SA blackout blows wind farms into court

From The Advertiser

Tim Dornin, Australian Associated Press

August 7, 2019 2:27am

The Australian Energy Regular will take four South Australian wind farm operators to court accusing them of failing to perform properly during SA’s statewide blackout in 2016.

The action in the Federal Court will allege AGL Energy Ltd, Neoen SA, Pacific Hydro Ltd and Tilt Renewables all breached the National Electricity Rules.

“The AER has brought these proceedings to send a strong signal to all energy businesses about the importance of compliance with performance standards to promote system security and reliability” chair Paula Conboy said.

“These alleged failures contributed to the black system event, and meant that Australian Energy Market Operator was not fully informed when responding to system-wide failure.”

The allegations relate to the performance of wind farms during the severe weather event that swept across SA in September 2016 and which ultimately triggered the statewide power outage.

The storms damaged more than 20 towers in the state’s mid-north, bringing down major transmission lines and causing a knock-on effect across the state’s energy grid.

About 850,000 customers lost power, with some in the state’s north and on the Eyre Peninsula left without electricity for several days.

A report from AEMO released about a month later found nine of 13 wind farms online at the time of the blackout switched off when the transmission lines came down.

It found the inability of the wind farms to ride through those disturbances was the result of safety settings that forced them to disconnect or reduce output.

The blackout also sparked a war of words between supporters of renewable power and those who blamed SA’s high reliance on wind and solar generation as a contributing factor.

That included an infamous confrontation between former Premier Jay Weatherill and then Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg at a media conference in Adelaide, with Mr Weatherill lashing the coalition’s “anti-South Australian stance” as a disgrace.

Current Energy Minister Angus Taylor said it was important for the regulator to enforce market rules.

“We need to have reliable power in this country … and that means all generators need to perform,” he said.

In its action, the AER alleges each of the wind farm operators failed to ensure that their plant and associated facilities complied with their generator performance standard requirement to ride-through certain disturbances.

It also alleges that the wind farm operators failed to provide automatic protection systems to enable them to ride-through voltage disturbances to ensure continuity of supply, in contravention of the National Electricity Rules.

The AER is seeking declarations, penalties, compliance program orders and costs.

The blackout also sparked a war of words between supporters of renewable power and those who blamed SA’s high reliance on wind and solar generation as a contributing factor.

That included an infamous confrontation between former Premier Jay Weatherill and then Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg at a media conference in Adelaide, with Mr Weatherill lashing the coalition’s “anti-South Australian stance” as a disgrace.

Current Energy Minister Angus Taylor said it was important for the regulator to enforce market rules.

“We need to have reliable power in this country … and that means all generators need to perform,” he said.

In its action, the AER alleges each of the wind farm operators failed to ensure that their plant and associated facilities complied with their generator performance standard requirement to ride-through certain disturbances.

It also alleges that the wind farm operators failed to provide automatic protection systems to enable them to ride-through voltage disturbances to ensure continuity of supply, in contravention of the National Electricity Rules.

The AER is seeking declarations, penalties, compliance program orders and costs.

Full story here.

HT/ozspeaksup

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87 thoughts on “SA blackout blows wind farms into court

    • should be interesting to see this argued out in court.

      “These alleged failures contributed to the black system event, and meant that Australian Energy Market Operator was not fully informed when responding to system-wide failure.”

      Sounds like at attempt at passing the buck. It was not the wind farms themselves which failed but transmission lines. Then the whole network was unstable because there was not enough spare production to take up the shortfall and there was a cascade of protective disconnections. The regulator allowed politically motivated zealotry to dictate an unstable balance of power on the grid. It is now trying to pass the can to the individual producers because it was “not fully informed” about something when it was too late anyway.

  1. TWIMC……
    “The blackout also sparked a war of words between supporters of renewable power and those who blamed SA’s high reliance on wind and solar generation as a contributing factor.
    That included an infamous confrontation between former Premier Jay Weatherill and then Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg at a media conference in Adelaide, with Mr Weatherill lashing the coalition’s “anti-South Australian stance” as a disgrace.
    Current Energy Minister Angus Taylor said it was important for the regulator to enforce market rules.
    “We need to have reliable power in this country … and that means all generators need to perform,” he said.
    In its action, the AER alleges each of the wind farm operators failed to ensure that their plant and associated facilities complied with their generator performance standard requirement to ride-through certain disturbances.
    It also alleges that the wind farm operators failed to provide automatic protection systems to enable them to ride-through voltage disturbances to ensure continuity of supply, in contravention of the National Electricity Rules.
    The AER is seeking declarations, penalties, compliance program orders and costs.”

    This entire section is entered twice…

    • I noticed that, too. They seem to have hired the proofreader from our local paper. I quit reading it , years ago, because it gave me a headache. Repeated paragraphs or sentences, sentences with no ending, sentences out of order, etc.

  2. Ya gotta love government bureaucrats. First they get panicked into transforming the used-to-be-dependable system with lots of goofy not-even-close-to economical, let alone dependable but magical stuff (windmills in this case), then they go beat up the clowns providing the magical “renewable energy”.

    The solution is to flog the bureaucrats & go back to the previously dependable system.

    • Public floggings of bureaucrats would be a big step in the right direction. They would really have some skin in the game then.

  3. What do you have when you’ve got six lawyers buried up to their necks in sand?
    not enough sand.

    The judge said to his dentist: Pull my tooth,the whole tooth,and nothing but the tooth.

  4. A song for the infamous blackout-to John Brown’s Body-

    South Australian Labor they had a fancy plan
    Blow up power stations to appease the climate scam
    When the wind it blows too hard
    The power it goes down
    They’re crashing to the ground

    Windmills for South Australia
    Windmills for South Australia
    Windmills for South Australia
    They’re crashing to the ground.

  5. If he loss of 20 turbines is sufficient to bring down an entire grid, those in charge of grid energy supply sourcing are far more culpable for allowing sourcing availability to become so scant that 40-50 Mw worth of generation loss without potential back-up sourcing could disrupt their grid for days. Not to mention having wind turbine towers in close enough proximity to transmission towers that when a turbine tower failed and fell, as they do and did, it was sufficiently close enough to take down transmission towers. Poor design!!!

    • Shouldn’t the transmission lines from the turbines be underground with a good size easement or boundary rule, say ~300m from the nearest turbine before any above ground TL are placed. It is not just a falling turbine tower but it seems to me you need to add in some distance to account for the momentum of the spinning blades that will turn into flying shrapnel.

      OR

      just ban wind turbines and build some NG or nuclear power plants.

        • @tty

          The report is also irrelevant but thank you for the link I did not have this available to me.

          My heart only bleeds so much and rarely for self-inflicted wounds.

          On some levels I feel bad that this is happened to the people of SA. However, I am going to take a tough love approach and say unequivocally that people of Australia made its own bed. It got what it deserved by electing and choosing the politicians that it chose. It chose to spill its own milk by not keeping or maintaining base load production or possibly even erecting wind turbines in the first place. Wind turbines were/are a new addition to the grid in a great many places and whether it becomes the norm remains to be seen, however, with the new and different way the production of this electricity interfaces and is added to the grid may require that conventional electricity generating facilities remain intact and online until more of the edge case failure modes are known.

          I chalk this mostly up to a learning experience. The system will improve due to this event. Middle school finger pointing maturity serves no purpose in the analytical problem solving paradigm and only serves to make people defensive.

          • Why do you find the report irrelevant? It clearly states that the transmission tower failure did not cut off the windfarms from the grid.

            They were distribution lines to outer regions and it was the voltage/frequency fluctuation from the short circuits and subsequent isolation protection (when they fell) that tripped some of the windfarms and caused the remaining windfarms to also trip.

    • It was the sudden loss of 456 MW from windfarms that closed down unnecessarily that caused the blackout.

      That said, in a conventionally powered grid there would probably have been enough swing mass to at least limit the blackout. With mostly asynchronous (=zero swing mass) wind turbines there really wasn’t time for anything at all before frequency loss became critical and the whole grid came down.

      We’ll probably see a lot more of this in the future.

  6. The government itself should be sued. This suit will fail. “All renewables” for supply is a government gross negligence case. Whichever gets litigated it will be a huge black eye for the totes. If it’s government, they will have to build reliable dispatchable base load. If the Quixote companies, then there is only one defence: “an all renewables” plan is unsustainable. Weatherhill should be sued for gross negligence as well.

  7. In my country, where they have a significant generation from wind , they have agreements with the major electricity users to install equipment in their plant to shed industrial load when the frequency drops below a certain point. Reduces the need for widespread blackouts. But wind isnt the backbone, thats hydro electric which is spread in various places in the grid and that is the key to maintain the frequency from dropping too far. South Australia has zero hydro and they closed the major thermal plants near the population centre and thought relying on long distance AC transmission from thermal plants interstate would be a good idea .

    • Would not have worked in this particular case. With such a large proportion of asynchronous (=wind) generation there wasn’t enough swing mass (=time) in the system to do anything once the wind farms cut out.

      The only thing that could have helped would have been a much larger-capacity interconnection to the Victorian grid.

      Tesla’s big battery would have helped some, since it can react instantaneously, but it is almost certainly not big enough (100 MW) to stop a repeat performance on its own.

    • I doubt wind viability will be on trial at all. Both the govt and wind farms will keep this to whether regulations were met or not. Both sides have incentive not to come anywhere near whether wind makes for a reliable load or not or even economical sense at all.

  8. The envirowhacos really believe that their dream “Distributed Generation” is the answer.
    The only reason wind has worked so far is that the amount of unreliable has been low and below the point that theses issues are demonstrated in real life. The Grid and the spinning reserves – “Fossil Power Plants” have protected them. With high amounts of renewables the “Fossil Power Plants” are shutdown and torn down. That results in no spinning reserves large enough to pick up the loss of 20 or more Wind Turbines. Musks “Largest Battery Backup is only a band-aid. It will happen again even if every wind farm has on.
    Get Used to it!

    • Which is why something like the NEG will eventually come in. That will put the onus back on renewable suppliers to have a set level of dispatchable generation. They can install batteries or buy it from other sources but each supplier must meet the requirement. It levels the playing field so renewable generators can’t just generate when they feel like it or the conditions are optimal for them to make money directly or via subsidies.

  9. In its action, the AER alleges each of the wind farm operators failed to ensure that their plant and associated facilities complied with their generator performance standard requirement to ride-through certain disturbances.

    So, crap happened on the grid and safety systems took some windmills off line. AER alleges that shouldn’t have happened. Have I got that right?

    • commieBob August 11, 2019 at 4:45 pm
      It seems that the safety systems were never properly set. I am guessing but I think that the safety cutoffs were still at the factory default settings, and those settings were on the low side.
      If they had been set within the required range for the wind speeds they would not have shut down.

      Sudden power loss can play merry heck with heavy machinery, notably CNC. whenever it would occur at one of the shops I worked for we would be running about hitting E-stops and flipping breakers.
      Not a good thing.

      michael

    • Basically correct, as a grid supplier they have a set of regulations there installation is required to meet and it didn’t … hence they are liable for a damages claim. It’s an enforcement to remind all generators that they have obligations under as part of there grid supplier status.

    • commieBob – Their generator performance standard required them to ride-through certain disturbances. They failed to do that. The requirement was presumably part of their agreed contract, so they can be sued for the failure. In short, yes you are right, but the essential part (if I have got it right) is that what happened but shouldn’t have happened was covered in the operator’s contract.

      I hope the court sees it that way. Will the operator be able to sue the government (state or federal) for trying to make them do the impossible? I doubt it, because the bottom (legal) line is that the operator signed the contract.

      It’s tempting to think that the government (state or federal) is getting off scott free (no pun intended) but that’s not quite the case. Thank goodness, we Australians live in a democracy. Both Jay Wetherall (SA state premier) and Malcolm Turnbull (federal prime minister) have gone and the people have elected other leaders. You could argue that the general public have already made their judgement.

    • Partly. The safety systems were improperly set and contrary to the operators’ contractual obligations, which is the basis of the court action.

  10. Today in SA we have the farce of a large bank of diesel generators to use as “”Back up “” for the intermittent generation from the renewable. . These diesels are owned by the State Government.

    Now diesel to a Green is almost as bad as that dreadful stuff coal. And diesel also produces the CO2, plus lots of other real nasties.

    But to a Greenie the most important thing is to “”Believe” that is what its all about .Its their “”Faith”” and they seem unable to function without it.

    In regard to the cause of he big Black out, the figures clearly show that
    what started as a minor breakdown in the North of the State, was then made far worse by the main renewable shutting down in the South.

    The pictures of the fallen transmission towers was used by the likes of our broadcaster the ABC, as the reason for the whole problem. Now its obvious from the photos that these are not the usual design of the big towers used for years, but””El Cheapo’s “” because the windmills are very far from the needed users orf electricity, so building proper towers would be a big expense to the owners of the renewables.

    The question now is will this Court case force the renewable owners to include their own Back up power or big batteries at their expense, or as in the past to pass on such costs to us the users. We must remember that no cost is too much if we want to “”Save the Planet””.

    Just don’t ask China to do the same.

    MJE VK5ELL

    • Today in SA we have a farce of diesel generators …

      I’ve heard of a gaggle of geese and a riot of crows but I’ve never heard of a farce of generators. OK, maybe I misread it. On the other hand …

      • It’s an incorrect usage of the collective, that’s for sure. The correct usage is: “a farce of green policies”.

    • Yeah that is every taxpayers objection why is the government having to prop up renewable generation. As per above we need something like the NEG.

  11. This highlights the foolishness of intermittent power from wind or solar to grids which are said to be extremely vulnerable and in need of beefing up security. No amount of security can compensate for a power source that requires back-up well over 50% of the time.

  12. South Australia was also getting power via an interconnector to Victoria State from it’s coal fired power generators.

    When the wind systems shut down the demand on the interconnector was increased to overload so it switched off thus SA lost it’s only synchronous feed which caused the whole system to crash.

    The problem with wind and solar is they are non-synchronous and need a strong 50Hz source such as a coal or gas fired generator to lock to.

    • John Sayers: Exactly! Most folk simply do not understand that it is impossible to build a reliable large scale power network using only wind and solar generation, because of the lack of a synchronous (i.e. a stable 50Hz) source for each wind and solar generator to lock onto. The absolute need for this voltage, frequency and phase sychronisation is a difficult concept to communicate to a non-technical person (I know, I have had to do this at times). They assume that you just throw a switch and hey presto the wind turbine or solar array is connected to ‘the grid’. If only it was that simple! But ignorance of the underlying science on which our electricity network depends is now so widespread that merely pointing it out simply makes a lot of folk annoyed. Maybe the federal Energy Minister’s job would be made much easier if he had made and broadcast a documentary that explained all this. (And then maybe he could make another one explaining about the ‘hidden tax, and subsidy’ LRET scheme that sucks $billions every year out of the pockets of ordinary households and gives it to the operators of wind and solar generators.)

      • You don’t understand how librul progressive science works. They just need more time and grants to disprove that old fuddy duddy axiom of engineering that you can’t build a reliable system from unreliable componentry. Well that and 9 diesel generators that can consume 80,000 litres an hour of refined fossil fuels of course. Ceteris paribus and all that old chap as you have to hold something equal while playing around with the variables.

      • John Sayers August 11, 2019 at 5:23 pm
        The problem with wind and solar is they are non-synchronous and need a strong 50Hz source such as a coal or gas fired generator to lock to.
        ——————–
        No, you are wrong – there are crystal oscillators that could be used as the frequency reference. But these do no good when the AC from the wind energy convertor needs to be in phase with the failing grid frequency. This will be perhaps a few % below nominal frequency making a crystal reference totally useless. All generators must sync to the lower grid frequency under fault conditions and WECs are no different.
        Some WECs can ride through faults on the grid. These generate DC and use electronics to control power/frequency and phase to connect to the grid. Obviously these can have a frequency reference which could be used in the case of a black grid. BUT they still need to match the frequency and phase of what’s left of the grid.
        an example of grid interconnection with electronics:
        https://www.enercon.de/fileadmin/Redakteur/Medien-Portal/broschueren/pdf/EC_Netztechnologie_en_web.pdf

    • The problem with wind and solar is they are non-synchronous and need a strong 50Hz source such as a coal or gas fired generator to lock to.

      That is one of the problems with wind and solar but not the cause of the blackout. The windfarms tripped on disturbances introduced into the grid from the fallen towers but the 50Hz source was strong enough for them to remain sync’d if their safety settings hadn’t been set so conservatively. With sufficient frequency fluctuation, synchronous generators will be tripped as well (which is what happened after the Heywood interconnector overloaded). In theory, the SA windfarms are no longer non-compliant with AER ride through requirements as their trip settings have been upgraded. Whether they are or not remains to be seen.

      In theory, windfarms can also contribute to grid stability during disturbances with synthetic inertia circuitry but I do not believe any of the turbines in Australia are equipped with this.

      The bigger issue (but which was not involved in the case of the blackout) is the unpredictable intermittency of solar and wind leading directly to generation shortfalls. This was the issue behind the recent UK partial blackout and the Victorian (Australia) partial blackout back in January.

  13. “The AER has brought these proceedings to send a strong signal to all energy businesses about the importance of compliance with performance standards to promote system security and reliability”

    In other words, hire a team of witch doctors to command how and when the winds will blow.

  14. Expanding i bit on BoyfromTottenham’s excellent comment.

    Most folk simply do not understand that it is impossible to build a reliable large scale power network using only wind and solar generation, because of the lack of a synchronous (i.e. a stable 50Hz) source for each wind and solar generator to lock onto.

    The asynchronous generator also use about 20% current 90° phase shifted from voltage (blind effect). Although, ideally this current is not using power, it will influence the dimension of all wires to the synchronized generators. This “blind effect” of about 20% also sets a limit to how little the percent of synchronous generation you can have in the grid.
    On Youtube you can have a laugh looking at folks playing with the use of asynchronous motors as stand alone generators with capacitors to supply the “blind effect”.

    • No power station thermal/wind/solar can sensibly supply a grid with no voltage with in phase supply because there is nothing to be in phase with!

      Having said that some wind energy convertors and all solar grid connectors use electronics to generate the grid frequency from DC. These derive a reference signal from the grid to enable synchronisation. OBVIOUSLY this reference could come from a built in source if the grid is black. BUT how can the black grid be connected – it would simply short the power from the WEC or solar cell electronics.
      This gives a few details of what is possible
      https://www.enercon.de/fileadmin/Redakteur/Medien-Portal/broschueren/pdf/EC_Netztechnologie_en_web.pdf

  15. Weatherill was well named. Storm damage to electricity transmission infrastructure. Ill weather. Kangaroo Island did not lose its supply, as the Kangaroo Island power station had been built to supply the island for the contingency of a failure in the power cable under the Backstairs Passage.

    Odd fact. Like most Oceanic parts of South Australia, Backstairs Passage is named after a part of a courtroom.

  16. Chris Kenny on the silence of the lambs in Oz with their looming problem-
    https://www.skynews.com.au/details/_6071783068001
    After Chris Uhlmann at Aunty (ABC) told it like it was with the SA blackout you knew he couldn’t last with the climate changers and true believers in unreliables. All we got from Aunty was an appalling anecdotal puff piece of dooming weather events on Sunday night euphemistically called Climate Change: The Facts. If I mentioned it contained Attenborough, Mann, Oreskes, Hansen and more you would get the picture along with the promo-

    “Using dramatic user-generated content and emotional first-hand accounts, this documentary delivers testimonies to global warming simply and strikingly. Intimate stories get inside the lives of the people affected by changing climates, and those fighting it.”

    “This is the story of a human race approaching environmental catastrophe. And how we can prevent it.”

    http://about.abc.net.au/media-room/abc-to-air-climate-change-the-facts-presented-by-sir-david-attenborough/

    Goebbels would approve.

  17. This story beautifully illustrates the problem with arguing about CAGW and renewables.

    The blackout was due to technical and operational weaknesses in wind power, some of them inherent, some of them due to greed and incompetence by the operators, both of the wind farms and the grid.

    What actually happened has been thoroughly analyzed and published:

    https://www.aemo.com.au/-/media/Files/Electricity/NEM/Market_Notices_and_Events/Power_System_Incident_Reports/2017/Integrated-Final-Report-SA-Black-System-28-September-2016.pdf

    There is some waffle there, to try and paper over the inavoidable weaknesses of wind power, but otherwise it is a thorough and technically competent report.

    And virtually nobody here or anywhere else seems to have read and understood it (Jo Nova excepted, as usual).

    If you have the basis for this lawsuit is crystal clear, a number of wind farm operators (not all!) have, through extreme incompetence/negligence, failed to configure their wind turbines in accordance with their contractual obligations and thereby caused the state-wide blackout.

    Unfortunately to understand what happened and why requires a modicum of technical knowledge and understanding, which the judges and lawyers almost certainly lack.

  18. By the way those “customers … in the state’s north and on the Eyre Peninsula left without electricity for several days” would not have been any better off if the wind farms had been correctly set. They were the ones directly affected by the blown-down transmission lines.

    But there would not have been any blackout in the rest of SA with correctly set wind turbines.

    • I disagree. While the individual windfarms were fluctuating wildly, their individual output was not significant enough to cause the disturbances that led to their eventual tripping which then resulted in the generation shortfall which then overloaded the Heywood interconnector which THEN caused the thermal generators to finally trip and blackout South Australia.

      It is all beautifully laid out in the AEMO report that tty has linked.

      On the other hand, the partial blackouts in Victoria last January and in the UK last Friday WERE caused by the intermittent output as they produced large generation shortfalls that require large scale load shedding. Demand management with large percentage of intermittent generation MUST involve urban blackouts as there are insufficient industrial and other loads that can be shed and thermal generators CANNOT ramp quickly enough in these instances.

      As for batteries saving the day, the greentards really need to do the math (and probably need to learn the math) to see why this is not a realistic solution.

  19. May I offer a simple solution . For every lost day of power the politicians lose a months pay .
    You know an alignment of interest .
    They can weigh out whether the corporate donations and contracts to pals is worth it .

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