NSW Wind Farms Deliver Record Output, Outperform Coal

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Originally published on RenewEconomy.

Last month in South Australia, the state’s wind farms accounted for 49 per cent of all electricity demand, a useful contribution given the closure of the last coal fired generator.

Woodlawn-Windfarm-3But in NSW the wind also blew at record levels, and the seven large scale wind farms delivered a record output, with a combined “capacity factor” of 56 per cent, more than two of the biggest coal generators in the state.

Indeed, the Woodlawn wind farm (pictured above) produced an astounding capacity factor of 62 per cent. Only two of the big five coal generators, the Mt Piper and Bayswater coal generators, produced at a higher capacity factor (67 and 66 per cent respectively).


The data, compiled by Hugh Saddler from Pitt & Sherry highlight the changing nature of the energy system.

The emergence of rooftop solar and energy efficiency has capped the amount of electricity used, leaving a huge amount of over capacity in “base load” power, to the point where many coal generators, such as Vales Point (44 per cent)  and Liddell (52 per cent), are operating at half their capacity – even if the overall share of coal power has not fallen.

The 48MW Woodlawn wind farm, located just outside of Canberra, is owned by Infigen Energy.

The top 12 wind farms in Australia, by capacity factor, in the month of May were:

Woodlawn (NSW, 48MW)    62%

Boco Rock (NSW)  59%

Cullerin Range (NSW) 58%

Gunning (NSW) 58%

Taralga (NSW) 57%

Hallet 1 + 2 (S.A.)   57%

Bald Hills (Vic)  56%

Mortons Lane (Vic) 55%

Mt Mercer (Vic) 54%

Woolnorth (Tas) 53%

North Brown Hill (S.A.) 52%

Snowtown South (S.A.) 52%

Reprinted with permission.

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Giles Parkinson

is the founding editor of RenewEconomy.com.au, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

Giles Parkinson has 596 posts and counting. See all posts by Giles Parkinson

15 thoughts on “NSW Wind Farms Deliver Record Output, Outperform Coal

  • Can someone please explain what the “capacity factor” means? Does it effectively mean that the coal powered plants are becoming less profitable? Does it mean that we can hope to see closure of any of the coal powered plants anytime soon? Does it mean anything?

    • Capacity factor (CF) is calculated by dividing actual output over a period of time by the hypothetical output if that wind turbine, coal plant, whatever ran full speed the entire time.

      Coal plants have a practical top CF of about 85%. They need to be down/off about 15% of the time for needed maintenance. If the plant is down for repairs or if their power is not needed then the CF will drop.

      Here are the CFs for US coal plants over the last few years.

      2011 = 57.60%
      2012 = 51.40%
      2013 = 59.70%
      2014 = 61.00%
      2015 = 54.60%

      That tells us that US coal plants were used considerably less than they could have been used. I think this is mainly due to them being shut down in the spring and fall when overall demand is down.

      The CF for wind farms has been climbing. This is due to better siting, better blade and turbine design, higher hub heights, and better wind predictions. Increasing CF numbers mean lower cost electricity.

      The cost of electricity = total cost (installation + operation) / electricity produced. As the amount produces increases the cost of electricity drops.

      We’re not seeing CF numbers for coal drop in the US. That’s mainly because we’re closing a lot of coal plants so the remaining ones have plenty opportunity to run and keep their numbers up. But overall coal production is dropping. Fairly rapidly. I’ll give you a long term graph of electricity produced by coal per year and a shorter term monthly graph.


      • Thanks for the explanation Bob. I’m glad to see that the US has been closing a lot of coal plants. We had a plant close very recently in South Australia. But what we really need to see here is the closure of the dirtiest coal fired power station in the world, Hazelwood, in Victoria. From someone who takes the need for strong climate change action seriously, I am embarrassed to live in a State that hosts such a plant. Our governments are unwilling to get involved. So what can be done?

        • I don’t know what you, as an individual, can do. Perhaps you should seek out organizations that are working to increase renewable installations and see if you can help them out. Or get involved in a group working to get a better class of people elected.

          In the US we got really lucky when we elected President Obama. He has been able to use one of the organizations he controls, the Environmental Protection Agency, to put pressure on coal plants to clean up their emissions. Due to the low cost of wind, solar and natural gas it’s been cheaper for them to simply close a lot of our coal plants than to clean them up.

          I’ll show you a map of electricity plants scheduled to close in the US this year and another of plants scheduled to open. We’re doing a decent job of trading dirty coal plants for cleaner generation.

          BTW, if you don’t already visit Giles’ site I’d highly recommend you do so. You’re going to find a lot of your fellow citizens there and probably a lot more about what can be done locally.


        • Dennis, install the largest rooftop solar system you can. Victoria may be the least sunny mainland state, but rooftop solar can still pay for itself there. So work out what the most profitable size is for you and then go larger for the sake of the planet.

        • Adding renewables to a grid where demand is stable pushes down prices, and reduces the amout of power that coal plant can sell, reducing it’s profitability. Making them comply with any kind of environmental rules also reduces their profitability. If they get pushed into the red, and stay there, they will eventually close.

  • Astonishing high CF-s! If the wind frams were built at normal cost, they must be very profitable! Are there many sites with with these good wind conditions in Australia?

    • Unfortunately it costs much more to build wind farms in Australia than the US, but new wind is still clearly cheaper than new coal or gas.

      Australia does have excellent wind resources and plenty of land to erect wind turbines. Unfortunately we have some politicians who are so in love with coal they are naughty on purpose so Santa will stuff their stockings with it.

    • South Australia’s wind power generates more electricity, more reliably, in summer than winter. This is handy because it is when electricity prices are highest. In Summer the state’s wind power is considered about 10% firm.

      • Thanks. Wonder how that plays out for peak demand times during the day. It’s load matching that matters most, rather than Capacity Factor.

        • Well, peak demand happens during summer heat waves when we tend to be in the middle of a high pressure system, so unfortunately there isn’t usually lot of wind then. We can only count on wind farms operating at about 10% of capacity factor. Fortunately, our rooftop solar produces plenty of electricity on those days, at least until late in the afternoon when it drops off quickly. We don’t have a lot of west facing solar panels. Might be an idea to offer an incentive to build them, as many homes will otherwise be better off with north facing panels.

          • Is it just me, or is the wind low in May in Adelaide? I am not even that sure about my locations, but it looked that way. It just seemed to me that the capacity factors were astonishingly high for a low wind month, but maybe I got it wrong.

          • May definitely appears to be the least windy month, but the average figure at 9:00am can be misleading, as winds can vary according to time since sunrise and after sunset. This is what wind production in South Australia and other states looked like over an 18 month period: http://reneweconomy.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/wind-GET.jpg

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