South Australia’s blackout apparently ‘triggered by the violent fluctuations from the Snowtown wind farms’

Performance of wind farms and fossil fuel powered generators analysed

Guest essay by Tom Quirk

It looks like a natural disaster but brought on by the fragility of the South Australian power system caused by the size of the variations in wind power.

The failure is most likely to have been triggered by the violent fluctuations from the Snowtown wind farms (Figure 1 and 5). Shortly after 3 pm there was a loss of 200MW with a partial recovery some twenty minutes later of 100MW. The total wind farm supply for South Australia also shows these variations (Figure 2).

This would have put a shock to the system for frequency stability at 50 cycles per second. For most of the day the local gas fired generators were only supplying 100 MW (Figure 3) with the balance to match demand with supply coming from Victoria. But the local generators started to increase and vary their output with first a 150 MW loss at Snowtown just before mid-day and then 50 MW variations that followed. Shortly before 3 pm the Hallett wind farms lost and then recovered 70 MW in a 20 minute interval (Figure 4 and 6). This added to the final Snowtown wind farm 200 MW loss. This detail is shown in Figure 5.

So the system instability could trigger Victoria shutting off the link to South Australia and the blackout followed.

The physical network may not be very robust as can be seen in images of broken pylons. Transmission lines are expensive at $1 to $3 million per km. Each wind farm must be connected to deliver maximum power to the network even though its average performance might be only 33% of maximum so connection costs may have been held to a minimum..

The trouble was north of Adelaide so could it have been isolated with the remaining network continuing or was so much power coming from the north that a blackout would follow no matter what was done

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Figure 1 Snowtown `1 2 3 150 km north of Adelaide

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Figure 2 Total South Australian wind farm production

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Figure 3 Total fossil fuel supply from gas turbines (and diesel?) generators

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Figure 4 Hallett 1 2 150 km north of Adelaide

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Figure 5 Snowtown wind farms Data source AEMO

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Figure 6 Hallett wind farms Data source AEMO

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