back to article 18 seconds that blacked out South Australia

In spite of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) putting South Australia's blackout down to fallen 275 kV transmission towers, the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has doubled down on the stupid notion that renewables made the blackout. One of his comments is plain silly: saying that in electricity grid priorities, “the …

  1. FozzyBear Silver badge
    WTF?

    Since when has a politicians lack of knowledge, intelligence or even rational thought stopped them voicing their ridiculous thoughts or ideas on the national or global stage.

    It's the only "profession" where, from what I've seen, even a spark of intelligence is a hindrance. Unless you count the senior managers at my company of curse.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge
      Pint

      Unless you count the senior managers at my company of curse.

      Typo of the week!

  2. Pompous Git Silver badge

    Everywhere else on the planet

    An imminent strong wind is a signal to commence powering down the wind turbines to prevent destabilisation of the grid. Not to mention destruction of the turbines. They automatically cut out at a windspeed of 100 km/hr.

    Premier Jay Weatherill refuted the claims wind farms could not operate if the wind was too strong, which he said was confirmed by the technical operator in its report.

    Story here: ‘Multiple faults’ led to huge South Australian blackout, preliminary report

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Everywhere else on the planet

      Renewables fanboys (pun intended) always miss the flaws in their chosen technology.

      The AEMO's investigation continues, and one part of it is to ask why the wind farms throttled back in the final 10 seconds and 1 second of the emergency.

      Probably the ~140km/h winds blowing just as a guess.

      "It wasn't the renewables it was the towers". If the towers were still upright and working the ~8-900 MW of wind power being used before the rolling shutdowns would likely have had the same effect. The blushes were just spared by the wires falling down. There's an interesting chart showing the surge across the interconnector as the wind farms start shutting down, taking the demand from ~500 to nearly 900 MW. Don't let those facts slow down your march to renewable oblivion though.

      The fact that SA flat pricing for Q1 2017 is $40/MWh above the nearest priced state should tell you all you need to know about how viable their little section of the grid is. SA $126, QLD $88, VIC $57

      Make it in VIC for $57/MWh and sell it to SA for $126. Bargain.

  3. Pompous Git Silver badge

    The AEMO report says

    there was no local [frequency ancillary control services] requirement pre-event, as there was no credible risk of separation of SA from the national electricity market.

    "The operator knew a storm was brewing and took a punt that the line to Victoria would stay up, keeping South Australia's frequency in harmony." ABC political editor Chris Uhlmann.

  4. TReko

    Thanks

    Good, sane reporting from Vulture South. Thank you!

    1. mathew42
      Unhappy

      Re: Thanks

      As the other posters have commented the article is biased. The problems with renewable energy generation need to be acknowledged so that engineering solutions can be developed.

      The alternative is to expect that the grid will be of 3rd world standard and watch as the rich install backup power generators.

      1. MrDamage

        Re: Thanks

        > "The problems with renewable energy generation need to be acknowledged so that engineering solutions can be developed."

        You mean like how the problems with fossil fuel energy generation (environmental damage, pollution and the subsequent knock on effects) have been acknowledged, solutions engineered, but conservative governments, bibles bashers, and shills are doing their damndest to prevent any of these solutions becoming viable?

        1. mathew42
          Facepalm

          Re: Thanks

          I mean that the current implementation of renweables in SA is not resiliant in the way that most in the first world would expect. Ignoring the issue will mean that the appropriate technology and policies are not put in place to ensure the network is stable. Acknowledging the issue will mean that technologies for energy storage can be prioritised for investment. In the short term, policy decisions such as ensure that Pelican Island power station running (or at least hot start) when a severe thunderstorm is imminent.

          Comments like your's remind me the conversation around FTTP where the concept with good but issues with implementation were glossed over and the result was MTM. Will comments like your's mean that the stability challenges caused by renewables continue until the problems are so frequent that the public demand the government re-open coal power stations?

        2. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: Thanks

          You mean like how the problems with fossil fuel energy generation (environmental damage, pollution and the subsequent knock on effects) have been acknowledged, solutions engineered, but conservative governments, bibles bashers, and shills are doing their damndest to prevent any of these solutions becoming viable?

          Not very effectively it would seem.

      2. Dr Stephen Jones
        Facepalm

        Re: Thanks

        Of course it is biased - the author is a renewable energy fanboy.

        He has omitted any evidence that might put the wind operators at fault for the blackout. (Eg, they failed to turn off the turbines.) Fortunately we can read all this in the comments.

    2. Wilt McCracken

      Re: Thanks

      Totally agree.

      Thank God for El Reg; the only media outlet I've seen thus far to actually call out the PM, even tangentially, as being stupid.

      If other outlets can stop buying the whole "Turnbull is a towering intellectual" rubbish, and start applying an El Reg level of scrutiny to his other decisions, Australia might just make some progress.

  5. -tim
    Facepalm

    What redundancy?

    The Aussie gird has nearly no proper redundancy at all except for a few links between coal plants and Melbourne. The Eastern coast power (and comms and rail and road) infrastructure has a number of areas where there are choke points which can be taken out by storms.

    The VIC/NSW grid has been very close to shutting down several times before. There have been cases where there was only one plant running in Vic which was fortunate because many of the power plants must have an external plant running to sync and start up again.

    The Tassy grid was recently supplemented by 200 large diesel generators because they only put down one cable to Victoria and it broke.

    The grid does have some issues with renewables since they tend to be attached at odd points on the grid. Some of the large wind farms in Vic are tacked on the end of lines far away from the major lines at extreme ends of the state and I know of one large solar farm that hasn't happened because its location in the north of the state would have destabilized the grid interconnect.

    1. StephenH

      Re: What redundancy?

      Unfortunately, the location of those "dangerous to health" and "ugly" wind farms, is not always determined by engineering considerations.

    2. Tannin

      Re: What redundancy?

      An absurd inability to plan proper redundant systems seems to be an area of genuiine Aussie expertise.

      You remind me of the notorious 20-day gas supply failure for the entire state of Victoria in 1998, which was all caused by the failure of a single oil.pump, which led to a fire at the Number 1 gas plant.

      No problem there, right? The system planners had intelligently built three independent gas plants, any one of which could (at a pinch) supply the whole state. They had also decided that it would be cheaper and easier to build all three independent gas plants side-by-side on the same block of land.

      Result: when #1 Plant blew up, it took out #2 Plant and #3 Plant as well, and the entire state ground to a halt for three weeks. No heating, no hot water, no cooking, and in many cases no job to go to even if you could cook breakfast and get clean enough for it.

      (And yep, I can't possibly lock myself out of the house. I have two spare keys. 100% safe. Look - there they are - right here on my keyring.)

    3. Paul 129

      Re: What redundancy?

      The Tassy grid was recently supplemented by 200 large diesel generators because they only put down one cable to Victoria and it broke.

      AND

      They had run their dams down to critical levels, maximizing profit (making the most of the carbon tax whist it lasted, and letting the dams run dry), when there were signs of stress on their inter connector, cause if the rains didn't come they could rely on that (oppsie)

      Some of the stuff coming out makes it look as if the SA interconnect was regularly asked to operate above designed levels. Politicians and reporters jumping in early and getting it wrong is no real surprise, and your all still doing it.

      Wait for the full report, and recommendations before blowing your foot off.

      Handled well by Mr Turbull? No. You expect better from a PM.

      He looks plain stupid as a result.

      Then again its hard not to look stupid, with todays political reporting the way it is, they love taking things out of context and trying you to fall for backing up any completely off the cuff statements.

      SNAFU

      The positive outcome is that NOW people may actually look at the problem, rather than playing politics.

      Perhaps....

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: What redundancy?

        Politicians and reporters jumping in early and getting it wrong is no real surprise

        I thought the ABC's political editor Chris Uhlmann summarised the situation well. I must admit to being pleasantly surprised.

      2. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: What redundancy?

        The Tassy grid was recently supplemented by 200 large diesel generators because they only put down one cable to Victoria and it broke.

        Had there been no cable across Bass Strait the 200 large diesel generators would not have been necessary! This is a point not lost on ever so many Tasmanians who also resent being labelled "dirty polluters" because we are now deemed to consume electrickery generated by burning brown coal in Victoria.

        Basslink was sold to us on the basis it would make our electrickery supply more reliable. It did the exact opposite. Politicians' promises are like that.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    conspiracy theory

    fossil fuel and nuclear based grid creates the wind we all (including wind farms) need to live our normal lives. So f.. off greenies

  7. Steven Roper

    That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

    What I'm seeing from looking at that timeline table and your previous comment about the Victorian interconnector spiking to 860 MW when it was rated for 600 is a very definite correlation between wind turbine output and the overload.

    The timeline shows that 123 MW dropped from the Mid-North wind farms 7 seconds prior, then 1 second prior Hornsdale dropped by 86 MW and Snowtown dropped 106 MW.

    So, by 1 second before the blackout, the renewable energy system had dropped 315 MW from the grid. So that's 315 MW the grid now had to make up by drawing on the one remaining interconnector. Since this interconnector could only sustain 600 MW, and shut down because it tried to draw 860 MW, had the wind farms been able to maintain supply the draw in the internconnector would have been 860 - 315 = 545 MW, which is within the interconnector's tolerance.

    Ergo, the inability of the renewable energy system to operate in the severe conditions was a directly contributing factor to the outage. The power went out because there was no generation system in place to supply base load when the wind farms shut down, so the shortfall was drawn over the interconnector, which shut down in response. This means while the 275 kV lines going down meant the main interconnector was the only remaining backup, had the wind farms been able to continue operating that interconnector would not have overloaded.

    Finally, your article is full of ad-hominem attacks on Turnbull and Xenophon and just comes across as the kind of dogmatic shaming tactics characteristic of ideologues in general. Hurling words like "stupid", "silly", "dopey", "idiot-in-search-of-a-village" isn't a valid argument, it's an appeal to emotion. It doesn't add credibility to your position.

    Granted, renewable energy might not have been the entire cause of the failure, but excessive reliance on it was a contributing factor, and if we ignore that possibility then this is going to occur again. I'm not saying renewable power is rubbish, in fact it is a step in the right direction. I'm just saying, we have to acknowledge that it does have flaws and put in place systems to compensate for those flaws, and blind ideological adherence to Green dogma and abusive dismissal of anyone who dares to question it isn't going to help anyone.

    1. Dagg

      Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

      No it doesn't, how many MW was lost when the three 275 kV distributors dropped out. That would have caused more of a pull from victoria than any wind farm drop down.

      The direct contributing factor was the loss of the distributors... not the wind farms.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

        The direct contributing factor was the loss of the distributors... not the wind farms.

        And those ageing transmission towers that were obviously in need of replacement and/or refurbishment back in 2009 weren't. I seem to recall Julia Gillard saying that spending on infrastructure (transmission) was "gold-plating" and a complete waste of money.

        The AEMO warned the SA government and made constructive suggestions for necessary change years ago. The "direct contributing factor" was political posturing. When are you going to learn? They are all wankers!

    2. Adam 1 Silver badge

      Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

      Let me counter your analysis with a simple question.

      Do you think that 2 wind farms that are 100Km apart would switch off within 0.05 of a second of each other because they independently judged the wind speed too strong?

      Or is it just possible that they both went into a controlled shutdown after some safety system noticed something very bad about the grid they were feeding as indicated in the article?

      1. Steven Roper

        Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

        "Do you think that 2 wind farms that are 100Km apart would switch off within 0.05 of a second of each other because they independently judged the wind speed too strong?"

        Your analysis is certainly a possibility.

        But there is also this one: I was monitoring the weather on the Himawari-8 satellite feed before the power went down. That storm front was huge: easily two thousand kilometres long, north to south. So it's also feasible that the wind farm shutdowns were directed from a central C&C in advance of the predicted high winds along that entire frontage.

    3. mtnrbq78

      Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

      Hmmm, not quite.

      Your sentence "the power went out because there was no generation system in place to supply base load when the wind farms shut down, ..." should really be "the power went out because there was no generation system online to supply sufficient power to avoid tripping the interconnect ".

      Are you contending that if the wind farms had not been built, and new or existing power stations had been in their place the blackout wouldn't have occurred?

      1. mathew42
        Facepalm

        Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

        Energy consumption in South Australia (and Australia generally) has been trending downward.

        It is well acknowledged that renewable energy in the form of many small generators is significantly harder to manage. If the Port Augusta power station had still been in operation then it is likely that large parts of the state would have remained with power. If Pelican Island had been in operation, then it is likely that large parts of Adelaide would have continued to have power.

        Let me be clear, my issue is not with renewables. My issue is a failure of regulators and ultimately politicians to address the potential instability of the grid caused by renewables. My second issue is fanbois who attempt to deny that renewables were the cause. Reality tends to involve lots of messy greyness, rather than black & white.

      2. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

        Are you contending that if the wind farms had not been built, and new or existing power stations had been in their place the blackout wouldn't have occurred?

        There was sufficient generating capacity in place to have prevented the statewide blackout. If there had been a sensible plan and had that plan been implemented, then most of the state could have retained power. It would seem obvious that money spent on that would have been far more effective than building over-priced, over-subsidised windplant.

        I note that some talking heads have called this event "unprecedented", but that's utter tosh. In 2012 India experienced the largest electrical outage in history affecting 670 million people (about 9% of the world’s population). In 2008 winter storms resulted in a nearly two-week blackout for 4.6 million people around the central Chinese city of Chenzhou. Xinhua News Agency said 11 electricians died while working to restore power, and the storm's death toll exceeded 60.

      3. Dagg

        Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

        Are you contending that if the wind farms had not been built, and new or existing power stations had been in their place the blackout wouldn't have occurred?

        It doesn't matter how many new power stations that SA had if the feeders dropped out and disconnected them from the grid. It is not normal practice to place a coal fired power station in the middle of the city, it would be placed closest to the coal fields. Say at the end of a 275 kV feeder...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: That table actually tells us why Turnbull is right

      While I agree with your final sentence, I think Turnbull's folly was to demonise renewable's without acknowledging the other factors involved.

      Also, from the pictures of the towers I saw on the news, I would say that they were lite weight for a such a critical feed.

      So really, it was an accident waiting to happen, and with proper engineering this could have been avoided, but probably for reasons of cost, SA did not build a fully meshed grid so ended up with single points of failure.

      .

  8. Big-nosed Pengie

    Another triumph of privatisation.

  9. mathew42
    Unhappy

    SA Energy Minister wrote to Energy Market Commission about Blackout Risk

    Intermittent renewables definitely played a roll in both causing the blackout and the length of the blackount. The SA Energy Minister wrote to the Energy Market Commission on July 12 expressing concerns that a blackout could occur if there was insufficient synchronous generation.

    The reliance on renewables also means that SA pays the highest prices in the country for electricity. When renewable generation is insufficient, expensive gas turbines are run to generate power. When renewables generate an excess, this flows to the national grid and reduces prices on the eastern seaboard.

    SA urgently needs to look at options for storage of power, but the easy options like hydro are challenging in the driest state on the driest continent in the world. Alternatively adding more connections to the national grid to increase redundancy would help.

    Renewable energy: Tom Koutsantonis July letter said solar, wind uptake in SA makes electricity security 'complex' from which I quote:

    In an article for the Australian Financial Review, Industry Minister Greg Hunt said, "The South Australian Government's conscious policy to drive baseload energy out of the system meant the system collapsed further and faster than it would otherwise have done and recovered far more slowly than it should have".

    Mr Koutsantonis's letter acknowledged renewables had forced conventional generators out of a market that could not operate without them, because their "synchronous" energy was still needed to ensure power system security.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RET plan

    As far as I can see from the news coverage this week, SA has a renewable energy target plan which goes something like this:

    Close down reliable forms of power generation

    Build a shedload of renewables to meet our politically set target

    Realise that baseload generation is now bolloxed by intermittent renewables

    Import the shortfall from another state.

    Give themselves a big pat on the back for being green, by outsourcing their baseload dirty power generation to another state.

    What happens once VIC/WA/NSW also follow this route? I heard on the news that VIC has an even bigger, legally enforcable RET on their statute books. Where is the baseload going to come from?

    Why is nuclear power not even considered in Oz, considering the amount of Uranium we dig up?

    Of course, I am used to shitty power here in the top end of the NT where we only have one power station that occasionally runs out of gas.

    1. Dagg
      Thumb Down

      Re: RET plan

      Why is nuclear power not even considered in Oz, considering the amount of Uranium we dig up?

      Because it costs considerable amounts of money to build and run nuclear power stations. Australia may have the ore but it has nothing to turn it into fuel for a reactor.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: RET plan

        It shouldn't be beyond Australia to be able to enrich the ore to fuel if required. This would be a small cost compared to building a power station in the first place. We must be getting fuel from somewhere for the Lucas Heights reactor. Worst case, just buy enriched fuel from somewhere else.

        Alternatively, build a reactor such as a CANDU or Magnox that doesn't require enriched fuel.

        There should at least be a high level discussion of nuclear power to see if it can provide a useful contribution to Australias power needs, but it just seems to be a taboo subject and is completely off the table.

    2. Oengus
      Mushroom

      Re: RET plan

      Why is nuclear power not even considered in Oz, considering the amount of Uranium we dig up?

      A number of us have asked exactly the same question. The answer we always come up with is because it would be political suicide. If a politician were to suggest this they would be shot down by the FUD sprouting groups that have entrenched economic investments in other power sources. Our politicians aren't interested in what is good for the country. All they want is to be reelected and anything that has a time frame past the next election is too visionary for them to grasp. If you look into the history of Nuclear Power in Australia you will find that a site was set aside (and is still set aside) for the location of our first Nuclear Power plant. A change of Government meant that the plans were shelved.

      The creation of a nuclear power industry could provide jobs and investment in the processing of the uranium that we ship out. The setting up of a Nuclear Waste storage/disposal site could provide long term income for the country. The reprocessing of the waste could provide more opportunities. All it takes is some political backbone (that our politicians are famous for a lack of) and investment.

      It will take a few more disasters like the one that hit SA before people start to realise that over dependence on "renewables" make us vulnerable.

      1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

        Re: RET plan

        I have a feeling that the creation of a nuclear energy industry from scratch here would be a boondoggle of proportions as yet unseen in this country.

    3. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: RET plan

      > Why is nuclear power not even considered in Oz

      If Dick Smith is right and the federal government are lying to us (again) and the French nuclear subs that we will order off the plan with a small tweak to convert them to diesel electric propulsion are really going to be nuclear then this may open the way for further debates on nuclear power in Oz. Indonesia is also planning nukes which, once they are on our doorstep, could open debates here.

      However, throwing away 90% of a rare and non-renewable energy source that then needs to be stored for 10's of thousands of years at great public expense seems like a crazy way to generate power. The building, decommissioning and nuclear fuel cycle is also very dirty and generates lots of greenhouse gasses to the point where you might as well burn coal or preferably gas. We need a better option that the current crop of civilian electricity generating reactors before we should count on public acceptance. We also need much greater trust in our business leaders and body politic before we should entertain nuclear reactors in our backyards (eg Lucas Heights gas leaks). Figuring out how to store energy from renewables might be a more productive use of our time.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: RET plan

        The CO2 emissions from a Coal vs Nuclear powerstation over their lifetimes are orders of magnitude in difference. Don't forget, you have to build and decommission a coal fired power station too. Even if processing nuclear fuel produces CO2 you are only looking at a few tonnes a year as opposed to hundreds of thousands of tonnes of coal per year.

        This chart shows overall lifecycle emissions for most common forms of power generation:

        http://www.world-nuclear.org/nuclear-basics/greenhouse-gas-emissions-avoided.aspx

        In addition, burning coal pumps radioative particles into the atmosphere:

        https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste/

        We are not in any danger of running out of Uranium any time soon. It would make sense to use this as an interim step for low CO2 baseload generation until a better option comes along (renewables with efficient storage, thorium reactors, depleted uranium reactors, fusion, whatever).

  11. Pompous Git Silver badge

    the stupid notion that renewables made the blackout.

    The fact that the managing authority seems to have decided to limit wind generated power in to the grid as a short term risk mitigation action is informative.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Working wind turbines won't help...

    ...if the transmission towers are down...

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Working wind turbines won't help...

      ...if the transmission towers are down...

      Quoting from the Report:

      The weather resulted in multiple transmission system faults. In the short time between 16:16 and 16:18, system faults included the loss of three major 275 kV transmission lines north of Adelaide.

      Generation initially rode through the faults, but at 16:18, following an extensive number of faults in a

      short period, 315 MW of wind generation disconnected (one group at 16:18:09, a second group at

      16:18:15), also affecting the region north of Adelaide.

      The uncontrolled reduction in generation resulted in increased flow on the main Victorian interconnector (Heywood) to make up the deficit.

      The implication here is that had the backup gas generation plant been fired up and the wind plant been gracefully powered down rather than allowed to fail, the state could have been islanded. The blackout would have been confined to the north of the state.

      1. Tannin

        Re: Working wind turbines won't help...

        This is not the case, Pompous Git.

        The Snowtown wind farms in the north of the state started reducing output (shutting down individual turbines, one by one) because of the extreme wind force well before the blackout and had already restarted by the time the towers blew over. Snowtown started reducing output at 3:50pm. Wind speed there peaked at 3:58pm. Shortly after 4, Snowtown was back in business and ramping up towards full power.

        The outage did not began until 4:18.

        When wind farms shut down, they do so on an individul, tower by tower basis. An entire wind farm doesn't suddenly shut off in an instant, still less two completely different ones a long way apart.

        The outage itself was, given the tornadoes that took the towers down, pretty much inevitable.

        The real mystery is (a) why it took so long to get restarted, and (b) why much of the state's gas generation capacity was left idle right through the main part of the outage. (SA has enough gas generation, remember, to power the whole state without any help from South Australian wind, Victorian coal, Tasmanian hydro, or solar. The reason gas generation doesn't operate all the time, of course, is that it costs more than wind, solar, coal or hydro. They switch gas plants off when they don't expect to want the power.

        The questions we need to be asking are (a) why, given the known extreme weather on the way, was there no extra capacity on standby? And (b) why was it that two different large South Australian gas generators, both supposedly black-start-capable, were unable to restart in a timely manner and get the lights back on?

        (As a matter of background, it is normal for most power stations to require power to enable start-up. They need to do things like run cooling pumps and control electronics before they can start generating. It is also normal for a power network to have two or three designated "black start" generators, any one of which can provide its own start-up power and thus be the first one back online, this enabling the other (non-black-start capable) stations to start up in their turn. The designated South Australian black start stations failed, and the outage went on for many hours as a result.)

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: Working wind turbines won't help...

          @ Tannin

          You would appear to be contradicting Jay Weatherill's claims that the wind farms were not shut down because it wasn't necessary. You would also appear to be agreeing with me when you state "why, given the known extreme weather on the way, was there no extra capacity on standby?"

          You also state "And (b) why was it that two different large South Australian gas generators, both supposedly black-start-capable, were unable to restart in a timely manner and get the lights back on?" It would appear that SRAS1 start-up failed due to a software issue. I believe that both SRAS1 and SRAS2 are gas generators that take ~2 hr for a cold start. If the software glitch wasn't discovered until toward the end of start-up that would explain the initial delay.

          I note that SRAS2 had been damaged by the storm and so was unavailable for the restart.

          The ABC's Chris Uhlmann reported "At 6:36pm the operator was advised that the gas-fired turbines at Pelican Point could be ready in four hours." I would assume that this was because the generator is of an older design than SRAS1 and SRAS2.

          We would both appear to question why this generator wasn't running before the storm (so to speak).

          It would be nice to be able to write: "All will be revealed in the fullness of time", but I suspect there will be a lot of arse-covering.

          1. Dagg
            Coffee/keyboard

            Re: Working wind turbines won't help...

            It would appear that SRAS1 start-up failed due to a software issue

            Haha M$ strikes again! DEATH BY BSOD.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Working wind turbines won't help...

              ... BSOD?

              More likely than a BSOD, and possibly the cause of the phase destabilisation event across the entire SA grid, was that s7otbxdx.dll started up when SRAS1 was triggered. There were a few Win 3.1 & XP boxen used to run Siemens WinCC (SCADA controllers) that hadn't been patched, scanned or just as likely, tested for a while, and were still connected to some old Simatic PLCs that had been used by mistake back in 2005. For the first time in a long time, Stuxnet code ran a C&C communication sequence that ended up executing- and caused an incorrect 2-1410Hz frequency oscillation on the startup supplies. As this was not 50Hz, the everything stayed tits up.

              Or something else equally crap, like a network device offline or a cable unplugged.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Working wind turbines won't help...

        "...the state could have been islanded."

        Without carefully looking at the report and sequence of events including current flow and protective relay operations I can't comment on exact details but those who are pro-wind and letting their politics decide their interpretation are ignoring the role of generation when major transmission connections are lost.

        Even without a connection to the larger grid conventional generation continues to operate resulting in "islands" of power waiting to be reconnected.

        That doesn't happen with many renewables because they need to be connected to a grid that is already stable and loaded. As mentioned systems with high levels of wind generation are not as stable, something Wind supporters continue to discount or dismiss. One result is the inability of Wind to supply local power when needed.

        Wind can be an excellent and stable source of power for individual sites. Using batteries, and other storage methods, removes the grid instability issues. Wind then operates islanded which keeps the power on until the conditions it was designed for are exceeded, conditions decided by the individual choosing Wind. That also helps the grid as it reduces load and the need for future expensive grid upgrades.

        The article seems very bias to me, in part because of the carefully edited information supplied. The report linked to raises many issues that seem to implicate Wind power in the larger failure. The Summary points out that is was the disconnection (the failure) of Wind generation that resulted in the SA regional electricity market being suspended.

        This appears to be is a classic Wind problem, not stable. A storm comes through and Wind generation is lost when Natural Gas or conventional generation was not. Conventional generation was still available, if the Wind site was instead Natural Gas (or Nuclear) SA regional electricity market would not have been suspended.

        But even if it had, for other reasons, the area would have been islanded reducing the impact of the incident.

        The incident was predictable, even predicted. Wind technology as it is today is not as stable, only politics decides otherwise. Doesn't mean it isn't worth it but that's a separate discussion.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    AEMO warned it would happen.

    if the transmission lines to Victoria were cut at a time when there was little or no synchronous generation in South Australia then, "the potential consequence is a state-wide power outage with severe economic and possible health and safety impacts".

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-10-04/electricity-security-complex-in-sa-says-koutsantonis/7899302

  14. Pompous Git Silver badge

    Upon rereading the article...

    One of his comments is plain silly: saying that in electricity grid priorities, “the number one has to be keep the lights on”.

    You're wrong, Prime Minister.

    Any engineer will tell you: the number one priority in an emergency is that you can recover, that you can return to normal without weeks or months of work. That you don't blow up generators to stop ice-cream melting.

    These remarks are far more stupid than the PM's. Richard Chirgwin appears to be equating hospitals and other essential services with ice cream. A careful second reading of Uhlmann's article, the AEMO Preliminary Report and ever so many less authoritative sources indicate that nobody has advocated "blowing up generators to stop ice cream from melting". Many have pointed to failure to plan and adequately respond to the situation, and keep as many of the lights on as possible.

    Mr Chirgwin, you have made a dickhead of yourself.

    For the record, The Git has done as much several times in his life. He is after all (rumoured to be) human...

    1. Cpt Blue Bear

      Re: Upon rereading the article...

      "For the record, The Git has done as much several times in his life. He is after all (rumoured to be) human..."

      And you have done it again here, mate.

      The reality is that critical infrastructure cannot rely only on grid power. That would be totally irresponsible. Hospitals et al have backup power precisely because they are more important than icecream*

      Uhlmann blew what credibility he ever had by being the first out of the blocks to blame it all on wind farms and then getting huffy on twitter when called out for it

      * Flinders Hospital lost a bunch of frozen stuff 'cause their backup genny fell over with a dodgy fuel pump. Or maybe the mouse escaped from the wheel, I forget.

      1. Pompous Git Silver badge

        Re: Upon rereading the article...

        The backup generator wouldn't have been necessary if off-line generator capacity had been fired up ahead of the storm. Why do you not quote the section of Uhlmann's report where you claim he "blame(s) it all on windfarms"? The closest I can find is "the state's heavy reliance on wind generation might have made its grid more vulnerable to a blackout". That doesn't sound very much like a blanket condemnation to me.

        It's not the first time that a hospital's backup generator failed during a blackout. Ever so many years ago my mother was on the operating table for a curette when the lights went out. When the lights failed to come back on, the surgeon said: "Ah well, we were working in the dark on this anyway".

        1. Cpt Blue Bear

          Re: Upon rereading the article...

          "The backup generator wouldn't have been necessary if off-line generator capacity had been fired up ahead of the storm."

          But in reality it was necessary. If you are running critical services in a responsible manner you don't work on the assumption that everyone downstream of you is perfect.

          Thanks for the anecdote but all it does is confirm my prejudice that hospital administrators don't do their jobs very well. Amusing but not really relevant. I have lived and worked in places where the power goes off on a regular basis so we developed strategies and procedures to cope. I'm including summers in Adelaide a short time ago in that* when the interconnector to Victoria would apparently overheat and shut down.

          Either way, we are talking about a once-in-fifty-years storm. I was here for it and media panic aside we coped fine. I note that nobody mentions that SA has had major blackouts after much less violent storms (meaning 8 hours+) several times in the last decade. The only reason this event was more than a one day news story is the current political situation in the country.

          * My own amusing anecdote: The GF was working in emergency services at the time and would regularly ring to let us know that there was a rolling blackout scheduled ando we would lose power that afternoon so how about I knock off early and head over to her place. Strangest booty calls I've ever received...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Richard got it right!

    Would all you non-technical people (plus the climate change change deniers, AND the green enegy zealots) please stop talking uninformed rubbish and go away. The electricity supply network is very large, and system stability is a black art. I know an old engineer from the ElCom days who told me that in the 80s if three or four transmission lines runnning next to one another near Sydney were taken out by some disaster (e.g. plane crash - but irrelevant) then it was likely that the NSW network would have gone unstable, and that's with NO loss of (nearly 100% coal) generation or load. That's because all the generators have to remain in synchronism - and that's tricky when components are hundreds of kilometres apart. Even though electricity travels at the speed of light the delays from one end of NSW to the other are very significant compared to a couple of degrees phase difference at 50 Hz. So the rapid sequence of faults and loss of transmission lines in the SA case meant a network outage was a near certainty.

    Some unconfirmed information I have indicates that Richard's guess about the reason for some wind generation dropping off near the end of the "event" was spot on - the wind farm protection systems apparently operated as designed, because they detected a sequence of frequency and voltage swings.

    Instead of wasting time arguing about wind power versus gas/coal/nuclear/blah blah the big question we should be asking is why so many transmission towers (22 or 23?) blew over. Very rarely happens in other states - even Queensland which regularly gets cyclones. Is SA skimping on maintenance? The pollies won't go there because it might raise embarrassing questions about privatisation and government oversight.

    1. Pompous Git Silver badge

      Re: Richard got it right!

      Would all you non-technical people (plus the climate change change deniers, AND the green enegy zealots) please stop talking uninformed rubbish and go away... Even though electricity travels at the speed of light

      Pot, kettle, black. Electricity does not "travel at the speed of light". Electron flow is very, very slow being of the order of mm per hour. Worse (for you) there is no net flow when the electricity is alternating current as in this case. Net flow is 0 mm per hour.

      While electromagnetic waves travel at the speed of light, they travel through copper at ~0.65c if memory serves. But EM waves are not electricity.

      The problem for the SA grid posed by wind power is well known. Wind power is non-dispatchable, while thermal generation is dispatchable. A grid with 30% dispatchables (solar is also non-dispatchable) is on the edge of stability. SA claims to "rely" on 43% non-dispatchable energy. You cannot rely on that much dispatchable energy.

      This is not an argument "against" non-dispatchable energy, but an acknowledgement of how much can be tolerated. AEMO have decided to limit wind generated power in to the grid as a risk mitigation strategy. I somehow doubt that they are "climate change change deniers, [or] green enegy [sic] zealots".

      The fact remains that the Pelican Point generator could have been fired up in plenty of time to prevent the grid going black. Much of the state would have been spared. Similar situations have occurred elsewhere.

      Yes, grid management is a black art, but then SA grid management appears to know next to nothing of risk management, an art they might well consider learning. It is telling that AMEO warned them of the risk quite some time ago.

      1. Rob Diamond

        Re: Richard got it right!

        My my, Pompous Git - with such pedantry you'd *have* to be a barrister! If I'd used "EM waves" instead of "electricity" most people reading would not have understood. And the practical difference between "EM waves" travelling at 3*10^8 m/sec and 2*10^8 m/sec escapes me - the delays are still significant. But I guess you just wanted to show how knowledgable you are :)

        BTW, I do agree that having too much "unreliable" generation, be it wind or solar, is a recipe for grid instability, and there are certainly lessons to be learned from this about grid management and black-start capability. Maybe the protection algorithms used by some of the wind farms need to be reviewed. Maybe next time some backup generation should be fired up when really bad weather is forecast.

        But please OH PLEASE tell me why you're ignoring the FACT of 22 transmission towers blowing over. My own view is that the system disturbances caused by so many trips to lockout in quick sucession were the primary cause of the system black. Read the AEMO preliminary report and you'll see that the frequency sag was so quick that the automated under-frequency load shedding wasn't able to shed load fast enough to save the network. So to think that a big thermal power station at no load could ramp up to full power in time is laughable. But a big running power station might have been handy to get the network back up again.

  16. curmudgeon9

    El Reg needs to do some primary school arithmetic ... from the article it takes 6 seconds to start an emergency generator (presumably of limited capacity).

    So the lines fall over - bad luck for the people at the end but the system stayed up.

    -7s three wind farms drop out -123MW

    -0.9s two wind farms drop out -192MW

    -0.5s interconnect hits 850MW (built for 600MW) and

    -0.2s interconnect cuts out

    So in 6.5s 315MW of wind power drops out and the interconnect overloads by 250MW and cuts ...

    I.e. in the minimum time window there is a drop of 315MW of wind generated power, and the interconnector that until that time had been balancing with about 65MW spare capacity surges to 250MW over design and cuts out.

    Until the wind farms dropped out all was fine, despite storm damage.

    1. Dagg

      -0.9s two wind farms drop out -192MW

      The fact that two wind farms that would be geographically separated drop out within 0.1 of a second indicates that a lot more was going on. Whatever caused them to drop out would also be the trigger to cause the interconnect to also drop out.

      It appears to me that if you are going to overload a wind farm it will drop out hence both going at the same time followed closely by the interconnect.

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