Another Statewide Blackout: South Australia’s Wind Power Disaster Continues

Traffic in total darkness around the streets of Adelaide as residents are left without power on Wednesday night


Hard on the heels of a “near miss” in July when it narrowly averted widespread blackouts, South Australia was warned on Wednesday night to prepare for an extended loss of electricity in the wake of wild weather.

Described as a once in a 50-year storm, the statewide disruption prompted power companies to warn that users of medical equipment should prepare to use back-ups, and mobile phone users to conserve batteries.

“We are experiencing a state-wide outage which means we have no supply from the upstream transmission network,” electricity distributor SA Power Networks told clients late Wednesday.

In an unprecedented development, the state was cut-off from the national electricity network, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) said “resulting in a state-wide power outage in South Australia”. As a result, the entire electricity market in the state had been suspended as it sought to work with electricity transmission company ElectraNet “to identify and understand the severity of the fault, as well as determine a power restoration time”.

There were no implications for other states from the extensive blackout in South Australia, the energy market operator said.

The extensive disruption follows the narrow avoidance of widespread blackouts in South Australia in July. At that time, the state government brought pressure to bear on a local power company for an idled power station to be restarted to avoid potential disruptions, following a lack of electricity generated from wind and solar sources at a time when it was unable to “import” sufficient supply from Victoria.

But Wednesday’s event will trigger renewed debate over the state’s heavy reliance on renewable energy which has forced the closure of uncompetitive power stations, putting the electricity network in South Australia under stress.

Earlier this week, the Grattan Institute warned that South Australia’s high reliance on renewable energy sources left it exposed to disruptions. It pointed to the fact that while the renewable energy target had encouraged the development of wind and solar generation, it had the potential to undermine supply security at a reasonable price, because it forced the closure of inefficient power stations without encouraging the construction of the necessary new generation supply sources.  

I have not commented yet on South Australia’s black out yesterday, as the facts are still not clear.

Jo Nova has the story so far here, and Jennifer Marohasy adds her views here, commenting that wind speeds in the SA storm were not unusual in the context of Queensland and northern Australia.

The South Australia PM, along with defenders of renewables, has been spinning that the problem arose because of storm damage to pylons and other transmission infrastructure, although across the border in Victoria there seems to have been no problems.

But there is an interesting analysis on the Stop These Things website, which seems to go the heart of the blackout, and can be summed up with this graph, showing wind power output:


According to Stop These Things:

Thanks to its ludicrous attempt to run on sunshine and breezes, South Australia has just experienced yet another Statewide blackout. SA’s vapid Premier, Jay Weatherill and what passes for media in this Country ran straight to the periphery, blaming everything except the bleeding obvious (see this piece of infantile doodling from wind cult central – the ABC).

STT’s SA operatives tell us the blackout occurred during a blustery spring storm (heavy rain, lightning and surging, gusty wind). The power supply went down across the entire State at precisely the same time (a little after 3:30pm). It took more than 5 hours to restore power to a few parts of the State, and many regions remained powerless for much longer than that.

True it was that lines were damaged in the mid-North around Port Augusta, but that doesn’t explain why the whole State’s supply went down. Grids are designed with with a level of redundancy, and to avoid complete collapses by isolating damaged sections, in order to keep the balance up and running.

For those truly interested in the cause, what appears in the graph above – care of Aneroid Energy– gives a clue as to the culprit.

SA’s 18 wind farms have a combined (notional) capacity of 1,580MW.

On 28 September (aka ‘Black Wednesday’), as the wind picked up, output surges by around 900MW, from a trifling 300MW (or 19% of installed capacity) to around 1,200MW.

As we explain below, electricity grids were never designed to tolerate that kind of chaos, but it’s what occurs in the hour before the collapse that matters.

From a peak near 1,200MW, there are drops and surges in output of around 250-300MW (equivalent to having the Pelican Point Combined Cycle Gas plant switched on and off in an instant).

At about 2:30pm there is an almost instantaneous drop of 150MW (1,050 to 900MW), followed by a rapid surge of around 250MW, to hit a momentary peak of about 1,150MW.

Then, in the instant before the blackout, wind power output plummets to around 890MW: a grid killing collapse of 260MW, that occurs in a matter of minutes (it’s all happened before, as we detail below). That 260MW collapse was the deliberate result of an automatic shutdown of the wind farms based in SA’s mid-North, located in the path of the storm front: the final and total collapse in SA’s power supply follows immediately thereafter.

Wind turbines produce no power at all until the wind speed reaches a constant 5-6m/s; when the wind really gets blowing and hits around 25m/s – as it did on 28 September – turbines automatically shut down to protect themselves from permanent structural damage: 11 tonne blades being flung about the countryside isn’t just a PR nightmare, it tends to impact on the unit’s operational capacity thereafter.

In the aftermath there was plenty of waffle about the system shutting down to ‘protect itself’: indeed it did.

But it was SA’s mid-North wind farms that were in damage control. Neigbouring Victoria was also battered by the same storm, but -perhaps due to the fact that it chugs along with ample capacity from reliable coal-fired plant and has a tiny amount of wind power capacity by comparison with SA – didn’t suffer anything like SA’s date with the Dark Ages.

During the blackout and in its aftermath, STT’s site was inundated by hits from South Australians looking for answers (no doubt on half-charged smart phones, while sitting freezing in the dark); using search terms such as: sa blackout cause; sa vic interconnector problems; south australia blackouts; south australia in turmoil; sa blackout wind responsible; sa premier blackouts; and south australia electricity chaos.

For those South Australians still looking on the internet (power supply permitting) for answers as to why their grid collapses on a regular basis, here is a primer on power generation for dummies.

There are 3 electricity essentials – that the power source and its delivery to homes and businesses be: 1) reliable; 2) secure; and 3) affordable. Which means that wind power – a wholly weather dependent power source, that can’t be stored and costs 3-4 times the cost of conventional power – scores NIL on all three counts.

As the wind power calamity unfolds in South Australia, all comers (including mainstream media hacks) are starting to take an interest in electricity generation which – before South Australia’s recent experience of statewide blackouts, routine load shedding and skyrocketing power prices – was something that the last few generations of Australians have taken for granted.

There is a lot more technical stuff, well worth a read.




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Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter
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