Report: A Cloud Drifting Over a Solar Farm Knocked Out Power for 10hrs

Unterne Solar Plant, source archived Alice Solar City Website

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t Dr. Willie Soon; an independent report blamed operator incompetence for allowing clouds to affect the solar energy supply.

NT sacks energy chiefs after report into Alice Springs system black

Giles Parkinson 9 December 2019

The Northern Territory Labor government has sacked the territory’s two most senior energy chiefs following a damming report from the market regulator into a “system black” event that hit the city of Alice Springs in October.

Tim Duignan, the CEO of Territory Generation, and Michael Thompson, the head of network operator and systems control company Power and Water Corporation were both sacked after the government received a report from the Utilities Commission into the outage, which affected 12,000 customers for between 30 minutes and 10 hours.

It seems clear that this is not a problem about technology – despite some trying to sheet the blame on the amount of rooftop solar in the local grid and the impact of passing clouds – but of corporate and energy culture. And of incompetence.

An investigating report by consultants Entura – requested by the Utilities Commission – found that staff managing the system did not anticipate the approaching cloud cover, and did not know what to do when they realised what was happening and output from the Uterne solar farm and rooftop solar panels declined.

Thermal generators failed because they had not been properly maintained, and the staff had no idea how to re-start the machinery, because procedures had not been updated since the installation of a big battery. To cap things off, there was insufficient spinning reserve and the system was unstable.

This whole debacle could have been avoided if the companies and the government had shown real leadership by listening to workers and acting on their concerns raised about the condition of Ron Goodin PS and the capabilities of Owen Springs to deliver reliable power to the Alice Springs community,” he ETU said in a statement.

Read more:

The official report is available here.

The following is a video commentary on the story;

Even if we accept the official explanation of what went wrong, one thing is clear about our renewable future; more moving parts, more chances for some idiot to mess things up.

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December 10, 2019 6:16 pm

Gosh, they couldn’t figure out ahead of time that clouds block the sun when they get a chance?

Are they really that clueless and stupid? Oh, wait — never mind!

Another fine example giving us all reasons to never have anything to do with solar energy fantasy land. Thanks for the warning!

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Sara
December 10, 2019 7:34 pm

Here in Aus, solar does work at the small end of the scale, domestic solar for water and has worked for many years without subsidy, so solar does have it’s place. Wide-scale, grid level solar, not so much.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 8:29 pm

I completely agree with solar hot water. That makes sense, instead of generating electricity with solar PV cells to run an electric hot water tank. About 10 times as inefficient and a 1000 times as expensive as passive solar. Maybe more. I have seen a lot of solar water heaters around the world, from old water tanks/barrels mounted on roofs, to the latest high tech, high efficiency vacuum solar hot water tube collectors in Costa Rica resorts.

Some real poor friends of mine on a S. Pacific island wanted a bit of hot water, and they had luke cool/warm running water from the municipal, so I went and bought a 100′ roll of black 5/8″ garden hose and just laid it up on the roof. Real crude, but it worked every day for about 7-8 hours to some degree or another. Sometimes scalding hot, so we put another shorter hose up to mix the cooler water with the hot water hose with a couple of adjustable valves so they could have showers. Now they got it coiled up in a makeshift box with a pane of old glass over it and it works real good. Real simple and relatively cheap, at least for me just buying a garden hose. They were so happy with that and then their neighbours saw how easy it was and now more people are doing it. Some renewable things do make sense.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Earthling2
December 10, 2019 9:01 pm

My neighbour did that and hooked it up to her swimming pool. She could swim in that almost all year round.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Earthling2
December 10, 2019 9:17 pm

Indeed, and even a basic setup like that works. I am sure you know, biggest energy users in the average home is cooking, space heating/cooling and water heating being the largest consumer.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 11:40 pm

OTOH my annual bill for water heating is around £160. For space heating, make that £1600

Salesman sold my late ex-father in law a solar panel system on the basis it would save half his heating bills. He deliberately left out ‘hot water alone’, £80 a year return on a £3500 investment.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 11, 2019 12:57 am

£1600 for space heating, in the UK, where do you live? I am British living in Aus.

“Salesman sold my late ex-father in law a solar panel system on the basis it would save half his heating bills. He deliberately left out ‘hot water alone’, £80 a year return on a £3500 investment.”

Yep. Seen many stories like that, in the north of England where there isn’t much sun!

Reply to  Earthling2
December 10, 2019 9:47 pm

A thermal solar collector can harvest about 70% of the total energy hitting it. PV struggles to get 20%, and that’s before you accounted for losses in voltage conversion, charge/discharge losses etc. If you want heat use thermal not PV. Sadly a fair amount of grid connected PV will inevitably end up wasted generating heat.

The best thing about PV , especially in places like NT , it that it mean anyone can go off grid with a reasonable amount of on site storage and be free of these bureaucrats and incompetent parasites running the utilities.

If the grid management got their act together they should be able to supply a large amount of the peak demand for air-con with PV, without the need to massive battery storage systems. The peak production and peak demand are the same time of day.

The Alice black-out debacle was all about bad governance and ignoring known issues and commissioned studies for a decade. Also stupid target of 50% renewables in ten years, which at the end of the day is just the ground zero impact of all the CO2 hysteria which is being pushed globally. False and distorted priorities will lead to bad descisions and outcomes.

Reply to  Greg
December 11, 2019 12:34 am

A company here in Somerset had a similar blackout when the mains electricity supply failed and no-one could remember how to start the back-up generator.
A director was sacked and from then on the generator was run up once a month.

Reply to  Greg
December 11, 2019 12:45 am

I was recently counting thermal vs EV solar water heating and currently I’m decided for EV. Yes efficiency is 20% vs. 70%, but thermal efficiency is very low during freezing temperatures. They are practically unusable 6 months per year in my conditions. EV efficiency is increasing in lower temperatures.
Other thing is that thermal collector 1.5m2 costs around 700 Euros here. While EV collector 1.5m2 280W costs 120 Euros.
So for efficiency of EV is 3.5 times lower than thermal, but price is 5.8 times lower, that means that I will get more W per Euro with EV collectors.
Next thing is that installation is much simpler with EV, installing pipelines on roof for thermal collectors is not easy, while EV with just cable under my roofing is very simple.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Greg
December 11, 2019 1:07 am

Ok, you are in the EU zone? I did state Aus, bit warmer here.

Reply to  Greg
December 11, 2019 3:55 am

Yes, I’m. Anyway I was using 6 year hand made solar collector, quite successfully. Simply few meters of pipe under glass on the roof, together with 500l boiler. I was able to spare around 50% for water heating energy.
So in your case freezing is not an issue, but other reasons to go for EV are still there.

Reply to  Greg
December 11, 2019 10:04 am

” The peak production and peak demand are the same time of day.”


They are NOT. This nonsense is constantly regurgigated, but completely wrong. Peak PV production is near noon, peak demand is in the late afternoon. Google “Duck Curve”.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  Greg
December 12, 2019 7:02 am

@ tty

Peak PV production is near noon,

Only iffen you have a flat roof (to the zenith) and your solar panels are mounted flat on said roof.

Go “whole hog” and mount “sun tracker” solar panels.

Reply to  Earthling2
December 10, 2019 11:41 pm

In South east Queensland I installed 200 meters of 13mm black micro irrigation polly pipe from my pool across my roof, 20 years ago, & a 12V solar powered 15 PSI pump to circulate the water.

My pool is a lovely temperature in winter, & the system is run for very little time in summer. The system has required almost no maintenance.

Reply to  Earthling2
December 11, 2019 6:20 am

I got by for some time using a black plastic 20litre drum left in the hot sun on the driveway, gave me more than enough hot water to mix with cold and have a decent shower etc

Reply to  Earthling2
December 11, 2019 7:11 am

I think Roy Spencer, on his website, did a detailed post on his construction of a solar water-heater.

Krudd Gillard of the Commondebt of Australia
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 11, 2019 1:10 am

that is it in a nutshell, solar has its place, but its not going to power cities.

Reply to  Krudd Gillard of the Commondebt of Australia
December 11, 2019 10:55 am

No, it won’t power cities, but if you add up the tens of millions of solar thermal installations around the world, it adds up to a sizeable chunk of energy being displaced. As others noted, thermal solar doesn’t work great in the short winter days up north, unless using the higher tech vacuum tubes that are real high efficiency. Of course, if there is not much solar insolation, it doesn’t matter much if it is high tech solar vacuum tubes, or solar PV electricity. There is little warmth in the winter Sun, especially if it is cloudy and foggy, and then there isn’t even 8 hours of daylight north of London or Vancouver for 2-3 months every winter anyway.

Passive solar energy also makes a lot of sense, which is just south facing windows and some heat mass storage like black tile/cement absorbing the heat. Thermal solar makes sense because it is relatively inexpensive and little maintenance for what you get in return for a long time. Especially as energy prices increase, passive and thermal solar will be a big benefit for both space and water heating. Much more cost effective than solar PV electricity, even without any subsidy. It is a sizeable market globally, and one we should we should really support and promote.

Reply to  Earthling2
December 12, 2019 8:50 am

We live in this zone and do passive solar heating just with windows. Have many of them east/south facing windows. The windows are the double pane good quality ones. When it’s sunny for the few hours, like today, the sun is very low and hits the windows directly thus warming that side of the house up noticeably. We heat with wood and take advantage of this and do the ash dumping out of the stove during this time. It gets cold early afternoon as sunset is at 4:30 now.

Nicholas McGinley
Reply to  Sara
December 11, 2019 1:26 am

So what happens every night?

Reply to  Nicholas McGinley
December 11, 2019 6:41 am

That’s where the thermal capacity comes in.

Reply to  Sara
December 11, 2019 3:49 am

Back in the 1970s, when Mother Earth News was published, there were all sorts of clever ways to use solar sourcing as a means of collecting heat and even powering a home ON AN INDIVIDUAL BASIS. Those worked. I can vouch for the benefits of solar heat in the winter, because I have a south-facing bay window that lets in lots of sunshine and solar heat in the winter, but only on sunny days. That cuts my heating bill just a tad.
Fast forward to now and we have the misunderstanding that doing it on an individual basis works but for the giant solar fields – not so much.
Solar stuff works on an individual basis, as long as you know how to use it. That’s the point to the passive solar home design: collect the solar heat and send it through the dwelling.
I have yet to see anything that says commercial solar plants are worth the time and cost and destruction of wildlife, and ditto for wind power. On an individual basis, yes. Commercial basis – N-O, NO!

Robert B
Reply to  Sara
December 11, 2019 10:59 am

Money would be better spent on good insulation in the ceilings and a polycarbonate roof, along with a house design like reverse brick veneer. Depends where you live but you could almost get away with zero heating in Adelaide (where you would need a design that shades it in winter).

Because the weather is not very cold in winter, a clear enclosure can get hot enough to have a Brit complaining of a heat wave. Spreading the heat around the house can warm it up quickly and store it overnight.

I live in a small double brick home that only has single glazing and roof insulation. I can spend most of the winter hardly turning on the heater or air-conditioning in summer. I just need to air the house during warmer days and cool nights during summer. Most of the walls are protected from the sun by trees and if I had room with a glazed wall filled with sun and insulation between the bricks, I could get away with no heating or air-conditioning at all.

Hot water is the instant gas heating type that costs very little to run.

December 10, 2019 6:20 pm

Clearly you need a cloud spotter shortly followed by a dust spotter but here at WUWT we know when to get in on the gravy train. So my thought is we need to offer to develop some AI for them to which will do the spotting so how many millions do you think we should quote to do the work?

Patrick MJD
Reply to  LdB
December 10, 2019 10:50 pm

Why don’t we take the NZ PM’s lead and ban everything she does not like that may affect renewables?

December 10, 2019 6:29 pm

NT, “You chose poorly.”

Reply to  _Jim
December 11, 2019 8:16 am

Then NT ages rapidly, dries up & blows away.

Rhoda R
December 10, 2019 6:30 pm

The people who SHOULD be fired (and perhaps investigated and jailed) are the idiots who approved destroying their old reliable electrical generating system and implementing a system based – essentially – on unicorn farts.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Rhoda R
December 10, 2019 7:38 pm

Those would be the politicians. The best you can hope for is to vote them out of office.

Getting rid of the top 2 folks — assuming they did know how the operation should be run — sounds a lot like how Hugo Chávez ruined the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela.
Whether or not Tim Duignan and Michael Thompson knew the business or not, I don’t know. They may have been ideological friends of someone from the political group.
Perhaps the full story will find the light, or not.

Andy Mansell
Reply to  Rhoda R
December 10, 2019 10:42 pm

That’s exactly the problem- these over educated fools never have to answer to anyone or suffer the consequences of their idiocy. ‘Skin in the Game’ is a great book which shows this clearly- basically they have no skin in the game so there’s no reason for them to be concerned about the outcome and no chance of them being sacked for incompetence so they just carry on and more of the same happens.

No one.
December 10, 2019 6:32 pm

The amount of sunlight controls everything, either indirectly, or in this case directly.

Why didn’t they treat it like a very early sunset? Paradigm shift time. Paradigm time shift?

Reply to  No one.
December 10, 2019 9:01 pm

Sunset comes, and everyone sleeps.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
December 10, 2019 6:32 pm

Jo Nova will need to update her talk How To Destroy A Perfectly Good Grid in Three Easy Steps.

Hopefully this will work:


Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 6:39 pm

They’re going to need a bigger battery.

December 10, 2019 6:44 pm

No doubt the cloud was sent by Exxon. 😉

shortus cynicus
Reply to  PaulH
December 10, 2019 10:13 pm

No, but Exxon knew that cloud was coming and they did nothing to stop it or at least warn authorities!

But seriously, the whole text reads as some dystopian report from communist country.

All this responsibilities, planning, carrying, failing, blaming and so on. I’m having a deja vu all over again.

What is missing is inventing shooting the collaborators.

Tom Abbott
December 10, 2019 6:47 pm

You say the battery failed?

Reply to  Tom Abbott
December 10, 2019 8:42 pm

Not so much failed. When the generators tripped out, the battery was unable to supply the full load demand so it too tripped out.

December 10, 2019 6:47 pm

I clearly remember the northeast blackout of 2003. I also remember the Walkerton water tragedy. How about the wildfire crap storm caused by the government of California and PG&E. And then there’s Chernobyl.

All the above can be blamed, one way or another, on operator error. Deeper than that, we have safety culture that suffers when management tries to save a few bucks by skimping in the wrong places.

A couple of people got sacked in Alice Springs. I would also look for blame higher in the food chain.

Randy Wester
Reply to  commieBob
December 10, 2019 7:18 pm

“following a damming report from the market regulator”

It’s obviously easy to hit the wrong key. Unless it was meant as a pun.

Reply to  Randy Wester
December 10, 2019 8:51 pm

Damn grammar National Socialists.

Randy Wester
Reply to  Alex
December 11, 2019 3:10 am

Damming report just in, still no dam.

Reply to  commieBob
December 11, 2019 1:23 am

“A couple of people got sacked in Alice Springs. “
No. The corporation CEOs in Darwin were sacked.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 12, 2019 6:25 am

Natural Selection?

December 10, 2019 6:49 pm

Children won’t know what clouds are or electricity or something.

Bryan A
December 10, 2019 6:52 pm

And … No moving parts and Nature/Weather WILL screw you up also

Zig Zag Wanderer
December 10, 2019 6:53 pm


I mean, a cloud. Who could have expected a cloud? They were never modelled in the climate models, so they don’t exist, Shirley?

And last time I watched Neighbours, the sky was solid blue all the time. Shirley, they don’t get clouds here in Oz?

December 10, 2019 6:57 pm

Perhaps Australia will wake up to the fact that the climate naturally changes and solar cells and windmills are not a viable alternative to fossil fuel fired generating plants. With modern power plants emissions are very close to zero for any pollutants and 99+% of the exhaust is water vapor and carbon dioxide.

Reply to  Philo
December 10, 2019 7:34 pm

Yes, especially all the brand new super critical plants China has been building, while the so-called developed countries do a death spiral investing precious resources on subsidy mining tech. The green nazis don’t care about the real efficiencies, just the political climate.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Philo
December 10, 2019 7:36 pm

Australia wake up? Yeah nah!

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 9:06 pm

They’ve been stumbling from bad to worse, and from worse to silly, and from silly to ridiculous.

No sign of common sense yet.

shortus cynicus
Reply to  Philo
December 10, 2019 10:20 pm

It is ridiculous to believe that climate can change. Only climate change deniers do that.
PS: Hey IPCC, how much did I make? Where is my money?

December 10, 2019 7:01 pm

Sounds like it could have been worse, but not by much. I bet that both of the two who were fired were receiving very nice paychecks prior to all of this. All money wasted over the years.

Reply to  goldminor
December 11, 2019 6:27 am

the temps would be in the high 30s to close to 40 or so as well, so a LOT of very peeved consumers,
I guess pine gaps got its own power supply somehow…of course.

Joel O'Bryan
December 10, 2019 7:05 pm

Idiot Leftists everywhere think that electricity simply comes from a wall socket… until it doesn’t anymore.

Then they ask “why?” and point a finger looking to blame someone else.
As my Grandmother used to say, “When you have one finger pointed out, 3 fingers are pointed back.”
Libtards need to understand that when their controlling schemes fail and they start their finger wagging blame-game.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 10, 2019 9:05 pm

Everything is free, clear, and everyone is oh so green, but rarely green. Energy when the wind blows out of range, when the sun shines below threshold, and, of course, the blight factor of Green.

December 10, 2019 7:06 pm

Backups often fail unless properly maintained and tested.

Reply to  Stevek
December 10, 2019 10:59 pm

seen that a few times over the years:

1. diesel generator at a telephone exchange , power outage and “CLICK” no start due to no maintenance on starter battery.

2. customer dutifully takes back ups for years , has issue and has to resort to back ups. Calls us in when it doesnt work. Turns out they had no viable back ups despite everything reporting OK. They never thought to ever test recovery of data.

3. company outsources email and assumes (but never specifies or contracts) level of required backups and history to be retained. Gets ugly very quickly when emails are required as part of a legal case.

4 Eyes
Reply to  yarpos
December 11, 2019 4:01 pm

And maintaining requires money which believe it or not affects the economic viability.

Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
Reply to  Stevek
December 11, 2019 4:36 am

Yes. About 10 years ago Atlanta was expecting a major winter storm. So they pre-positioned snow ploughs equipped with brine solution, put crews on alert and thought they were prepared. Then the power went out impacting several of the Department of Transportation sites where the trucks were waiting. Turns out, the trucks hadn’t been fueled and with the power out the fuel pumps didn’t work.

Reply to  Alan Watt, Climate Denialist Level 7
December 11, 2019 8:35 am

I wish I could remember where this happened, but there was an incident where emergency vehicles couldn’t respond because the garage doors were electrically powered and there was no back-up power for the garage.

December 10, 2019 7:06 pm

What do they do at night?

Reply to  Dave Burton
December 10, 2019 8:11 pm

After the battery goes dead in 27 minutes, it is lights out and bed time. At least darkness is predictable for these geniuses.

Reply to  Earthling2
December 12, 2019 9:31 am

I know you’re kidding about the bed time, but are you also kidding about the 27 minutes? That would be an enormous battery.

It’s my understanding that the world’s biggest battery is a Tesla Powerpack in in Hornsdale, South Australia (cost A$66,000,000). But it’s NOT for significant energy storage. It’s for “frequency regulation” (FCAS) and minute-by-minute electricity arbitrage, not to cover solar/wind output lapses, because its 129 MWh capacity = just 4 minutes of power usage at South Australia’s average usage rate (much less during peaks), and the battery can’t discharge that fast anyhow.

December 10, 2019 7:15 pm

From the report:

“It seems clear that this is not a problem about technology – despite some trying to sheet the blame on the amount of rooftop solar in the local grid and the impact of passing clouds – but of corporate and energy culture. And of incompetence.”

Juggling power sources is a basic task of grid management, whatever kind of power sources you have. Company management failed and was held responsible.

“more moving parts, more chances for some idiot to mess things up”
In fact, solar has few moving parts. On the other hand, from the report:
“Thermal generators failed because they had not been properly maintained…”

Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 10, 2019 7:50 pm

“More moving parts” was in reference to the system. It meant more components, especially unreliable ones.

Greg Cavanagh
Reply to  Scissor
December 10, 2019 9:09 pm

Thanks Scissor; that was really hard to figure out. Oh wait, no it wasn’t.

David Guy-Johnson
Reply to  Scissor
December 10, 2019 10:42 pm

Scissor, it was just Mr Stokes being deliberately obtuse again when attempting to defend the indefensible

Reply to  David Guy-Johnson
December 11, 2019 8:32 am

Mr Stokes being deliberately obtuse again when attempting to defend the indefensible

Reminds of the old adage — A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 10, 2019 8:45 pm

““Thermal generators failed because they had not been properly maintained…”

Why would that be? Maybe they were “encouraged”, through Govn’t policy, to not waste money on traditional thermal generators because “renewables” are the future given we are all told “renewables”, which is better and cheaper with battery backup, than thermal generators?

She’ll be right mate!

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 10:44 pm

“Why would that be?”
Somebody wasn’t doing it properly. That can happen, without the help of climate activists. Even in the NT. The management of the corporation which was supposed to do the job have been fired.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 11, 2019 1:04 am

Is that your pathetic excuse? So now “someone” wasn’t doing it “properly”? Well, someone WAS doing it properly before renewables, there is ample evidence of that.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 11, 2019 1:15 am

“So now “someone” wasn’t doing it “properly”?”
Now??? It is the conclusion of the report. Eric even highlighted it
“staff managing the system did not anticipate the approaching cloud cover, and did not know what to do “
“Thermal generators failed because they had not been properly maintained, and the staff had no idea how to re-start the machinery”
and so
“The Northern Territory Labor government has sacked the territory’s two most senior energy chiefs”

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 11, 2019 2:45 am

“Nick Stokes December 11, 2019 at 1:15 am”

That is a thermal generating problem?

Jim Gorman
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 11, 2019 6:53 am

Stokes –>
1) “Thermal generators failed because they had not been properly maintained,”
2) “staff had no idea how to re-start the machinery”

Which is it? Did they fail, or people didn’t know how to restart them?

Sounds like a cluster- “you-know-what” all the way around. Sounds very much like the attitude that says “how can we say renewables will work if we always keep enough fossil fuel systems on line to back them up”.

Reply to  Jim Gorman
December 11, 2019 7:01 am


Some of the failures sounded a lot like why it took 7 days to turn the power back on after a PSPS in CA.

Bryan A
Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 11, 2019 10:20 am

Solar doesn’t need Moving Parts to fail, Just Clouds (weather) and Night Time (more than 1/2 the 24 hour period)
And, in the case of Rooftop Installations a failure to self cool

Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 11, 2019 10:33 am

I recall back in the UK hospital emergency generators failing because they weren’t allowed to be run when not needed! Rules were later changed to allow them to be run on a routine basis to ensure that they work well.

Reply to  Nick Stokes
December 12, 2019 3:30 am

The NT government have actually learned from their mistake and now require any new renewable energy project guarantee a certain amount of power in 30 minute increments (?) when required .
Subsidy farmers are not happy because it requires them to have a certain percentage of power available at all times and the only way they can do that is with expensive generators .
On the other hand this should be the yard stick for all solar or wind projects and that’s a guarantee of supply .

Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 7:30 pm

I wander what would happen if a cloud rolled over a coal/gas/nuclear powered plant? BTW, this is a rhetorical question.

Randy Wester
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 7:32 pm

A cloud of… what? (Besides retorical questions)

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Randy Wester
December 10, 2019 9:57 pm

Same as the ones in the article that crippled the grid.

Lee L
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 10, 2019 11:58 pm

Be careful what you wonder.

I was thinking more tsunami than cloud when I read your post.

Reply to  Lee L
December 11, 2019 12:28 am

Only in Japan’s corrupt politico/industrial complex are such risks ignored.

Reply to  Lee L
December 11, 2019 8:39 am

In your world, tsunamis have the same frequency as clouds?

Komrade Kuma
December 10, 2019 7:31 pm

You nail it there Dean.

‘Climate’ science is a branch of Political Science NOT the physical sciences and in turn is part of the broad spectrum of ‘intellectual’ study known as The Arts. It is a spin off from theatre and talking in tongues.

December 10, 2019 7:34 pm

At least in California when the solar eclipse happened a few years back, the solar engineers were intelligent enough to realize that there was going to be a black out that morning for at least 4 minutes and less solar insolation while the eclipse was scaling up and back down for a few hours. That had a significant impact on the grid for that time frame, at least planning for the solar electricity deficit that would naturally occur. Of course, that was predictable for years in advance, so there would be no excuse for messing up that one. There must be something in the water in OZ for these fruit loops not to be able to plan for some cloudy weather and what to do if their power drops off due to some clouds. So much for the utility battery back-up nonsense. Must be embarrassing to admit to putting up with that level of ignorance.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Earthling2
December 10, 2019 8:35 pm

Nah, just sheer laziness.

Reply to  Earthling2
December 10, 2019 11:02 pm

NT not equal OZ, or indicative of much of anything in OZ.

Should be noted however though that this is were the Singapore Solar extension cord project dreams of being hosted.

December 10, 2019 7:41 pm

I wonder when the eco-nazis will realize that the only proper way to do solar is way above the clouds, with solar power satellites. Of course, it involves putting up with a continuously running maser rivalling the Death Star’s cannon, but that’s a small detail compared with saving the Fatherland, um, I mean the environment, of course.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 10, 2019 10:28 pm

Good link, I’ll add the information contained therein to my quiver of scepticism regarding satellites used in the collection of planetary temperatures. 🙂

Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 11, 2019 6:10 am

Don’t forget about getting rid of heat in space. You read about the broiling heat on the sun-side and freezing on the shaded side of an object in space, but in reality the only way the object can shed heat is by radiating it out. Vacuum is quite a good insulator.

If you look at pictures of the ISS you can see a large number of the radiators. Without them it wouldn’t take long for the inhabitants to cook inside. The engineering around heat transfer in satellite design is pretty complex.

Reply to  PCMan999
December 11, 2019 8:43 am

A couple of mega watts spread over a couple of square miles works out to a power density that is barely measurable.

John F. Hultquist
December 10, 2019 7:52 pm

As a point of interest, the wind-power-facilities along the Oregon/Washington (Columbia River) border have produced almost no electricity in the past week.
See the green line here:

This should change about Noon on Wednesday, but by Thursday evening it will go away again. The 36 hours will also be wet.
Hydro does the heavy lifting in the region while thermal and nuclear are smaller but steady.

December 10, 2019 7:56 pm

So the cloud got off Scot-free and wasn’t sacked? It’s not what you know but who you know nowadays.

December 10, 2019 8:06 pm

Clouds. We know less about them than Joni Mitchell.

December 10, 2019 8:21 pm

Surely the key para in the reneweconomy article is this:
‘Thermal generators failed because they had not been properly maintained, and the staff had no idea how to re-start the machinery, because procedures had not been updated since the installation of a big battery. To cap things off, there was insufficient spinning reserve and the system was unstable.’
It looks like the ‘cloud’ event was just a trigger for a cascade of issues that led to the blackout. There were multiple failures here, both machine (poor maintenance, insufficient spinning reserve) and people (lack of training, outdated procedures) related. I’m not sure what they mean by ‘Thermal generators’ – can anybody help? TEGs powered by gas, or something else?

Reply to  BoyfromTottenham
December 10, 2019 8:46 pm

Some of the generators at the Alice Springs power stations can run off either diesal or gas.

John Robertson
December 10, 2019 8:44 pm

Skimmed the report.
Rotating reserve.
3 megawatts intermittently switching in and out of the system,in seconds.
New gas turbine plant coming on line.
Old plant being taken out of service.
Battery system,feeding back in via inverter system,blocked the normal sensing system of gas generators..No droop. No generator reaction.

Classic example of solar being unfit for the purpose,if you need excess generation capacity equal to the solar output, rotating while you “use” solar,you are paying twice for the same power.
Utterly retarded.
The only “savings” are in the government issue accounting system.
The battery sourced AC interfering with the traditional signal for “More output” is just too funny.
No body anticipated this?
I am quite sure many system engineers and tradesmen pointed this flaw out and were ignored or even fired.
I advocate for the human power wheel.
Hamster wheels for human power.
ITs ecofriendly,its biodegradable,it works at night,needs no wind…

Where every politician,civil servant and Subsidy Slurper shall run until they provide electrical power equal to the taxpayer wealth they squandered on these magical free energy schemes.
Wheel of Karma?

Patrick MJD
Reply to  John Robertson
December 10, 2019 9:51 pm

“John Robertson December 10, 2019 at 8:44 pm

I advocate for the human power wheel.”

Remarkable isn’t it, Australia leading the way on renewables.

Talking of human powered appliances, already been tried;

Bryan A
Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 11, 2019 10:26 am

I count 64 people who will ALL need showers just to provide the energy needed for 1 shower

Reply to  Bryan A
December 11, 2019 12:51 pm

And what about all the laundry that will need to be done? I recall watching that episode and it was a real eye opener about how much electricity is actually required to heat water with electricity. The green slime who want to install solar PV electricity to provide electrically heated water and space heating have to be exceptionally low IQ people. Clueless and very sad that these people will actually be part of the problem who make these decisions for society while these low density renewables will do society much more harm than good.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Bryan A
December 11, 2019 7:41 pm

The interesting thing is it was an electric, on-demand/instant, water heater. Very common in the UK, I had one in my home. IIRC they are rated at about 7Kw, or something around that. For a shower it is run for 10 minutes each day, usually at peak times. I recall watching a documentary about living with EV’s in the UK and the speaker was talking about the charger installed in his home. It too, was rated at about 7Kw, which he used the shower as a comparison. Trouble is to fully charge the EV he had, an Audi IIRC, would take about 24hrs. Running 1 &Kw charger for 24hrs would costs heaps in the UK, even factoring in the over-night cheap rate.

Reply to  John Robertson
December 10, 2019 10:44 pm

yeah,but…yeah,but it was really cheap

Patrick MJD
Reply to  yarpos
December 11, 2019 1:01 am

The cost of bottled water and “energy” bars was huge though, not to mention cleaning riding jocks, tyres and chains.

Walter Horsting
December 10, 2019 8:46 pm

Weaker sun…more cosmic rays and more clouds…

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Walter Horsting
December 10, 2019 10:55 pm

…cooler world.

December 10, 2019 9:08 pm

Weather Change.

Pat Frank
December 10, 2019 9:14 pm

The culprit is government run sustainability schemes. No one in charge cares about getting it right.

If Australian power were privately owned and run to achieve a profit, the power would be on, stable, and plentiful 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Fire the government. Privatize the industry. Everything will start to hum with efficiency.

Reply to  Pat Frank
December 10, 2019 9:55 pm

In a way, these government mandated schemes are run like a very poorly managed condo. Nobody really in charge, nobody cares, nobody does anything and the volunteer directors waste their time dealing with corrupt management and/or the maintenance dept who are just there for the money. Everyone who does any type of contract work for the condo over bills, because nobody is paying attention to any detail because nobody is really in control or even really cares. Except for all the owners who have to pay for the bills every month but think they are being professionally managed by the Strata and/or the management company. It is no wonder the banks don’t really want to lend to a strata corp, because it is a form of inefficient socialism when mismanaged. Our democracies in places are turning out like really mismanaged condo corporations. Much of it is turning into a slum.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Earthling2
December 10, 2019 10:48 pm

“Earthling2 December 10, 2019 at 9:55 pm

Except for all the owners who have to pay for the bills every month but think they are being professionally managed by the Strata and/or the management company.”

I rent, so I pay those fees indirectly. I had an issue in a unit once where grey water was flooding up from the drains in to the unit from the kitchen sink. Grey water is not sewage, but it stinks. I had to call out an emergency plumber to block of the waste water pipe so no more waste water would flood in to the unit. I called the Strata (Strata just another work for layer (Of fees)) company and asked what my fees went on as it was a “strata problem”. I was told strata fees don’t pay for that maintenance. I was quick on to the property manager I paid my rent to and, eventually, got my money (AU$900) back from the Strata Management company and I was left with the clean up bill after. As you say, they are there just to collect fees.

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Earthling2
December 10, 2019 10:55 pm

They are poorly mandated, and believers can’t see it. All they see is Australia is meeting “it’s targets” on renewables and emission reductions (Which it isn’t).

Reply to  Pat Frank
December 11, 2019 6:37 am

its not only bloody privatised so all the profit goes OS but the mongrels are un accountable to the consumers and are sucking in govvy handouts like a dyson
when it was govvy run it worked better and the costs werent goldplated.

December 10, 2019 9:50 pm

Giles the writer of the original piece is a major fanboy of renewables. He would never admit any flaws in the basic technolgy approach. While saying this isnt a core problem but and implementation problem (back up power and transfer) he would probably them argue in other pieces that solar doesnt really add complexity and drives down costs

Reply to  yarpos
December 10, 2019 11:39 pm

Totally agree.
Gobsmacked that Giles quotes Monica Tan for reliable commentary on the event.
Monica is a former Greens candidate in Berowra, NSW, Communications Officer for The Greens in NSW, a qualified Arts Teacher (with qualifications in Communications, Media Arts and Communications from UTech Sydney) and author for Greenpeace.
Hardly credible qualifications to be Energy Transition Manager (even if only for Environment Centre NT)

Patrick MJD
Reply to  AndrewWA
December 11, 2019 2:41 am


December 10, 2019 9:56 pm

The schmucks that got fired are probably just clueless managers taking advice from avaricious vendors and numpty public servants. They were probably sitting back fat and happy collecting attaboys and bonuses for their great achievements only to finally be exposed to reality.

It will be interesting to know how much all this costs to rectify. Naive enthusiasm cost South Australia half a billion dollars and they still need to run generators even when they too much wind power. This should be far less but probably significant in terms of small NT budgets.

Reply to  yarpos
December 11, 2019 6:43 am

its not only bloody privatised so all the profit goes OS but the mongrels are un accountable to the consumers and are sucking in govvy handouts like a dyson
when it was govvy run it worked better and the costs werent goldplated.

Reply to  yarpos
December 11, 2019 6:47 am

and SA is now also paying mega millions to run a entire NEW line to NSW to add to what it sucks off Vic grids as well,
and if torrens island gas unit has a breakdown they have NO reserve spinning backup at all

Vic sucks in from Tassies hydro as well now theyr talking a second cable under bas strait
and warning us all of blackouts coming as they shut Hazelwood to shut the greentards up, Loy Yangs aged and also going to be shut by os owners, rather than upgraded

December 10, 2019 10:23 pm

Insufficient spinning reserve. Aaargh! The stupid, it burns..!!!

Patrick MJD
Reply to  Chaswarnertoo
December 10, 2019 10:53 pm

Australia: The smart country, leading the world in the charge to 50% renewable energy.

Reply to  Patrick MJD
December 11, 2019 9:33 am

@Patrick MJD

Australia: The smart country, leading the world in the charge to 50% renewable energy.

Ok, b’cause Germany is leading to change to 100% 😀 so the wishfull thinking 😀
Had to re-read your comment 😀

Reply to  Krishna Gans
December 11, 2019 11:25 am

Indeed, Germany is leading to rush to so-called “renewable” energy, but at horrendous cost: 40,000 lives lost in a single winter, wasted for useless Green virtue-signalling, which does no good for the Environment at all.

Here’s an article in German:

Translated to English by DeepL:

Translated to English by Google:
Google Translate: “Energy Poverty Kills 40,000”

December 10, 2019 10:39 pm

It takes time to wake up carbon generation equipment, anywhere from 3 minutes for a 2MW diesel to 30 minutes for smaller coal plants.

What they need is a gas turbine!

Steve Richards
Reply to  Prjindigo
December 11, 2019 12:46 am

On your regular cruise ship, the emergency generator has to run up and be providing power within 45 seconds, by law. They are also tested once per week.
I see no reason for utility systems providing power to many people should operate under less strict rules!

Reply to  Prjindigo
December 11, 2019 3:39 am

gas turbine start times
Small stand alone GT genset (
cold start ~ 2 mins (to 50%) ~ 5mins to 100%
hot spinning start ~ 1 min (to 40%) ~ 3mins to 100%

BIG stand alone GT genset 30-MW
cold start 15-20min

CCGT (gas turbine + steam turbine)
hot spinning start ~ 2 mins (to 30%) ~ 10mins to 100%
hot start ~ 18min
warm start ~ 30 min
cold start ~ 4-8hrs

john cooknell
December 10, 2019 11:26 pm

The most common failure mode of a VRLA Battery is an open circuit, most often caused by cell dryout. UPS systems typically have a SERIES connected battery system to provide a high current to the UPS System DC Bus. If one cell in a string opens, it will break the current in the entire string. In short, just one failed battery cell can bring down your entire infrastructure.

Ed Zuiderwijk
December 11, 2019 1:18 am

They could have tried to engage with a local Aboriginal rainman and ask him to do his dance and charm the clouds into releasing their water, thus clearing the skies. But somehow I think that the locals would either be more clever than that or charge an exhorbitant fee.

December 11, 2019 2:03 am

Well it seemed like a good idea at the time with the usual fanfare-
but you’ve heard of Black Bess now haven’t you?
“We’re not quite sure what’s happened there,” … “It shouldn’t happen …” when it actually happened but at least the whole world’s talking about batteries eh chaps?

Reply to  observa
December 12, 2019 3:12 am

Thanks observa Takeaway lines for a standup comedy.

“The system itself is similar to the South Australian battery solution – albeit smaller – and the SA project has the whole world talking.”

“The reality is that even though our solution is much smaller, it represents a greater percentage of the grid – ours is 10 per cent of the total load compared to about five per cent in SA.”

The 5MW battery energy storage solution is primarily being installed to improve generation stabilisation, and is timed to coincide with the shift from the ageing Ron Goodin Power Station to the upgraded Owen Springs Power Station.

“This Energy Storage system, along with our new machinery at Owen Springs, heralds a new era of power supply for Alice Springs,” Mr Duignan said.

“We’re replacing aged electricity generators with the latest equipment, to provide efficient and reliable power supply, drive down the cost of producing electricity and to support a transition to renewable energy.”

The Battery Energy Storage System will be used to provide improved power generation reliability for the region, by assisting by compensating the output of Territory Generation’s solar power during cloud cover events.

“There is significant expectation from industry, business and the community in Alice Springs to increase solar penetration on the grid, however without storage to smooth the solar output, there is limited opportunity to integrate further solar without impacting on grid stability,” Mr Duignan said.

“Reliability of base-load power is a major issue in Australia at the moment and these new technologies are an important step to ensuring reliability in a controlled transition to renewables.

“Ultimately it will assist in supporting the system to be able to increase the solar profile in Alice Springs.”

Territory Generation has undertaken extensive modelling of the Alice Springs grid with its new generators at Owen Springs Power Station, engaging consulting engineers Aurecon to provide the technical advisory services for the development of the project.

Covered all the bases talked about.

December 11, 2019 2:37 am

I solved this problem of intermittency of grid-connected wind power one year ago. The same solution applies to grid-connected solar power. My work here is done. 🙂

Here’s an even better solution:
1. Build your wind [or solar] power system.
2. Build your back-up system consisting of 100% equivalent capacity in gas turbine generators.
3. Using high explosives, blow your wind {or solar] power system all to hell.
4. Run your back-up gas turbine generators 24/7.
5. To save even more money, skip steps 1 and 3.

December 11, 2019 3:09 am

I don’t see it as a problem. Just have Congress legislate clouds during the day out of existence! It can still rain at night.

December 11, 2019 3:31 am

This is the sort of insanity we are seeing more and more of around the world.

A former Australian Prime Minister – Bob Hawke – once touted Australia should be ‘the clever country’.

Poor Bob… he must be turning in his grave. He actually promoted nuclear energy and the sale of Australia’s massive uranium reserves. Sadly, nuclear power never became a reality in Australia.

December 11, 2019 4:57 am

Solar power has its place.

Such place is a niche, at best. If anywhere was a viable candidate for solar power being something bigger than a niche, sun-kissed central Australia would seem to fit the bill.

But even there…

December 11, 2019 7:03 am

Runaway, renegade clouds — yet more evidence of climate breakdown.

December 11, 2019 7:13 am

A building EMERGENCY generator per code in the US must take on the required loads within 10 seconds. Those would be life safety and emergency systems like elevators and lighting. In Las Vegas, emergency systems include elevators, fire pumps, slots, point of sale equipment and casino cameras and HVAC equipment since that is where the money is. Most major casinos and other facilities have multiple generators and program for load shedding if all do not operate properly. Ex. A generator drops out and the cooling tower and chiller (very high electrical load) may shut down although the circulating pumps will continue to run to produce residual cooling.

So what is needed was load shedding to reduce the load to the available output when solar o wind do not deliver. My suggestion: Start with the houses of all green and labor elected officials, then all those who voted in the last green or labor primary (if the primary election system does not exist in OZ you need to institute it to identify the clowns), then all those who are registered to the green or labor party, then to all buildings for higher education, specifically the faculty office and administrative buildings, then all government offices for the greens and labor, then specifically to the offices of any liberal (OZ) legislators who ever voted for the global warming hooey and then the entire precincts that voted them in.

Those individuals and facilities would be required to install the smart meters that would allow that process to occur at their own expense. The determination of who this includes would be done NOW, before they have a chance to change their affiliations.

They caused the problem, they can pay the price with their own inconvenience.

Las Vegas had some brown outs for a couple of days years ago during the time of the Enron scam and associates government related stupidity. The problem was a lack of sufficient OUTSIDE power depended on by the power company. The casinos could have easily made up the deficiency by running their generators but most of them are diesel and by law are not allowed to be used for peaking power in the Las Vegas Valley due to pollution concerns (EPA regs,). Years earlier I had worked on a building being built by a major shareholder of the gas company and the generators they installed were for emergency backup and for peaking power and were powered by natural gas with diesel backup in case of gas line failure. They ran them during the summer peak cooling loads. The company spent the money because of the animosity between the gas an power companies. At that same general time the gas company got behind gas engine driven AC compressors. They were called Triathlon and manufactured by York. They used Briggs and Stratton engines. They were noisy, when they would start up the neighborhoods would sound like everyone was mowing their grass. The engines did not last as expected and they were all withdrawn by the manufacturer and replaced with electric compressors within 3 years or so.

There are large (7 and 15 ton)natural gas driven heat pump units being manufactured now that have so far a very good performance record. I looked into the 7 ton unit for a 4300 sq ft house in Las Vegas but the initial cost was too high since it was a retrofit. It would take 10 years or so to recoup the costs. It would have been cost break even within 3 to 4 years for a new built house. You could zone out the building to easily isolate unused areas increasing the efficiency. The only problem would be that system, being a heat pump, was either heat or cool at any time. The City of Las Vegas installed them on several fire stations and they were very effective and efficient and saved substantially on utility bills. The motors were built specifically for natural gas temperatures and were very easy to maintain.

Steve Z
December 11, 2019 7:46 am

If a cloud could cause a 10-hour failure, what would happen if it rained? Would rain water short out the system?

Maybe they need to tear down this system and rebuild it on the moon. No need to worry about clouds, just a slight problem transmitting the power to Australia.

December 11, 2019 8:40 am

December 11, 2019 9:58 am

“found that staff managing the system did not anticipate the approaching cloud cover, and did not know what to do when they realised what was happening and output from the Uterne solar farm and rooftop solar panels declined.

Thermal generators failed because they had not been properly maintained, and the staff had no idea how to re-start the machinery, because procedures had not been updated since the installation of a big battery. To cap things off, there was insufficient spinning reserve and the system was unstable.”

A) Don’t they have this reduced sunlight problem every day?
B) Surely, they have much more frequent clouds than they make out?

Leaving me to wonder why the urgency to blame their staff for one cloud?

“the staff had no idea how to re-start the machinery, because procedures had not been updated since the installation of a big battery.”

Someone had to design the battery for this facility?

Or did some fool just buy the biggest battery they could afford, without buying the engineer resources to detail installation and all procedures surrounding the battery?

It appears the persons who should be fired are at higher levels than this facilities “staff”.

son of mulder
December 11, 2019 10:16 am

I thought there was gas fired backup for no sun/no wind situations. Clearly not.

Joe H
December 11, 2019 10:27 am

Speaking as a CAGW skeptic, electric utility engineer with significant career experience in renewables let me add my tuppence worth to this discussion as it seems to be a big skeptic group hug where one demonstrates how skeptical they are by how much they hate renewables.

Power system failures have always happened and are not new. Work I’m doing currently in a West African nation has frequent system blackouts (sometimes 5+ per month) but has no renewables whatsoever. Yes, it isn’t a well-performing system but in fairness to them it is small and the statistics are all against you in that situation.

The ‘problem’ of solar PV output drops (up to 90%) due to a passing cloud is well known in the industry and has been studied. To address this phenomenon, in the technical conditions of connection the system operator will specify a maximum ramp rate (typically 10% per minute) and the solar owner will have to ensure they meet that (typically 50% of output size is required as short term storage i.e 40MW solar PV would require 20MW energy storage with about 4MWh energy storage – a few mins storage).

It sounds like this is a fairly small isolated system so its performance wouldn’t be as good as we’re used to in large systems such as US, UK etc. The failure here was specifically the failure to maintain properly the thermal generators and for that failure the senior managers got their just desserts.

A large system (Ireland 6GW) today frequently has up to 70% of load supplied by renewables plus DC interconnectors. We have had no major blackout to date. The issues are being properly studied and dealth with.

Paul Penrose
December 11, 2019 11:12 am

I’m sure if they just keep firing people, they will get the system to run smoothly and reliably.

Philip in New Zealand
December 11, 2019 1:22 pm

I have looked for sunshine hours for Alice Springs but have been unable to find them as it is not a state capital. From BOM maps it gets more sun that other cities in Australia with only north west Western Australia getting more sun. Alice Springs appears to be the ideal site for solar, no hydro, isolated from the main grid, very high sunshine hours, hot temperatures so high demand for air conditioning during the day although it does get cold winter nights. If solar can’t be made to work for Alice you have to wonder if it will work anywhere.

Reply to  Philip in New Zealand
December 12, 2019 3:42 am

Solar does work well in Alice Springs , my under powered and aged portable unit on the camper trailer struggled down south but worked so well around Alice I put off buying another regulator .
Then I got over to the west coast and it turned to crap again .
The generators for Alice Springs are gas fired .

December 11, 2019 2:33 pm

I had to laugh at the official report. It reminded me of ones I used to see in nuclear power – especially from poor performing stations.

“The operator failed to anticipate…[insert some condition] and taken prompt action”

Of course nuclear power plants, like power grids, are multi billion dollar, complex systems with state of the art process control systems to take human anticipation out of the equation

Mark Matis
December 14, 2019 5:33 am

Saint Greta says this is exactly what you deserve!

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