challenge even under ideal circumstances.

    I’ve been following your work for quite some time now. Always enjoy your insightful perspectives and investigative excellence. I like to think I know a fair bit about energy/environment but I always pick up something new from your work. Thanks.

    1. 1. This passage should read “I WOULD not accept this argument from nuclear”. No, no one makes this suggestion and indeed that was my point. I will probably amend for clarity
      2. I have just been through a literature review of the status of such novel, power-electronics based solutions for a paper that is currently in review. There is a lot under investigation and absolutely nothing demonstrated at appreciable scale. Proof first, implementation second before we abandon what we know works.
      3. As per point two, yes this is the case, synthetic inertia from an extra loop on the power electronics system of the wind turbine is being looked at/studied/trialled. Implemented at scale, no not yet. Batteries also as a source of frequency control is possible. The scalability and cost-effectiveness is not clear. As with most of these things the question becomes, do we need a little or a lot? The cost increases are decidedly non-linear when it comes to increasing the percentage penetration of variable renewable energy. I would expect there will be a great role for these solutions, but not a replacement for synchronous turbines, at least not on a timescale relevant to managing climate change
      4. You bet your ass. We have an interesting opportunity here in South Australia to get these technologies on the table for proper consideration. I strongly favour the IMSR from Terrestrial Energy however there are many great options in the pipeline.

      Thanks for the kind words.

  3. Thanks. Been checking this blog the past few days, looking for useful information and wondering when you would show up. Suspected something along these lines, but of course no idea how far. Good to have some boundary between what is known, and what is not.

    Off topic is the 2 GW(!) bi-polar HVDC Cross Channel link between Sellindge and Bonningues-lès-Calais: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HVDC_Cross-Channel. Relevant to UK energy security, and likelihood that when Australia does install SMR’s, UK will have a hand.

    1. I just couldn’t justify coming out early and aggressive in such a serious event. I saw others doing it and did not like what I was seeing. Thanks for waiting and checking in!

  4. At the very least, it is known how much is too much. It would be rational and logical to head wind warnings and prioritise natgas/coal in future so to prevent spikes leading to outage of this magnitude. I know, simple solutions are not simple to fix. Bureaucratic red tape. Good read. Thanks, Ben.

    1. You are welcome, I’m glad you found it helpful. Yes, while it’s hard to draw the precise line, my sense over probably the last two years has been that SA is saturated with wind in terms of what we know how to handle.

  5. At the risk of being somewhat less than Adelaide centric, one of the issues I found interesting (particularly in the initial responses) was that the blackout extended all the way through the Eyre peninsula over to Port Lincoln & beyond, yet the break in the transmission line was between Port Augusta & Adelaide. The question then becomes what was it about the network which failed to keep the Eyre’s set of sub-networks “alive” if all the generation on that side of the transmission break was hunkey-dory?

    To me this implies that the service disruption commenced before the main transmission break. I suspect that the local timing of the various outages will become increasingly important

    1. Absolutely this. While the primary trigger does appear to be the downed transmission lines: Davenport – Belalie & Davenport – Mt Lock fell over; the unanswered question right now is why was the other side, the link to Robertstown from Belalie & Mt Lock not sufficient? It would have been to deal with this exact situation that the network was designed & built this way… but something, almost certainly a combination of factors, lead to the test being failed.

  6. Great post Ben … needs to be widely shared.

    I checked back in your ZCO report and back then Electranet reckoned they could handle a disconnect of 450 MWe … but with the changed structure of the system, a loss of just 315 MWe crippled the grid.

  7. Ben you ask the question “Why did the wind farms reduce output? I don’t know. ”

    In my book The Power Makers’ Challenge, which I believe you have a copy, in Appendix C, I discuss Wind Power in some detail. In C.2, I discuss power variability with wind speed. Above 13 m/s (47 km/h) it is possible to maintain constant output. Above 25 m/s (90 km/h) – the “cut-out” speed – the wind turbine shuts down to avoid mechanical damage.

    I’m not sure whether the wind farms were exposed to 90 km/h wind but if they were then they would automatically shut down.

    Wind farms need more than 47 km/h to maintain output and no more than 90 km/hr. If the wind was changing significantly the power output from the wind turbines could be highly variable. Just the sort of thing that can trigger black-outs. So in a way, if you are relying on a significant amount of wind energy then perhaps it was a renewable energy problem.

    1. WattClarity has a wind speed plot up, nothing conclusive but I don’t think at this stage it was a shutdown due to excessively high wind speeds.
      I am forced to speculate that whatever happened, it wasn’t planned. We’re going to have to wait for some root cause analysis by the people at the ‘coal-face’ (sorry, couldn’t resist) as to the crucial loss of that 315MW of wind.

  8. That Davenport / Robertstown RoCoF graph is super scary. For anyone who catches one of those documentaries where they go inside the control room of an electricity network, watch the faces of the operators when the grid frequency starts to approach anything outside 49.9 or 50.1Hz.

  9. What we also know is that you can’t use wind farms to do a black restart – you need synchronous generators – be it gas, oil or coal or better still, nuclear power. CSP might be possible with sunshine and heat storage. – expensive option.

  10. Great synopsis of what has occurred.

    A lot of people jumped the gun on the cause, myself included. But as you have noted this event was forewarned as a possibility in the AEMO-ElectraNet Feb 2016 integration report. AEMO has a series of equations that dictate the levels of Heywood and other generators for the automatic operation, there is an additional question that needs to be asked.

    Do these need revision considering that Heywood was at near max and the margin for fixing a frequency excursion was not available?

    Furthermore, will an inertia standard and accompanying market alleviate problems with frequency control?

    There is a chart out there that shows the inertia on the SA grid at the time was very very low.

  11. A pertinent question may be whether the system would have held together better if the failed generators had been dispatchable, say biomass fired for the sake of greenness. Origin Energy say they curtail windpower at 90 kph local ground speed. I also understand some but not all wind farms need to sync with 50 Hz from the grid avoid shutdown. Then some need the grid to black start again. That makes several factors to consider… excessive wind speed, under-frequency and power drain from attempted restarts.

    I question whether the connector to NSW is such a great idea. NSW runs on about 85% black coal power. Out of sight out of mind. The PwC study suggested replacing the 2 GW Liddell black coal station with SMRs. On face value that’s 40 modules of 50 MW each. Why not have some in SA close to demand? Worry about IFRs later.

    Not sure how the Deepwater Horizon movie will affect BP’s application to drill in the Bight but a gas bonanza might help SA energy security.

    1. G’day John, I notice your comment bears a passing resemblance to the one that was suppressed at The Conversation (https://theconversation.com/what-caused-south-australias-state-wide-blackout-66268#comment_1093135). Particularly in light of the preliminary AEMO report, I think The Conversation’s editors owe you not only an explanation, but an apology. If you don’t mind me asking, has at least the former been forthcoming directly to you?

      The following figure may be relevant: http://imgur.com/a/aBqme

      1. TC say upfront they will delete comments by climate change deniers. If the same goes for those questioning high penetration renewables they should say so. As the first link shows strings of comments get deleted supposedly because one comment has breached editorial policy. Why not just delete the poisonous comment? This stifles open debate. TC will always back up academics some of whom clearly live in an ivory tower. So not only will they not apologise for anything I fear they are losing their impartiality.

        1. Full disclosure: I am a member of The Conversation’s ‘Community Council’ (maybe not for much longer), with a dozen or so others. Councillors function as quasi-moderators, with the capability to hide posts which then flags them for either permanent removal or restoration by the ‘Community Manager’. It will not surprise you to learn that most other councillors hold a different view to mine on most matters, but particularly so on energy. What has almost certainly happened is one of them has taken exception to your comment and hidden it, to which the manager has subsequently acquiesced. This is only supposed to happen if the post violates one of about a dozen criteria, among which are ‘personal abuse’, ‘off topic’ and ‘misinformation’.

          No doubt you can see where this is going – every so often someone succumbs to the temptation to hide a post with which they strongly disagree as ‘misinformation’. The manager should pull this up, but unfortunately not in this instance. Following my enquiry, one of the councillors defended your post’s removal by saying it ‘clearly contains mis-informative and wild speculation about windfarms shutting down that is inconsistent with the facts presented in the article’. I responded as follows:

          “…the description of Mr Newlands’ comment is unjustified…

          Breaking it down line by line:
          >“The second dot point here suggests wind turbines are braked above 90 kph
          That’s simply a fact, and manifestly a relevant one.

          >“You’d think if the wind is strong enough to knock over power pylons it would be tough on wind turbines.”
          Is that ‘wild’ speculation? I submit not.

          >“If so the wind farms would have soon been in shutdown mode and not producing electricity.”
          More contentious, yes, but again I submit still not an unreasonable link in the chain of inference given what has preceded. Moreover, as I mentioned previously, there is evidence indicating this may have occurred in some instances. At this point have a look at the attachment” (this is the link adduced in my first comment, above) “which shows the output of SA wind farms on the day in question. Before the total system crash at ~16:15, as winds rose towards a peak Snowtown 1 was completely shut down at 10:45 other than a brief burst at 15:30, while Snowtown North 1, Hornsdale and North Brown Hill were intermittently but substantially curtailed from 13:00 onwards. All these are in the Mid-North region, where the maximum wind damage was experienced, undoubtedly including gusts in excess of the 90 km/h threshold mentioned in the first sentence.

          Now elements of the above might turn out to be misguided. But the place to tease that out is in open forum, so all may learn. It is not reasonable to characterise it as ‘misinformative’ or ‘wild speculation’ at a level justifying removal.

          For all that I agree the subsequent foray towards off-topic territory with gas was ill-advised, that in itself does not justify removal of the entire thread given the clearly relevant preceding paragraph.

          Please, in fairness to an identified Friend of The Conversation (which should count for something, I reckon), restore it.”

          Unfortunately this has apparently fallen on deaf ears, as almost a week later, I’ve received no reply from the manager/editor.

  12. The politicking on the role of renewables in this event has not been helped by mixed messages from AEMO itself. The quote attributed to AEMO ” Energy generation mix was not a factor in the power blackout” has been used extensively to deflect criticism of any renewables having any role in the disaster. Yet reports by AEMO, both before and after the event, clearly show concerns about the effect renewables could have by reducing the resilience of the system when stressed by frequency problems. In the pre-blackout report AEMO cautiously said it considered these problems manageable. Perhaps the above statement is a bit of arse covering?

    It is also notable that the situation AEMO seemed particularly concerned about in the earlier report was a period of high PV output at a time of low demand. – It will really hit the fan if it happens again.

    1. In light of this event, situation previously regarded as possible but “non-credible” has been upgraded to “credible”

      Not good…

      Clearly they are learning too as SA provides more lessons and data. On the whole I think AEMO has done what it can.

  13. I think one of the important points that you touch on and that has been lost in the political discussion is: “Are the public willing to accept a grid shutdown in extreme conditions?”. It seems the answer is yes for a lot of South Australians.

    Wild claims of “people on operating tables” have been made vs evidence like http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-09-29/adelaide-woman-on-operating-table-when-power-went-out/7888294 – the lack of restraint in commentary is astonishing, and perhaps leads to perceptions of bias/vested interests.

    It’s important to ask, would South Australians tolerate this every week? Heck no. But the song and dance being made is quite disturbing, especially where the AEMO still points out there are unknowns about the exact causes for certain events.

    Its worrying that we are engaging in a knee jerk reaction to a long term infrastructure planning issue, with complexities bound to be introduced by climate change and the market response to it.

    1. Many people, me included, query whether the current reliability standard is actually too high (99.998%). Any answer to that has to include considering “for which consumer?”. This gets to the difference I outlined between this event and load shedding. Me and my family are basically not exposed to some loss of power, for example so, basically from our POV, fine, OUR standard could be 99.990% and we would not care. If that change saved millions of dollars and a lot of heartache and helped us transition to a cleaner system faster, then seriosuly, no problem.

      It’s REALLY different for other customers like businesses. This event was, is, a serious, major business risk that counts against the state as a place to do business.

    2. Having someone on an operating table during a blackout is no joke, nor is it a wild claim.
      The ABC story is about someone who is extremely fortunate that power loss occurred before induction of anaesthesia.
      All major hospitals have backup power generation, but experience demonstrates that these are not fail safe.
      Many major hospitals, and especially those in capitals, do major, invasive surgery as a matter of routine.
      The idea of losing all lighting, monitoring, suction pressure during surgery for aortic aneurysm repair, or heart surgery on bypass, or any emergency surgery on a critically ill patient, is a nightmare scenario for all involved.
      And, because these sorts of procedure occur daily in major referral hospitals, the only thing preventing that scenario when the power trips is a fast-start diesel generator, some batteries and power electronics.
      I don’t read the surgery stories and think “wild claims”.
      I read them and think “dumb luck”.

  14. Reviewing comments and replies – you are the first person that I have heard talking about Molten Salt Reactors, Molten Salt heat storage (in place of batteries) or IMSR. Are there any of these things running commercially, either for industry or for general power generation? Is there anyone in the SA government, conducting the Nuclear Waste Dump investigation been approached to discuss the idea of actually burning the waste in these things? I would be really interested to hear?

    1. Sure, molten salt runs commercially with some solar facilities, not in Australia but elsewhere. Under the prevailing conditions of this event and the previous several days, there is a chance a solar/salt solution would have provided little help. Conditions for solar were exceptionally poor.

      I don’t think there are commercial molten salt reactors in operation presently, happy to be corrected. In my opinion the first SMR to market will likely be NuScale and the first MSR to market will almost certainly be Terrestrial Energy with the IMSR.

      Yes, it’s not saying too much to say that while the Royal Commission itself kicked these possibilities well down the road, I believe the considerations from government remain somewhat active. That really remains to be seen. I strongly support SA getting these technology options right back on the table as/if we move forward with the nuclear fuel storage proposition. I will be working on it.

  15. The storms could have been a curtain raiser for a hot summer. Perhaps Adelaide will again hit 44C and 3100 MW statewide electrical demand, noting last week demand was just 1900 MW. Sure 25% of homes have PV but 80% have air con. Most heatwaves have low wind speeds so wind power may help little. Even with Heywood Interconnector fixed and retirement deferred for Pelican Pt and Torrens Island A gas plants it will still take a balls-to-the-wall effort. My guess is that Weatherill will ask people to switch off air conditioners. OK if you are healthy and have a pool not so much for the frail elderly in 1960s built hotbox homes.

  16. There may well be ways of building a 100% renewable grid that can cope with large slabs of generation going
    off line … ie., providing frequency control that isn’t spinning turbines. But since we haven’t got that, it is entirely reasonable to blame renewables for the crash. Saying that “technically” it wasn’t renewables but lack of frequency control is like saying technically falling off a cliff doesn’t kill you, its the lack of proper landing structures or parachutes that is the problem.

  17. Very interesting reading, thanks for the effort, and restraint.

    I’ve some understanding of the market and the technical aspects of keeping the lights on as well as a very healthy disrespect for the antics of the encumbant energy industry. From what I’ve read the midwinter “electricity price crisis” was more a case of the gas generators throwing their weight around. They similarly withhold supply to spike the cost of power at 10:55pm knowing they can cash in at 11:05 when all the off peak hot water load comes on… a regular little scam.

    Can you pass an expert eye over this post and tell us what you think… I find it curious that the AEMO won’t allow renewable to provide frequency control to the market. It strikes me as ludicrous that in the face of an impending potential disaster of a storm, the gas fleet wasn’t spinning, or wasn’t even warmed up… it seems we’ve been caught buying cheap coal power under risky circumstances.
    What say you?

    1. To the best of my knowledge the price gouging argument has been largely rejected by AEMO in their investigation. The market has operated rationally based on the supply now available. If there is something in the hot water issue, fine, I honestly don’t know, but the whole “big bad companies gouging us” appears to be quite false.

      It is not the case that AEMO won’t let renewables provides ancillary services, more that the renewables don’t have ancillary services to provide, at least not yet in a way that can be adequately captured in the market. They are asynchronous generators. They simply don’t provide any response.

      There has been a little work done here by Jenny Riesz ‘Frequency Control Ancillary Service Market Design – Insights from the Australian National Electricity Market’, The Electricity Journal, 28(3): 86-99. however from memory the conclusions were hardly compelling. I also find her remarkably partisan on the whole with energy options however there is the reference for your interest.

      What I found more broadly in recent literature review, yes, there is intense and broad research effort into trying to find ways to provide these services via renewable sources. Sythetic inertia from a different model of connection with a wind turbine is one active area, batteries for control is another. It all adds cost, none is currently demonstrated at appreciable scale and there are trade-offs with each.

      As to the link I find that one particularly galling!!! It seems zealous renewable advocates are currently feeling less comfortable in the bed THEY made, simultaneously slamming the gas sector as it dawns on them how totally reliant they are on it. The gas capacity is offline because it has no market to sell to thanks to wind, it’s that simple. These are private companies, this is not China, we can’t MAKE them do anything. We can send an appropriate price signal if we need a service from them. Ok, let’s do that then, fine…book the cost against the renewable generators’ Levelised Cost Of Electricity because now we are starting to discover what the true cost it. We would also need to realise it is the companies owning those assets who tell us how much that will cost, what their requirements are for that type of availability, and, frankly, is it even worth it to them or their shareholders to do this? They are NOT under an obligation so the price has to be right to THEM. Whether we or the government think it is fair is totally irrelevant.

      This is why I refer to small nuclear at the end of the article. Generation that is clean, reliable and provides these services all from the same megawatt installed.

      Thanks to this event is might dawn on some people that a megawatt installed of wind is simply worth less to the system than a megawatt installed of thermal.

      1. The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) in their price event reports concluded the generators were not withholding generation, rather than AEMO.

  18. I find it strange that Renew Economy thinks gas is our friend. Actually not that strange because scavenged coal mine gas gets a renewable energy (!) subsidy in Qld and NSW, one such power station I recall is at Appin. No plausible mix of solar, wind and gas can get us down towards 50 grams of CO2 per kwh like France and Ontario.

    The way to tilt coal use away from gas would be carbon pricing. It would need to be hefty if SA gas prices reverted to the $22 per GJ in July but now ~$6 according to the AEMO homepage. I think we should assume no east coast gas by 2030 or so due to depletion, LNG export and drilling restrictions. Diesendorf et al assume abundant biogas which doesn’t explain why Swedish trains haven’t got enough. The latest thinking from that side seems to be no gas no problem we’ll just use batteries.

  19. Surely the link between non renewable power and frequency generation is not exclusive. I would be surprised if not (currently) having frequency generation for asynchronous power production is the same as never being able to have frequency generation. Why, in this day and age, couldn’t other clock sources be used to aid in frequency generation in the event that there isn’t a grid supplied reference?

  20. Quite subtle nuclear shilling you got going there. As usual with nuke proponents, you ignore the massive cleanup costs.

    1. A “shill” is someone who pretends to be persuaded by the swindler or trickster and makes a visible show of buying what they are selling in an attempt to start many others do the same. Since I have been on the record of a strong supporter of nuclear technology for over five years, and you are reading the blog about just that, you can agree that I would make the worst, most useless shill in the world. Perhaps if someone here in the comments was going on an on about how much they have had a change of heart because of my writing, you might call THAT person a shill??? I’m not a shill, I’m someone who apparently disagrees with you.

      If you have a question, please ask it and I will be happy to answer.

      1. Dave – “As usual with nuke proponents, you ignore the massive cleanup costs.”

        By clean up costs I presume you mean radiation issues which are obviously of great concern to you.

        You will be therefore pleased to know that a recent United Nations report shows that of all energy sources, nuclear emits less radiation per unit of electricity than solar or wind for workers and that nuclear emits less radiation per unit of electricity collectively for everybody than coal.


        Click to access A-71-46_e_V1604696.pdf

        On page 13 it states:

        “By far the largest collective (radiation) dose to workers per unit of electricity generated was found in the solar power cycle, followed by the wind power cycle. The reason for this is that these technologies require large amounts of
        rare earth metals, and the mining of low-grade ore exposes workers to natural radionuclides during mining.”


        “The total collective (radiation) dose per unit of electricity generated in the coal cycle (i.e., the dose to the global public and all exposed workers combined) was larger than that found in the nuclear fuel cycle.”​

        Using nuclear instead of solar, wind and coal will therefore reduce radiation in our environment.

        In fact nuclear is one of the few energy technologies that responsibly collects and stores its waste.

        Most of the world’s energy producers like fossil and biofuels just dump their waste into the sky where it not only kills millions annually it will also leave an adverse climate legacy for future generations to adapt to and manage.



    2. The clean up costs from nuclear accidents are a very much a function of radiation education. There are vast
      areas of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus contaminated from the 1986 Chernobyl accident. What’s the cancer rate in Ukraine? About 50 percent lower than Australia. When a bush fire spews toxic smoke over a vast area does anybody suggest a cleanup? There’s no question that there are carcinogens and many other toxins in that smoke, but nobody
      is stupid enough to think it should be cleaned up because the risks are tiny, tiny tiny … but definitely not zero. In fact the bushfire smoke is measurably worse … it actually affects people and can kill (by exacerbating lung conditions). The kind of pollution you might get from a reactor accident won’t do that. Overall it is far more benign. But the anti-nuclear movement has been very effective in peddling panic as part of their deliberate and effective strategy to raise costs. This kind of senseless fear culminated in the deadly evacuation at Fukushima … at least 150 people died directly fleeing a trivial risk. The Japanese Prime Minister should have been put on trial for this … .an appalling error of judgement and one not mandated by IAEA guidelines.

      1. Yes.
        Another useful analysis the European epidemiological analysis published as “Electricity generation and health” in The Lancet 2007; 370: 979–90.
        It estimated that nuclear caused fewer deaths or serious illness per unit energy generated than any fossil fuel, by about two to three orders of magnitude.
        Let me say that again: the estimated public health effects of nuclear in Europe are two to three *orders of magnitude* superior than those of fossil fuels.
        Yet lay people still choose to retain fossil fuels over nuclear, supposedly on grounds of hazard and public safety.

    3. Dave, you assert that the clean-up costs are high for nuclear.
      End-of-life costs are more or less high for all forms of electrify generation.
      Rather than cherry-picking one part of lifecycle costs, why not analyse the total lifecycle cost for an energy option and then proceed on the basis of rational decision-making?
      We at least need nuclear energy to be legalised in Australia, so we can proceed with rational decision-making around our energy, environmental and public health choices.
      Throwing an insult and then focussing on one small component of economic decision-making process will never lead to a rational choice.
      Writ large across our political system, it is than sort of ideological, slogan-thinking that will take Australia into a place of energy insecurity with unconsidered public health and environmental costs.
      It exemplifies the failure of politics in modern Australia.

  21. Thanks for your post, a very helpful reflection on events.

    Energy generation now seems to be politicised to the point that a rational discussion is nearly impossible.

    For the last decade, we have had politics forcing the energy grid solution. There have been warnings from the power engineers, but the technical subtleties don’t fit the political slogans and have frankly been ignored.

    For too long, people with no competence in power engineering have thought themselves experts on the appropriate energy generation solution, and last week was the result.

    If our political process can’t even get a reliable grid operating with the availability of fossil fuel plants, it makes one despair at ever having nuclear legalised so it can be thrown into the economic mix.

    Our political discourse in Australia has been badly broken for a decade, and we will harvest the rotten fruits of that over the coming decade.


  22. The problem is the fast change during some seconds required.
    The Germans installed a few (flow) batteries to handle it.
    And didn’t have such black-out,

      1. The German grid is connected to the surrounding European grid 8 times its size.

        Also the German grid consists of 80GW of intermittent renewable energy that DUPLICATES about 80GW of firm dispatchable power generation that is required when the wind and sun is not available.

        In 2015 the capacity factor for wind was 24% and for solar it was 11% with 80GW of wind and solar capacity producing 19% of German electricity.

        In 2015 the capacity factor of German nuclear was 91% with 11GW of nuclear capacity producing 14% of German electricity.

        In 2015 German fossil fuels produced 56% of German electricity.

        This resulted in CO2 emissions of 313 million tonnes for electricity generation just 13 million tonnes less than 15 years ago.

        In 2015 German CO2 emissions intensity for electricity generation was 484g/kWh.

        Click to access Agora_Jahresauswertung_2015_Slides_web_EN.pdf

        For 2015 divide 313 million tonnes of CO2 on p41 by 647TWh on p13 gives 484gms/kWh.

        This is about 10 times greater than France which REPLACED fossil fuels with nuclear power.

        The French CO2 emissions intensity in 2015 was 44g/kWh.


        To meet the desired global CO2 emissions reduction goal sufficient to keep global temperatures to less than a 2C increase requires all countries to reduce electricity emissions to 50g/kWh or less.

        Real world data and evidence shows that dispatchable non carbon power generation sources like hydro and nuclear that can replace fossil fuels gives us our best chance of achieving this goal.

        1. France is a total different situation with easier climate and far more hydro.
          Also exhibited by the fact that France installed new laws in order decrease the share of nuclear substantially and increase renewable fast,

      2. I invite readers to refer to analysis of the addition of storage to Germany’s electricity system by Armond Cohen of the Clean Air task Force. Slides here https://www.iea.org/media/workshops/2015/esapworkshopvi/Cohen.pdf and filmed presentation, the first 21 minutes of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogeuDqCG0mY

        The bottom line is that most conventional fossil capacity must be retained up to 2050 even with as much “perfect storage” as the German grid can handle.

        1. Coal-fired power freely pollutes more radioactive waste that nuclear power, and vastly more CO2 emissions.
          It makes one wonder: what did the Germans really think they would achieve by shutting down nuclear baseload generation, and in practice choose to retain fossil fuels to 2050?
          This is the sort of distorted, evidence-free choice that harms both the environment and population health.

  23. I noticed the reference to nuclear power generation as ‘clean’.
    Obviously, the actual generation does not emit CO2. But has the emissions of CO2 in mining, transportation of resources; use of water; and storage of spent fuel in containers, more transport and running costs of storage and monitoring for centuries been factored in to compare with what is accepted as dirty, coal?

      1. Please also refer to authoritative work from the United States National Renewable Energy Laboratory on lifecycle assessment harmonisation for all energy sources, which was subsequently used by the IPCC in the most recent report.

        “Collectively, life cycle assessment literature shows that nuclear power is similar to other renewable and much lower than fossil fuel in total life cycle GHG emissions.”


        1. I read the link you supplied and could not see any reference to the CO2 emissions generated in obtaining uranium, transporting the uranium, then having to container spent fuel. transport and store and monitor the waste for decades, the last two requiring the use of electricity.
          All I could see was the enrichment process and actual processes of electricity generation, which of course are minimal due to the nature of physics. Have the actual processes before and after nuclear electricity production been factored in for CO2 emissions?

          1. The UK Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology meta-study I referred to implicitly incorporates ‘construction and maintenance; the extraction, processing and transport of fuels (if applicable); and ultimate decommissioning and disposal’.

      2. It seems you are comparing construction of solar and wind to the everyday running requirements of nuclear, and not including actual construction of nuclear plants. What carbon emissions do solar and wind make while actually operational?

      3. Further, the articles you linked to have a disclaimer for nuclear:

        ‘Limited recent data and/or original data are available in the published literature.’

        So it is unlikely to factor in: explosives, bucket diggers, mining trucks, distribution systems, rail, ships, trucks, and all the transfers between; transport after processing; carbon emitted constructing containers, transport of containers, transfer of waste into containers (not a hands on job); then transportation and storage of those containers, often more than once as few permanent sites are available.

        CO2 emissions for nuclear is not the full story.

        1. Pro Tip: Improve credibility by include a link to the article you quote out of context.

          E.g. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg3/ipcc_wg3_ar5_annex-iii.pdf page 1334:

          xiii: Nuclear: Limited recent data and/or original data are available in the published literature. More recent, (grey literature) sources provide investment cost and LCOE estimates
          that are considerably higher than the ones shown here (Brandão et al., 2012). Nuclear fuel prices (per GJ input) are based on fuel cycle costs (usually expressed per MWh
          generated), assuming a conversion efficiency of 33%. They include the front-end (Uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, and fuel fabrication) and back-end
          (spent fuel transport, storage, reprocessing, and disposal) costs of the nuclear fuel cycle (see IEA and NEA, 2010).

          I too thought the nuclear capital costs used were on the low end, and hope to find time to re-run their LCOE formula accordingly. I’ll also include weighted CCGT costs as part of an integrated LCORE (levelized cost of reliable energy) estimate for solar and wind.

          That’s monetary cost. IPCC’s actual life-cycle ghg emissions are in agreement with most other sources. World Nuclear Association — a reference picked carefully — has an informative article:


          WNA cites full life-cycle-analysis from four independent sources for nuclear, four for solar, and eight for wind. These include mining, milling, enrichment, fabrication, transport, construction, operation, decommissioning, and waste disposal. Full life cycle.

          You are welcome to research others. But anything (e.g. Storm-Smith) not in reasonable agreement with WNA and IPCC will likely be met with a certain degree of skepticism. You are welcome to run through the respective figures and/or assumptions, and ask yourself why.

          1. Edward: I was replying to Duffer70’s response to my question, and since the link was already given thought it unnecessary to duplicate.
            But yes, considering there were three links from two people, I will do so in the future.
            How was I quoting out of context, if anything the extended version highlights the underestimation put forward by the estimates. That is, I wasn’t cherry picking to suit an agenda, merely pointing out it wasn’t the full estimate.
            In all the links I was still unable to find reference to front-end transportation only back-end. Considering most uranium is transported long distances, this would be significant. While back-end is usually minimal with spent-fuel often kept in-situ in cooling ponds.

            1. Edward, you keep talking about trivial things like transporting uranium as if they were a big deal, but the amounts of uranium being transferred are tiny. Do the math.

              A large reactor uses 200 tonnes of fuel per annum … this is a really small number
              of truck loads. Compare, for example the Moree Solar Farm project … the original EIS for this 150 MW solar
              farm called for 7200 B-double truckloads of stuff coming from Sydney and Newcastle to Moree.

              How many 150MW solar farms do you need to build to match the output of a 1000 MW nuke

              1000*0.9/150*0.2=30 … so that’s 30*7200=216000 B-Double truckloads of stuff. Now that’s a big transport cost.


              1. ‘Edward, you keep talking about trivial things like transporting uranium as if they were a big deal, but the amounts of uranium being transferred are tiny.’
                I presume you are referring to my comments.
                The total fuel usage may be small, but still costs the same to transport. Is the 200 ton figure you refer to done in one shipment.

            2. @ David Litton
              My apologies, I was indeed hasty. Your specific complaint was
              “So it is unlikely to factor in: explosives, bucket diggers, mining trucks, distribution systems, rail, ships, trucks, and all the transfers between; transport after processing; carbon emitted constructing containers, transport of containers, transfer of waste into containers (not a hands on job); then transportation and storage of those containers, often more than once as few permanent sites are available.”

              Yet the portion of the IPCC AR5 WG3 footnote that you cut off, or perhaps did not fully comprehend, explicitly stated that these contributions — save for front-end fuel transport — were in fact included in life-cycle emissions analysis:
              “Nuclear fuel prices (per GJ input) are based on fuel cycle costs (usually expressed per MWh generated), assuming a conversion efficiency of 33%. They include the front-end (Uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, and fuel fabrication) and back-end (spent fuel transport, storage, reprocessing, and disposal) costs of the nuclear fuel cycle (see IEA and NEA, 2010).”

              That said, I will cheerfully concede that had I or perhaps a few dozen others on this site been tasked with that particular footnote, it would have seen some modest edits for clarity:
              1. While it is clear (to us) that the two initial sentences

              “Limited recent data and/or original data are available in the published literature. More recent, (grey literature) sources provide investment cost and LCOE estimates that are considerably higher than the ones shown here (Brandão et al., 2012).”

              might be more clear were the intervening period ‘.’ be replaced by colon ‘:’ and the following capitalized ‘More’ be lowered to ‘more’, that might not be apparent to all. Contained energy and related emissions costs are pretty much fixed by material content and refinement technologies, whereas capital costs depend not just on raw materials, but on a great deal more. So try

              “Limited recent data and/or original data are available in the published literature: more recent, (grey literature) sources provide investment cost and LCOE estimates that are considerably higher than the ones shown here…”

              Nuclear capital costs today are indeed higher, particularly here in the west.

              2. You apparently thought that front-end transportation costs were not costed. And indeed “Uranium mining and milling, conversion, enrichment, and fuel fabrication” does not state that explicitly. A commonly cited reference for energy costs is https://festkoerper-kernphysik.de/Weissbach_EROI_preprint.pdf. From sec 7.7 “The overall energy demand is dominated by the Uranium extraction and enrichment. In the future it will be dominated only by the extraction because the enrichment process has been changed from diffusion to gas centrifuge technique (well over 80% centrifuge today) while the extraction demands are rising for decades due to lower ore concentrations.”

              But your question is of front-end transportation, i.e. the cost of transporting milled and refined yellowcake from the mill (close to or co-located with the mines) and the final refining and enrichment plant. That will of course vary with distance. But a figure is easily ball-parked just from energy content:

              Methane (Natural Gas): 53 MJ/kg
              Natural Uranium in LWR: 500,000 MJ/kg

              Ratio is 9,434, but yellowcake (40% – 60% uranium by weight) is what is actually transported and if the methane were burned in a baseload CCGT it’s thermal efficiency would be about 60%, whereas LWR is about 33%. So our final useful energy ratio of yellowcake to gas is about 2,600 on a weight basis.

              2,600 is still a really big number. And while most gas is transported via pipeline from the gas field to powerplant, we still find it economically and environmentally worthwhile to liquify natural gas and ship it overseas, comparable distances as yellowcake might be shipped form mine/mill to conversion/enrichment.

              The density of yellowcake is about 9, LNG about 0.4. On a volume basis the energy ratio is about 58,400. We haven’t accounted for the energy and emissions associated with liquifying the gas, but it’s a ballpark.

              What the ballpark suggests is that the energy (hence emission) cost of yellowcake transport is negligible compared with the energy required to transport (allegedly) environmentally friendly natural gas.


              How negligible? Let’s estimate CO2 emission cost to transport yellowcake from Australia to France (15,000 km) aboard a 10,000 TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) container ship, and compare with total life-cycle emissions for a typical 1GW LWR nuclear power plant:

              * Assume the ship burns 250 tons bunker fuel per day at 24 knots, and can slot 36 200-liter yellowcake drums per container, or 7,200 liters yellowcake per twenty-foot container equivalent. https://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch8en/conc8en/fuel_consumption_containerships.html

              * Take 14 days to make the 15,000 km passage: 3500 tons fuel. That’s a lot of fuel. Ten thousand containers is a lot of containers. They wont all be yellowcake, but figure 0.35 tons (300 kg) diesel per TEU. For 7,200 liters per TEU, that’s 42 grams diesel to transport one liter yellowcake halfway ’round the globe.

              * Estimate 3 grams CO2 per gram diesel, and 4.5 kg natural uranium per liter yellowcake: that’s 28 grams CO2 emitted by transport per kg natural uranium.

              * Assume 24 tonnes 3.5% LEU fuel per GW-y light-water reactor operation, or about 180 tonnes natural uranium per GW-year before enrichment. 180 tonnes NU/GW-y * 28 grams CO2/kg NU = 5 tonnes CO2 from fuel transport per GW-y operation.

              * That’s not very much: full life-cycle emission of a 1 GW LWR is 12 tonnes CO2 each hour. There are 8,760 hours in a year. Transport emission is then 5t/8760h = 570 grams CO2 per GWh. Down by factor of 20,000. Not even in the noise.

              * Land transport is readily scaled by mode and distance. Figure diesel over-the-road truck to emit twenty times that of a ship, per ton-mile. This might (or might not) double the transport emissions cost:
              2 x negligible = still negligible.

              Again my apologies.

              1. Terrific job putting on that together Edward! It reminds me of the “food miles” campaigns doing the rounds not so long ago. When people do the maths carefully the results are always the same … it matters far more what you eat than where it comes from. The emissions involved in red meat production far exceed anything that you can generate from even the longest transportation chains …


                Analogously … uranium is so bloody energy dense that you could ship it around the world many times without using a significant amount of the energy it will subsequently deliver.

        2. David,

          Edward has given you the detail, but the easiest way to think about the CO2 from mining uranium compare it with aluminium … a well known high CO2 producer per kg. The world produces about 5 million tonnes of
          aluminium per annum and about 60,000 tonnes of uranium. So, even if you knew bugger all about the production processes, you’d be safe betting that CO2 from uranium mining isn’t going to be a show stopper.

    1. Leaving aside for the moment the excellent & authoritative life-cycle-cost studies which have been done by various parties :
      A roundabout sort of answer is provided by Bennett of AECL, when he points out that CANDU fuel assemblies (which consist mostly of natural uranium in the form of oxide) could be manufactured in Halifax, Nova Scotia, & forwarded to a power plant in Vancouver by air freight, without increasing the cost of power by more than one one-thousandth of a cent per kilowatt-hour. See document AECL-3683, which can be downloaded from the IAEA on-line library.

  24. Also noticed many people decry the fact that a whole state was blacked out. Considering the size of South Australia is relatively small compared to other states, with low demand and populations clustered along the coast: is this not the same as the whole of Melbourne blacking out?

      1. So, system wise it is worse, because Melbourne is more dense and would take just a few towers to be knocked down. Whereas South Australia, while comparable in volume is spread out over a larger distance.

  25. Thanks for the breath of rational fresh air that this site provides.

    I guess we will have to wait for the final AEMO wash-up to find out what really happened.
    I imagine there will be a lot of people tearing their hair out trying to get the analysis done in 6 months.

    Referring to the John Newlands and Duffer 70 comments on Theconversation, I became so agitated by the pro-intermittents theoretical academic histrionics of that particular site that I was driven to post a comment. Given their strict self protective censorship, I was amazed that I got on at all, let alone remained on. Perhaps they were stunned by my evil majesty, or perhaps no one has read it.

    Question on wind turbines: is there a maximum gust tolerance in addition to maximum steady wind velocity for wind turbines? Strong winds are often associated with rapid changes in strength and direction. Air flows like that can impose additional vibrations and oscillations on rotating mechanisms which increase structural loads. Also, does ice formation on the blades have similar effects? Is there a website which explains this?

    1. I have commented on the Conversation fairly regularly and am sadly seeing the site becoming increasingly biased in what comments are deleted. It does not take much complaint for a comment sympathetic to nuclear energy to be wiped, yet constant trolling, extreme misinformation and personable abuse by anti-nuclear members are given wide latitude. Even the crowd favorite Mark Diesendorf gets free kicks at personable abuse. “Mr Duffett is one of the minor pro-nuclear trolls”


  26. Life imitates art. Within a week or two of the Deepwater Horizon movie release BP cancel plans to drill in deep water in the Great Australian Bight. Way back in 1979 the movie China Syndrome gave everyone the heebie jeebies about meltdowns. A week and a half later the Three Mile Island incident occurred.

    I suspect the person most disappointed is SA energy minister Tom Koutsantonis. He gives the impression that windmills and nukular are all very well but oil and gas is ‘real’ energy.

  27. Good comment on Eltham’s piece in NM Ben. See my comment about p.13 in the AEMO renewable integration report and the fact that they let the interconnector run close to full capacity despite the risks at the time.

      1. I should have checked what was happening with Pelican Point before I wrote my piece. I think there’s a good
        case for saying that the Government should have been ordering it back on line once they knew that the storm threat was serious. If it had been running, the interconnector wouldn’t have overloaded and we would have
        had a few short rolling blackouts at most.

        1. This blackout event shows the necessity for duplicate firm capacity to be consistently available for a grid with a high penetration of intermittent renewables. Where this duplicate capacity is fossil fuel, CO2 emissions will always remain high as demonstrated by the German grid.

          The graph (Figure 5) on page 14 of this paper from the UK clearly shows that where nuclear is the firm capacity then there is no need for renewables at all and for the UK a system CO2 intensity of less than 50g/kWh could be achieved just by adding 30GW of nuclear and no additional renewables.

          Click to access ERP-Flex-Man-Full-Report.pdf

          1. So what that suggests is that with a Nuclear plant big enough to tickle along providing SA’s dwindling requirements, there would be no need for renewables, subsidies, feed-in tariffs, infrastructure price hikes, etc., and the stranglehold on SA power, currently held by the renewables industry would dissolve… Gosh, we couldn’t have that could we!?

  28. Hi Ben,

    I’m very much pro-renewable, but neutral on nuclear and usually enjoy reading your contributions. One comment on your article, you blame wind for pricing Pelican Point out of the market. So far this year, SA has been importing power from Victoria over 80% of the time. If Pelican Point chose to operate, it could have generated at least 160 MW 67% of the year to date by simply displacing imports. Not only that, it would have received a very good market price for doing so. Instead, it has only operated 20% of the year.

    It seems to me that it is cheap imports from Victoria, and the high price of gas in SA that is the primary reason for SA gas operating at very low capacity factors. Likewise, it is also a key reason why SA is currently heavily dependent of Vic imports, and why SA was left vulnerable after losing those 315 MW of wind on Sep 28.


    David Osmond

    1. Yes David, you are absolutely right. What I should have made clearer is that both the wind input AND the availability of cheap coal power from an interconnector has driven Pelican Point out of the market.

      Bear in mind, Pelican Point can’t “choose to displace imports”. It gets dispatched or it doesn’t based on the price they can bid.

      Being a very modern and pretty clean combined-cycle gas power station, their bidding price tends to be higher.

      So, they are squeezed. At one end, wind is subsidised into the market and, as this article is beginning to outline, no financial account is taken of the loss of system inertia to prevent cascading failure. At the other end, brown coal is not penalised for being filthy. Stuck in the middle is the fairly clean, but more expensive wholesale, combined-cycle gas. It’s not necessarily the high price of the actual gas at work there. That’s really relevant for the less efficient peaking gas plants. The marginal cost for Pelican Point is higher because it’s new, modern and efficient.

      In terms of sequence of events it looks like wind pushed Pelican Point out, however I take your point: it’s the whole system that delivered that result with the wind being a large part of it but not the only one.

      Thanks for commenting and I hope you keep reading.


    2. Hi David,

      I think it’s easy for a private operator to be adjudged in hindsight. But, seriously, where is the motivation to run a costly gamble? If they are operating and they are not required – they loose, if they sit on their hands and wait for the shit to hit the fan, they stand to win! I know what I would do… 😉

      The key premise of business is to respond to demand, and not to take any unnecessary risks. The onus lies with the customer to let the provider know that his services will be required, in reasonable time. And a customer will always pay a premium for a last minute or after-hours call out, be it calling a plumber on a Saturday when you thought something wasn’t right on Thursday morning, or taking your cat to the vet on Sunday when he’s been a bit sick since Wednesday night. Why should this be any different?

      Without a set of guaranteed tariffs for providing a fixed level of base-load power, why should the Pelican Point operator take a risk and run at a loss, if the customer wont commit to a guarantee of supply to make such a modus-operandi, a fair and reasonable trade off.

      Government SA cant have it both ways. They should own and operate their own base-load plants, as a key part of the renewable strategy – preferably nuclear, as it is the greenest form of energy available, bar none.

  29. Cheers Ben,

    So it seems to me that SA will be heavily importing power from Vic unless a SA generator can compete on price in the spot market with Vic Power. Even if there was far less wind power in SA, and Northern was still operating, it is likely that the interconnector would have been strongly importing, as no fossil generator in SA can currently compete with Vic power unless it is given sufficient compensation for local inertia / ancillary services.

    It seems a key question regarding SA’s blackout was why was the interconnector running so close to its limit, at the same time that it was the provider of contingency ancillary services to SA (my assumption, but otherwise why didn’t any other generator take up the load when the 315MW of wind was lost?).

    ps. not sure I agree that gas price is not so important for Pelican point. The graph here suggests a ~ $30/MWh increase in the SRMC of Pelican point for a $3.60/GJ increase in gas price.

    1. If older combined cycle plants are 40% efficient across their output range I get that the fuel cost in dollars is 9X the gas price in GJ. 1 Mwh = 3.6 GJ at 100% efficient conversion. However at 40% efficiency we need 3.6/0.4 or 2.5 (3.6) = 9X as much thermal energy to produce a Mwh of electricity. So Pelican Pt seems about right since 9 X $3.60 = $32.40.

      I see the SA gas price is nudging $8/GJ but it was $22 in July. What will it be when temps hit 40C and wind is becalmed? I know someone in Adelaide in a Federation style home that won’t use aircon for fear of bill shock. So long as they survive.

      1. Agreed, gas pricing & its influence on electricity price in SA is somewhat scary, though most people shouldn’t be exposed to the spot price.

        Hopefully enough people will install PV in Sth Australia, that spot prices should be pretty low during the day in summer. People should be encouraged to turn on their air conditioners early on in the afternoon while PV is still very productive, making sure their house is at a comfortable temperature before the sun sets.

        Within the next decade there should be enough battery storage scattered around the grid that the evening peak is taken care of.

        1. Hi David,

          Which battery technology are you thinking of?

          The biggest battery in the world makes power for 12,000 homes for 7 minutes in the case of a failure. (Canada) However, it can be used to provide base-load stability, providing there is always enough power being generated.
          Unfortunately, there are known circumstances when there will be no power generation. (Think long, hot, still Adelaide summer nights.) Batteries are dead in no time – no power.

          Some research shows that the only effective ways of storing energy is in a dam or new Molten Salt systems – touted for use with the new Solar array proposals. These systems still need Gas-fired backup and for re-start in the morning, because the Molten Salt can only continue to produce power for about 7 hours. We are back to Molten Salt Nuclear reactors, as the most common sense, greenest, cheapest, environmentally friendly solution that is available.

          We just need to get over the fear (False Evidence Appearing Real) about nuclear energy production.

          1. Hi Ceepax,

            In the next decade, I’m not talking about having enough storage for the state to get through a night without any generation. I’m just talking about enough to shave off most of the afternoon/evening summer electricity peak. Approx 2-3 GWh of storage should do the trick for that. Perhaps a couple of hundred thousand homes with a 5-10 kWh battery, plus some more at businesses and some larger batteries placed by the utilities at useful locations around the network.


            1. The cost vs life-span of a battery for the home, doubles the cost of your power; they only last for 7-10 years and it takes 20-25 years for the consumer to break even. Why would consumers buy these?
              For the same reason our state invests is renewables and nothing else – we are stupid!
              A single Nuclear plant will create the base-load coverage to compensate for the messy, up-down load swings and frequency variations that renewables deliver, and in 10 years when wind turbines are reaching end of life and we realize the true cost of decommissioning and replacing, we can just ramp up the Nuclear plant for another 70 years and be done with the false economy, and false carbon footprint of wind farming. Cynical, I know, but it has to be said – we are wasting alot of money with renewables, and the failure last week is just the tip of the iceberg. I could all but guarantee it.

            2. Hi David,

              Do you have any thoughts on how equitable tarrifs should be structured to make the fairest and most economical use of distributed stored solar supply to cover the evening peak or otherwise?

        2. Much will depend on the thermal properties of homes. I worry about the current fashion apparent at least in Adelaide for verandah-less dwellings, and where all that heat absorbed by the walls during the day ends up going at night. Hopefully those building energy efficiency star rating thingies are doing their job.

          When we lived in Darwin, we used to run the aircon *only* when we went to bed, for roughly 100-odd nights a year. You could live under fans and a bit of discomfort during the day, but a good night’s sleep is imperative to cope with the build-up. Given it’s not unknown for both daily summer maxima to be recorded after 4 pm and minima to exceed 30C, coupled with the climate forecast, I can’t see South Australian summer night time electricity demand falling significantly, early afternoon PV-driven a/c maxing out or no.

  30. Here’s the crux of the matter … p13


    “At present, when a credible separation risk is present, AEMO:
    … Limits interconnector flow at Heywood to +/- 250 MW, a value broadly aligned with the historical maximum
    contingency size within the SA power system. ”

    AEMO didn’t do this on the 28th September … despite knowing very precisely how critical that interconnector was and despite the considerable public warnings in advance about the size of the storm.

    1. Apparently the Para-Brinkworth-Davenport line wasn’t even electrified (thats the line where all the photographs near Melrose are from)


      Click info drop down for the following:
      “This project will replace all “safety valve” cross-arms, porcelain insulators and line hardware that are in poor condition along the Para to Brinkworth to Davenport 275kV transmission line to ensure its ongoing safe operation and to extend the technical life of the transmission line. Some structures will also be replaced to raise conductor clearances.
      All “safety valve” cross-arms are being replaced to maintain compliance with safety standards. All insulators will be replaced at the same time to minimise the risks associated with failure of the existing porcelain insulators that are in poor condition, and to provide a consistent age profile for all insulators on the line.
      Construction commenced in June 2015.
      Planned Energisation: September 2017″

  31. No mention of the N-word in calls to re-open the 540 MW Pt Augusta coal station
    No doubt some will say since the solar tower desalination plant at Pt Augusta is up and running it paves the way for electricity generation. That plant generates 39 MW thermal some of which goes to electricity but the operation still uses the grid 10-15%
    The link suggests it already has the Southern Hemisphere’s biggest molten salt tank. Great, but what does it cost?

    1. There is only about 8-10 years of that yucky brown coal left at Leigh Creek, so a succession plan to Nuclear MSR would have to be tabled if it was determined that the coal station was required to be re-fired. Renewables technology simply does not exist that will over come the woes of South Australia, and Australia’s power issues.
      We will be back here in 10 years if there is no transition to Nuclear on the table.
      A great opportunity for the State Government to invest public funds back into the Energy Industry, and take control of the monopolies caused by privatization.
      The biggest problem with a Nuclear plant in the mid-north will be accessing fresh water for steam generation, I would have thought? – but a similar facility must already exist with the coal plant?

      1. What’s left of Northern Power Station is within sight of the Sundrop Farms solar tower. Summer water temperatures at the top of Spencer Gulf get to 30C with elevated salinity. So not only was the canal to Lake Eyre a bad idea (salt clogging from evaporation) so I think is new seawater cooled thermal plant for that area. I’d put NPP on one of the three peninsulas with cool sea currents usually under 22C flowing past. Some said put an air cooled SMR at Olympic Dam but the coast next to major transmission would be easier. Combine it with desal and pumping for large towns like Pt Lincoln not just growing expensive tomatoes at Sundrop.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: