Despite numerous claims to the contrary from Australian politicians over the last few weeks, the Australian Energy Market Operator has confirmed that the cause of the September 28th state-wide blackout was not the variability inherent in wind energy.
At approximately 3:45pm on Wednesday, September 28, all of South Australia and its 1.67 million residents lost power due to a 50-year storm crashing the state’s power grid. In the wake of the event, there have been calls from all around Australia blaming the incident on South Australia’s reliance upon renewable energy. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released a preliminary report soon after, revealing the series of events which led to the blackout, but could not explain some of the incidents, such as why several wind farms took themselves offline.
As promised, AEMO continued its investigation into what led to the state-wide blackout, and on Wednesday updated its preliminary findings.
According to the update, “five system faults occurred within a period of 88 seconds … leading to six voltage disturbances.” As a result, “nine of the 13 wind turbines online at the time of the event did not ride through the six voltage disturbances” due to the wind farm ‘voltage ride-through’ settings being “set to disconnect or reduce turbine output when between three to six disturbances are detected within a defined time period.”
This led to the loss of 445 MW of electricity generation which forced the state’s grid to turn to thermal generation via the Heywood Interconnector linking South Australia to neighboring Victoria’s coal-fired generation. However, the link overloaded and caused a disconnect, leading to the blackout. Additionally, according to AEMO’s update, the “two contracted [System Restart Ancillary Services (SRAS)] suppliers both experienced difficulties in providing system restart services due to two separate faults.”
An immediate outcome of AEMO’s investigation is that several wind farms in South Australia have already implemented revised voltage ride-through settings which will allow them to ride-through a higher number of disturbances. In addition, AEMO will continue to consult with wind farm operators and wind turbine manufacturers to better understand the impact of their built-in ride-through settings on the larger power system.
The underlying conclusion from these preliminary findings clearly shows that wind energy’s variability — the inherent pitfall of most renewable energy sources — was not to blame. In fact, the report’s findings show that it doesn’t matter what sort of electricity generator was in place, if the generator’s ride-through settings were set to trip off at six voltage disturbances, the same situation would have resulted.
“The reality is that South Australia’s electricity system went through one of the largest power system disturbances ever seen in the country at the end of last month,” said Kane Thornton, CEO of Australia’s Clean Energy Council.
“On the current information available, the damage to the transmission system was the main cause of the event. No power grid in the world is designed to manage the rapid consecutive collapse of three major transmission lines like the SA system sustained on 28 September.
“No evidence has been provided to show that the system would have remained up and running if wind farms in the state had not tripped off to protect themselves in an unsafe electrical environment.”
Further investigation will continue, though hopefully these preliminary findings will put to rest the absurd political infighting over the role of renewable energy in South Australia, and Australia as a whole.
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