Renewables energy experts have gathered in South Australia to defend the use of solar and wind power in the aftermath of a state-wide blackout.
The state is still recovering from the September 28 electricity outage, which coincided with gale-force winds and flooding rains. It was blamed, in part, by South Australia’s reliance on wind power.
The blackout left the state’s 1.7 million residents without power into the night and for up to 24 hours.
A preliminary report by the Australian Energy Market Operator found the blackout was triggered by storm damage to three major transmission lines, followed by wind farms disconnecting from the energy grid, which caused a massive load spike on the interconnector to neighbouring state Victoria.
The report also found that six wind farms experienced generation reduction in the lead up to the blackout.
The Australian Government has called a meeting of State Energy Ministers to consider uniform renewable energy targets and review the national electricity market.
South Australia leads the nation in non-hydro renewable energy utilization, with more than 40 percent of its electricity coming from wind and solar.
The South Australian Government held its own renewable energy summit in Adelaide last week, calling in experts to help highlight the importance of renewable energy and dispel fears surrounding its viability.
Speakers included Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel and Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie.
New York Chairman of Energy Richard Kauffman joined the summit via video link to discuss the importance of renewable energy after Hurricane Sandy, which left New York City and parts of the state without power for up to 10 days.
Finkel said it was difficult to assign blame for the blackout.
He said under the circumstances, gas-fired generators would have fallen off the grid just as rapidly as the wind farms did.
“The system you could argue did not perform ideally in terms of the rapidity of which it was recovered, so there are lessons in this,” Finkel said. “The problems in the electricity system didn’t commence with a generator disconnection, it commenced with steel pylons falling over because of the ferocity of the wind. They (wind farms) went down as they were designed to do, to protect themselves. That is the intention of safety circuits at the end of the day they protect the device.”
Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie said climate change played a key role in last week’s storm and renewable energy would be an effective solution to tackling the global issue.
“The storms that happened last week were influenced by climate change,” she said. “That means we need to look at all our infrastructure across the state to think about how it will be resilient to climate change and ensure that we know all the information and we are upgrading those systems. It also means we need to tackle the problem and renewable energy is one of the key solutions.”
While the summit was in session, on a sunny and breezy spring day, about 75 percent of South Australia’s energy was being generated by wind and solar infrastructure.
In 2014, South Australia made international headlines after renewable energy accounted for more than 100 percent of the state’s electricity needs for a whole day.
The state had a goal of 33 percent rewewables by 2020, which it reached two years ago. It also has an increased target of 50 percent by 2025 and plans to make Adelaide the world’s first carbon neutral city by 2025.
Nearly a quarter of houses in South Australia have installed rooftop solar panels, making it one of the highest penetration rates in the world.
Solar power makes sense on a continent where, according to the Federal Government's Australian Renewable Energy Agency, Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square meter of any continent in the world.
Despite these statistics, a number of politicians publicly criticized the state’s reliance on renewable energy.
“These intermittent renewables do pose real challenges,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters last week. “There is no doubt that a heavy reliance on intermittent renewables, by which in South Australia we are mostly talking about wind, does place very different strains and pressures on a grid than reliance on traditional base load power. Let’s take this storm in South Australia … as a real wake-up call. Let’s end the ideology and focus on clear renewable targets.”
The meeting of ministers was to discuss South Australia’s blackout and consider the need for potential infrastructure modifications to protect against future extreme weather events.
South Australian Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Ian Hunter said the summit highlighted the science behind renewable energy.
“It’s important that we have a fact-based discussion around how we make our energy system more secure, cheaper and cleaner,” he said. “[The] summit featuring Australia’s leading experts confirmed that Australia must transition to a low carbon economy and that renewables have a pivotal role. We need the grid, the natural electricity market and rules that operate to be brought up to date.”