Australian renewables integration. Part 2

by Planning Engineer (Russ Schussler) and Chris Morris

Many are looking towards Australia and seeing bold, innovative steps to increase the penetration levels of wind and solar resources. A grid revolution around the corner? Or just the madness of crowds?  This post discusses what we can discern from their efforts so far.

Major New Innovations in Australia?

Part 1 covered renewables’ impacts so far on the major power grid in Australia. Many are inspired by this headline:  South Australia may be first big grid in world to go without synchronous generation. The article begins by noting:

South Australia – already leading the world in the uptake of wind and solar and operating its grid at high levels of renewables – could be the first gigawatt scale grid in the world to operate without synchronous generation… South Australia is unique in the world because it is the first gigawatt scale grid to operate at such high levels of wind and solar, which in the past year have accounted for 64 per cent of local generation, according to AEMO.

Reports are that South Australia is  set to become the first big grid to run on 100% renewables.

In far away Western Australia, with a smaller independent grid, is setting records for wind and solar as well. In 2025 they believe there may be enough wind and solar to power the grid entirely by renewables, for at least half an hour. On October 16th 2022 there was more than enough available wind and solar to match local demand there.


Identified problems associated with a net zero grid are often inappropriately dismissed with some reference to work being done somewhere, or referencing the claims of academics. Frequently industry changing innovations have appeared poised to emerge just “around the corner”. Despite the enthusiasm of their boosters, these just around the corner breakthroughs often tend not to work out very well. The eventual associated complexity and costs of “around the corner” projects  often prove crippling. Such claims can be almost impenetrably confusing. “Around the corner” claims are often overblown or misunderstood. Let’s dig a little deeper into the available information here.

Is South Australia a Grid?

First off it should be noted that South Australia (SA) is not a grid in the context of being self-contained and independent. It is a relatively small component of a large grid. The resources on the larger grid were described in Part 1:

Wind and solar, the unreliables, are now a significant part of the current NEM generation but the backbone is still coal – over 60% of the energy. Wind is less than 15% and grid solar 5%. …. There is also the significant presence of domestic PV.  Because it is mainly behind the meter, there is no accurate data on its precise magnitude. But scaling up the contribution of grid solar and allowing for less efficient installations, it would be in the order of another 10%.

The large grid has a significant number of synchronous generators that support the SA system in many ways. As noted in Part 1, generation in Victoria specifically helps buffer South Australia’s already erratic generation through the Heywood interconnection. The large synchronous machines on the neighboring system work to support the South Australia experiment. The hype that this experiment is receiving would be well more deserved, if the greater grid were participating to the same degree as South Australia.

This isn’t the first time that exaggerated claims have been made concerning the ability of an independent grid to run at high levels of renewables, based upon the penetration levels within a limited area of the grid. Not too long ago many pointed towards Germany as showing how a grid could accommodate high levels of renewables. This was a very misleading picture. The physics of the grid do not care who owns what. Synchronous resources from a neighbor’s generators provide support across the European grid, despite differences in language and nationality. Electricity flows quickly, approaching the speed of light, over every potential path to support all parts of the system regardless of who owns what. The German component is supported by conventional generation from neighboring systems including coal resources in Poland.

OK, Not an Independent Grid, But a Good Sized Asynchronous Component of a Grid?

Is South Australia going asynchronous?  Grid experts reading  the claim that, South Australia may be first big grid in world to go without synchronous generation, should know there is a trick somewhere, even if they aren’t quite yet sure what the trick is. The trick (besides that SA is not a grid) is that they are not, as a quick reading of the headline suggests, looking at building a grid that doesn’t rely on synchronous resources.

There is a loophole in the argument that grids require synchronous generators. The South Australia headline is capitalizing on that loophole. Four synchronous condensers are needed to maintain the grid without their synchronous gas generating units. These synchronous condensers need to be in place before they remove conventional generation. Synchronous condensers are basically the same as synchronous generators, the difference being they lack the ability to generate power. Existing steam plants can be converted to synchronous condensers by removing the prime mover that powers the unit. The rest of the assembly rotates in synchrony with the grid. Synchronous condensers can provide inertia, voltage control and provide or absorb vars. Synchronous condensers function at the point where generators transition to motors. Synchronous condensers are synchronous machines but they consume power, rather than supply it.

Putting this in context, the SA experiment is not to create an asynchronous independent grid operating on wind and solar, as many perceive. The experiment is addressing how well a component of a large grid  can integrate a large amount of wind and solar, that benefits from the synchronous generators of its neighbors and which has installed special synchronous condensers to replace the synchronous generators that they are retiring,

Is Using Synchronous Condensers to Support Renewables a New Idea?

Not really. Synchronous condensers have been around for a very long while. In Planning Engineer’s first posting at Climate Etc. in 2014 he noted:

Could a power system operating similar to ours be built that relied on only renewable resources? The answer is yes and no. As noted above there are essential system characteristics that most renewables do not supply or supply well. However, a renewable system could be coupled with extensive batteries and other storage devices, large mechanical flywheels and condensers (basically an unpowered motor/generator that can spit out or consume reactive power). These devices could approximate the behaviors of our conventional power system but they would require huge and prohibitive costs. 

To be clear, synchronous condensers are great things to have on a grid. They were infrequently used in the past because so many synchronous generators were typically present to support the grid.  Wind and solar are creating a need for synchronous condensers, which have been rebranded as “syncons”. One of the authors has made recommendations in the past at various times to convert retiring plants to operate as synchronous condensers to better support the grid. However, the structures of ownership and cost sharing doomed such strategic considerations. As Australia is judging it worthwhile to incur the full costs of new synchronous condensers, perhaps policy changes could be made to allow even more economic conversion ,especially as asynchronous renewables are  increasing their penetration levels most everywhere. Often it would make sense to keep old coal plants around to provide both emergency generation and synchronous resources when needed. If that’s not possible, consideration should be given to at least keep them as synchronous condensers. Part of why neither is being done is that many are proud to virtuously claim that they are shuttering coal plants. When multiple plants are closed by a solitary action, you know little thought is going into the specifics. Beyond that, flawed market and cost recovery schemes are causing many opportunities to be missed.

If others learn from Australia the value of synchronous condensers (especially at low cost from retiring plants), that will be a great thing.

What else is SA doing?

As noted by the market operator AMEO, there are detailed engineering challenges that must be solved before allowing 100% renewables on the grid. “They are undertaking various other improvements to cope with the generation changes. Currently there are plans to spend $12.7 Billion to build 5 new high voltage transmission lines to bolster their system. South Australia also has a strong need for storage to enable frequency control and reserves services. Plans to allow more of the wind and solar to be used, also include more exotic procedures such as heavier curtailment of power from rooftop PV under certain conditions. Cutting solar at the residential level to allow greater renewable penetration at the grid level (or because of difficulties introduced by dispatch of solar and wind) provides a good illustration of how challenging and overcomplicated this transition might be. This article notes, ”AEMO’s plan to fix the broken energy system seems so simple, but it’s likely to be anything but.”

It  is doubtful the current approach can be sustained. Remember that coal is still the major generation energy source in Australia. Continuing and expanding the steps they are taking with increasing grid wide penetration will only compound the costs and challenges. Their “solutions” are not the bold innovations needed for the proposed changes in generation, but rather costly, makeshift, stopgap Band-aids.

Replacing generation, adding storage, adding synchronous machines and complicating procedures  will likely harm cost and reliability. Leveled cost comparisons of wind and solar to natural gas are very misleading if they ignore the changes needed to support asynchronous renewables. Proponents of wind and solar want these extra costs to be hidden and paid by others. But if wind and solar require large synchronous machines to enable them to work with the grid, and storage as well, some cost reckoning is due when competing resources include synchronous capability as an inherent part of their design. Renewable advocates can’t continually rely on shoddy cost studies ignoring the huge cost differences associated with the competing resources. As wind and solar become more prevalent, the extra costs necessary to address reliability will increase and be harder to hide.

AMEO must realize this ,as they have stated their intent to move towards developing the capability for inverter-based resources (like wind, solar and batteries) to provide the functionality they are now seeking from synchronous condensers. The inverter-based work is much less developed and much further away. If it could be made to work it would likely be much less expensive than their current approach. But can it be made to work on a complicated grid?  Nobody is proposing to begin that experiment yet on a large scale. A system primarily dependent on inverter-based support, whether synchronous or asynchronous, would be revolutionary. If that’s where their focus is, the development within Australia would truly be worthy of attention.

Why is the Focus on Changing Resources and not The Grid Needs?

The series “Academics and the Grid” (Here, here and here) discussed two different foci of the energy transition. There are two major problem areas:

  • Getting energy from renewables instead of fossil fuels
  • Having the grid work with intermittent asynchronous renewable resources

It would seem that a grid transformation would need to make progress on these two separate concerns in tandem. The first problem is easier to address while  the second is more challenging and becomes increasingly intractable at higher penetration levels of wind and solar. It’s understandable why individuals or groups might choose to address the first problem over the other, especially in terms of personal incentives and rewards. But it is mind-boggling that an entity committed to an energy transition would seek to maximize efforts in regard to changing energy resources while hoping a miracle will occur allowing that energy to be delivered in an economic and reliable manner.

The mismatch between energy sourcing and energy delivery raises challenges in term of responsibilities and costs.  The decarbonization advisor noted the considerable “wrangling over who should foot the construction bill”.  Some additional interesting quotes from the decarbonization advisor appear in this article.

  • “The simple task is to estimate when coal is going to come out of the system — that’s number one”
  • “The most difficult thing is enabling the replacement”
  • We know that large-scale batteries and large-scale hydro are going to play a pretty significant role.
  • “(T)here’ll need to be a role for gas and we know there’s going to be a role for [rooftop solar and battery]”
  • “We know there’ll need to be a great deal of attention paid to what happens when that base-load generation comes off”
  • “A lot of the markets that will pay for these new sources don’t yet exist”
  • “Energy to be ‘unrecognisable”

Except for putting the cart before the horse, these quotes suggest we might agree about a lot. It is simple to take out coal, if you don’t care what happens next. It is going to be incredibly difficult, if at all possible, to enable the replacement.  Significant roles will be demanded from all resources but that may not be enough. A lot of attention needs to be paid when baseload generation comes off, and a lot of challenges without practical solutions will likely emerge.  A lot of needed things needed don’t exist yet and may not ever exist. The energy system may be unrecognizable, maybe because it will no longer resembles an economic and reliable power system.

Evidently there are a lot of individual short-term incentives in the mix, not tied to any long-term gains for the large population of electric consumers. Clearly many relevant policy makers lack information and expertise in needed areas and are greatly influenced by others who are the same boat. From an engineering perspective, it seems obvious that to allow increased penetration of wind and solar, neither of the problem areas can be ignored and that progress must be made concurrently with advancements in both areas. You don’t figure out how to land a plane after you have the passengers in the air.

Energy is too important for policy makers to invest in a “field of dreams”. You can’t change the basics of energy supply, then just hope the support system will organically emerge. The largely singular focus and magical thinking may best be explained by those with expertise in the areas of human, group, organizational, political or religious behavior  perhaps those with a good understanding of the “madness of crowds”.

Final Thoughts

South Australia’s initial efforts are less revolutionary than they appear. Their efforts instead show the importance and centrality of synchronous machines. Australia is retiring synchronous generators and replacing them with other synchronous machines. This step is not revolutionary. That and the other  solutions they are incorporating confirm that a net-zero grid faces considerable challenges. Combined with other planned  changes, their overall efforts will aggravate existing reliability trends. AEMO is currently seeing inertial shortfalls and poor system security.  Will the new efforts continue the trends towards a costlier less reliable grid?  The authors believe it is most likely that costs will increase significantly and reliability will degrade considerably even if they do a great job of implementing all the planned changes. Higher energy costs will hurt their consumers and industry while moving manufacturing and industry away from Australia to areas with cheaper (fossil fuel based) energy. The end result may cause far greater environmental harm.

The effectiveness of South Australia’s future plans remains to be demonstrated. It’s not clear how complicated or expensive it may be to implement the proposed changes. Curtailing residential solar to allow greater grid-based wind and solar, suggest s that it may be inordinately complicated.  Australia is not solving these problems, or showing how they might be solved, as much as they are just grappling with them.  How well operators will be able to deal with the complexity is unknown. How much this might cost is a complete unknown. How much it costs and how well it operates will need to be carefully considered before declaring this a path to be emulated across other grids and power systems in the future. The work to replace synchronous machines with inverter-based resources is at best in its infancy. Documentation around their efforts shows that concerns about high levels of penetration by asynchronous renewables are well founded. It is premature to declare any kind of  a victory here. They may find that things are more challenging than they thought.

125 responses to “Australian renewables integration. Part 2

  1. So wind and solar are a considerable problem on the grid, even if they produce power (which they reliably will not)?

    • At least as big a problem is the impact on civil liberties. So, let’s say the grid is designed for 100% renewables with 3 days of battery backup (pick a number). All vehicles are EVs and homes are heated / cooled by electricity. Now, you have a 5 day weather forecast that in 2 days time you are going into a 3 day period of essentially 0 renewable electricity. Day -2 before the lull News / weather forecaster comes on to say everybody is required to plug in their EVs to make sure they are fully charged by Day 0, and that during Days 1 – 3 they must remain connected to the grid. National lockdown for 5 days, you can’t use your EVs that the Government required you to buy to replace ICE vehicles. By Day 2 of the lull the weather forecast is 50:50 that the lull will end in 2 days. So, now there is a national order that all heat pumps / air conditioning must be switched off to preserve residual battery power for emergency services. Are you 100% sure your neighbor hasn’t disconnected his EV from the grid to power his home. Neighborhood watch schemes are now on patrol to ensure compliance. How many times a year do you go through these voluntary national emergencies. Think this can’t happen. This winter California was demanding that EVs should not be charged because of limited grid capacity. All in the name of Climate Change of an additional 1C.

      • David Appell

        Gerard WROE wrote:
        At least as big a problem is the impact on civil liberties.

        “Electric vehicles can now power your home for three days,” Washington Post, 2/7/23.

        Try that with your ICE.

      • Provided it is fully charged, and you don’t need to use it as a car. With 100% renewable grid you can get multiple days with generation less than demand and without natural gas or nuclear you are reliant on grid batteries. You have already seen California demand that EV drivers don’t charge their cars. So now you have a voluntary national lockdown that lasts multiple days.

        Does the government tell you today that you can’t use your ICE car because hospital emergency rooms need your electricity?

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        David Appell | March 9, 2023 at 10:27 pm |
        Gerard WROE wrote:
        At least as big a problem is the impact on civil liberties.

        Appleman’s response -“Electric vehicles can now power your home for three days,” Washington Post, 2/7/23.

        “Try that with your ICE.”

        Appleman – you do realize that using your EV as backup is an admission that the 100% RE needs the EV as bandaid because the 100% wont work.

        Use some of those impressive intellectual skills and think through it.

      • “Try that with your ICE.”

        I think you’ll find that petrol and diesel powered back-up generators have been around for decades.

        I’m not an engineer but I fairly sure they are ICEs

      • The EV battery didn’t power the HOME for 3 days, it powered a few appliances/devices. Big difference. A gasoline generator can power the entire house for however much gasoline is on hand. One run by nat gas can power it indefinitely. Much better than an EV battery.

      • joe - the non climate scientist

        Appleman – Have you ever considered doing basic due diligence on any “science “you post ?

        Noted in the article you cited – ev powers home for 3 days – “But it doesn’t come cheap. The average home consumes about 20 kilowatt-hours per day, a measure of energy over time. ”

        That 20 kwh is for home with gas heat –
        Care to take a stab & Guess what the kwh draw would be for an electric heat home in Michigan during the winter – Think that EV is going to power that heat pump for how many hours?

        Due diligence
        Due diligence

      • David Appell

        Joey the (lol) mere account wrote:
        Appleman – you do realize that using your EV as backup is an admission that the 100% RE needs the EV as bandaid because the 100% wont work.

        Wow that’s dim even for you.

        Of course, it says absolutely nothing about a home’s source of electricity. It can be coal, natural gas, solar — the fact is, the average EV will now power that home for three days in the course of a blackout.

        Do better accountant.

      • David Appell

        Gerard WROE wrote:
        Does the government tell you today that you can’t use your ICE car because hospital emergency rooms need your electricity?

        No. You just can’t get filled up at gas stations because there’s no electricity for the gas pumps to work.

      • David Appell

        joey, a (mere) accountant wrote:
        Care to take a stab & Guess what the kwh draw would be for an electric heat home in Michigan during the winter

        What would that home draw from the blackened-out grid?

        The average home uses about 12,000 kWh/yr. Go calculate.

      • David Appell

        CKid wrote:
        Appell’s Nirvana

        How must gas do gas stations pump when the electricity is out?

      • Joe - the honest non climate scientist

        David Appell | March 14, 2023 at 11:08 pm |
        Joey the (lol) mere account wrote:
        Appleman – you do realize that using your EV as backup is an admission that the 100% RE needs the EV as bandaid because the 100% wont work.

        Wow that’s dim even for you.

        Of course, it says absolutely nothing about a home’s source of electricity. It can be coal, natural gas, solar — the fact is, the average EV will now power that home for three days in the course of a blackout.

        Appleboy – your response is another example of you not grasping the basic science and engineering.
        Though it would explain why you could keep a job in a science related field. – 3 jobs of 6 years before you could find another job in your profession

      • Joe - the honest non climate scientist

        David Appell | March 14, 2023 at 11:57 pm |
        joey, a (mere) accountant wrote:
        Care to take a stab & Guess what the kwh draw would be for an electric heat home in Michigan during the winter

        “What would that home draw from the blackened-out grid?”

        Appell – is that the best response you can come up with after it was pointed out that you failed to notice the deception in the link you posted.

        If you had a better understanding of the basics, then you wouldnt fall prey to such frequent deception.

        You might try some actual due diligence someday

      • Joe - the honest non climate scientist

        Appleboy – your response is another example of you not grasping the basic science and engineering.
        Though it would explain why you could keep a job in a science related field. – 3 jobs of 6 years before you could find another job in your profession.

        Oops – typo

        first sentence should read “could not” keep a job.
        second sentence should read “could not find another job in your profession.”

        Note – Appells resume shows he couldnt keep a job for more than 2 years, and switched to freelance writing. Good indication that he could not keep a job in science because he just wasnt very good at it.

  2. So the average Australian electricity price is twice as high as in the US. Might not want to advertise your association with the Oz grid. Just sayin’.

  3. A couple of points of interest, not mentioned to date.

    South Australia is putting in place green hydrogen production and electricity generation.

    There is considerable push towards electrify everything in Australia at the moment with subsidies for replacing gas heating, hot water and cooking imminent. There is suggestion that with home solar and batteries energy costs will be low. This seems at odds with curtailing home solar. I have long felt that home solar and grid wind and solar just leads to too much electricity at midday in summer and too little at night in winter.

  4. Those elite responsible for inflicting economic carnage on the poor and middle class are held blameless while they fill their own pockets with other people’s money. Seems to be a recurring theme throughout history.

    I’d like to think our grandchildren will have a better world, but I suspect our collective greed, foolishness, and indifference will only ultimately inflict misery on those that follow. Strikes me as the road to upheaval and chaos.

    As for me, I will not go quietly into the night.

    • >”As for me, I will not go quietly into the night.”

      An admirable stand, Mike Keller, and I have read your earlier contributions with grateful interest.

      But *how* will you do something meaningful to go noisily into that night ?

      I live in Aus and we are now facing the approaching pointy end of the stick.

      Winter within a few months. 1.8GW of coal-fired capacity is due to be removed from the grid within a few weeks and the plant destroyed (the contract for demolition is already let). A further 3GW of coal-fired capacity is for the chop within a few years.

      Gas peaker plants are not built yet built since the ideologues are insisting that such plants use green H2 (see the naive commenter above on this) and no source for this exists. The Snowy 2.0 pumped hydro “saviour” has a tunnel borer completely stuck for months now at about 200m depth and about 150 horizontal m completed of a 9km tunnel. Still years off, if ever.

      Natural gas fields are prevented from extraction by widespread legislation. Pipelines to supply gas from the sparsely habited north to the more densely populated south-east are not even at conceptual planning stage – environmental and NIMBY legislation easily wins here.

      Existing coal-fired plants are now poorly maintained as there is no incentive to invest in this. Ask South Australia (2016) what happens when the interconnectors from functioning coal-fired generation fail.

      Legislation to prevent new coal, gas and oil projects is passing through the Federal Parliament right now.

      Nuclear power is politically impossible.

      And all of that is the good news.

      • It may come to pass that the actual good news will be small, modular reactors. Of course Oz will have to almost collapse before the population at large kicks out the Climate Doomers in charge there. I’m sorry to see it happening as I’ve always imagined Oz to be a bigger version of our Wild West. I’m sad to see the people have taken after their beloved sheep. Not all of them, of course, but enough to nuke a very nice country.

      • David Appell

        ianl wrote:
        And all of that is the good news.

        How bad do you want it to get, Ian?

        “Australia’s bushfire season has grown by almost a month in 40 years, study finds: The season now lasts 130 days and will continue to lengthen even if global heating can be kept to 1.5C, researchers say,” The Guardian, 6/30/22.

      • Australia puts people in jail for clearing brush off their own land, David. Of course, I’m sure you are all for the heavy jack boot of government, so you probably don’t care. Nevertheless, it’s id eee otic government polices that are causing a bigger fire issue in Australia. It’s like brush fires feed on stupid.

      • Yeah. Australian bushfires. All down to climate change.

        “Before 1788, Aboriginal cultures across Australia used fire to deliberately and skillfully manage the bush.

        Broadly, it involved numerous, frequent fires that created fine-scale mosaics of burned and unburned patches. Developed over thousands of years, such burning made intense bushfires uncommon…

        Following European settlement, Aboriginal people were dispossessed of their land and the opportunity to manage it with fire. Since then, the Australian bush has seen dramatic biodiversity declines, tree invasion of grasslands and more frequent and destructive bushfires.”

        Oh, maybe not.

      • David Appell

        AndyC commented:
        “Before 1788, Aboriginal cultures across Australia used fire to deliberately and skillfully manage the bush.

        Average acreage they burned per year?

        Now, give us a chart of all-Australia bushfire acreage per year for the last N years, N as large as possible.

    • Mike Keller wrote:
      Those elite responsible for inflicting economic carnage on the poor and middle class are held blameless while they fill their own pockets with other people’s money.

      Who, specifically? Name names.

  5. The rational (engineering) mind fails to comprehend how the simple arithmetic seems to hold no sway with those with unshakeable faith in their own calculus of “renewables”, of which the favorite poster boy seems to be solar.

    It’s not complicated. Take the maximum rate of insolation at watts/sq.meter when the sun is at the highest point in its daily arc for any given day for any given electrical service area and multiply by the surface area of photovoltaic (PV) generating capacity, times the efficiency of conversion to usable power (which is what…maybe 10 to 15%, including distribution losses?), and subtract the total demand in kW at that time. If the resultant is negative, solar will never be able to meet demand. If it’s positive, recognize that a calculation based on the maximum insolation is as good as it gets, and does not allow for cloud cover, or the rest of the 24-hour day, when insolation will be less, or zero.

    So the issue ultimately becomes one of increasing the surface area of PV devices to many times what is required to meet demand at maximum insolation to provide sufficient energy (Watts x hours) that can be stored to meet demand at all other times when insolation is less, at night (when it’s zero), and including enough to cover the losses involved with storage.

    It just doesn’t work. A place like Australia has an edge, but at what delivered energy cost in $/kW-h?

    Yet, R&D for Generation 4 walk-away-safe nuclear technologies fueled by the stockpile of nuclear wastes, or the hundreds of years’ worth of thorium readily available world-wide, remains under-funded or unfunded, while far more costly, far lower power density renewables are chased as a panacea, as though the numbers actually worked.

  6. Interestingly the net zero plan for Queensland proposes disconnection of the generating units at the coal plants for use as sync condensers…with provision for reconnection to the primemover in an “emergency”. Given the generators are qangos (Quasi autonomous non-government organisations) the Government can dictate this. Talk about an each way bet.

    • “…. an each way bet…. ”

      Well, I am amazed.
      They may not be quite as silly as their rhetoric suggests.

  7. I sometimes wonder whether the powers that be have it in mind that everyone should generate and store their own electricity, with a combo of rooftop solar, batteries, the family car and some hitherto unseen magic technology; at least for the family home. And then, on the flip side, I wonder whether the predominance of Labor governments want to do the opposite and re-nationalise the grid.

    PS: Thanks for the explanation of condensers. It was me who asked about them in the other post.

    • Joe - the non climate scientist

      tony’s comment – , “the family car and some hitherto unseen magic technology; at least for the family home.”

      Adding to Tony’s comment –
      Just the skeptic in me, but the promotion of using the family EV for “additional electric power ” and using the power more efficiently by the green energy advocates comes across and a bandaide and an admission that the renewable scheme aint going to work.

      The second point (others can correct me if I am wrong), is my understanding is the batteries can only be recharged so many times before they need to recycled. So if EV battery is expected to last 25 years with a once a week recharge, but its now being recharged daily, then switching to a daily recharge shortens the battery life to 5-8 years. Any one have better info?

    • Joe – the non climate scientist,
      There is another issue that is seldom discussed with EV batteries. They can lose their charge pretty fast when you consider they need a 24/7 battery maintenance system to keep the battery in a safe temperature range. So when the ambient temperature drops below freezing or soars above 100 that system will kick in whether the car is being used or not. My Volt will draw over 1 KWh a day just sitting in my driveway when it is below 20 degrees.
      Personal note; I have done the real world calculations and I would need a 120KWh battery to go 100% off grid with my 6.7KW solar system. If batteries ever drop to $20/KWh and can be cycled at least 5,000 times I will drop off the grid just based on the economics.
      All that aside I still think the technology is pointing to a more decentralized grid with a lot more microgrids. Who knows, maybe DC electronics will make a comeback.

  8. It’s an interesting article, and a subject in which I have stake. I am a native of Western Australia and intend to return there in the next year or two. Please bear in mind I minded to be sympathetic to your POV:

    All I can understand from the article is “it’s more complicated than people realise”. I can’t find a handle on which to characterise the difficulties. This won’t penetrate minds of people who believe renewables are the “answer”.

    Simply saying that “syncons” are not incorporated into the cost of renewables does nothing to tell us about the scale of the problem, if it is even a problem. Try to look at it from a laypersons perspective; currently renewables ARE being used on the grid. Why can’t they just do what they are doing except more?

    If building syncons is the answer to solving grid stability, then some grasp of the expense and difficulties involved in using them is needed. Surely they are a one time cost (within reason), and from the perspective of people alarmed about climate change, is it not a cost worth bearing?

    Then factor in possible future technologies that might supersede renewables, say modular fission or fusion. Won’t they also need some form of synchronous step between generation and delivery?

    If renewables increase grid instability, at what point will the grid no longer function reliably? What is the tipping point, say in percentage of penetration?

    How does rooftop solar feed-in currently work? What are the challenges to making it viable currently? How much is wasted energy, and how do they dispose of that energy? Are there any possible solutions and what are their pros and cons?

    Storage probably remains the single biggest issue. How much would it cost to solve with current technology including replacement rate as yearly cost, say over 50 years? How would that increase the cost of energy compared to traditional generation?

    I completely get that from your expert perspective it doesn’t look like the hard questions are being considered. But from my perspective, I don’t have a sense of what those hard questions ARE even after 2 blog posts on the issue, only that they exist. I can’t as yet characterise the problem. How would I explain what I have read to someone?

  9. @ agnostic2015 | March 9, 2023 at 4:52 am

    Then factor in possible future technologies that might supersede renewables, say modular fission or fusion. Won’t they also need some form of synchronous step between generation and delivery?

    Nuclear plants use steam to spin turbines to run conventional generators. So, the Spin is In.

    • Aplanningengineer

      Bingo Jim. The key is – can you spin at a constant speed synchronized with the grid? Heated steam can do that. Heat can come from fusion, fission, biomass, coal, garbage, or even concentrated solar power (those trials have been costly failures). Hydro spins consistently, but so far wind can’t be made to do that. Combustion can provide spin and heat which can make steam for more spin. Nobody is doing this yet and maybe I want to be among the first to suggest taking power from wind and solar and using it to drive dc motors which then drive AC generators at synchronous speeds. Terribly expensive, doesn’t solve intermittency, need vast excess of extra power diverted most times, but such concerns don’t seem to hold back bold green ideas with any regularity. It might be just what they need down under.

      • You keep saying (and I have read elsewhere) that synchronous condensers are expensive. How expensive? What is the difference between retrofitted coal turbine and a decimated unit in terms of cost?

        I have only found this:

        But I don’t understand what “MVAR” is. Megavolt Ampere of reactive power doesn’t help me much.

      • If you apply an AC voltage to a resistive load, the voltage across the resistor and the current through the resistor are in phase. This means the peak of the voltage and peak of the current happen at the same instant in time.

        If an AC voltage is applied to an inductor (coil for example) or a capacitor, the peak of the voltage will be offset in time to the peak of the current. Because of this offset, the actual power delivered to the load is less than an equivalent voltage across a resistor.

        The term for power supplied to inductive or capacitive loads is termed reactive power.

      • aplanningengineer

        Building on Jim 2. The maximum votage times the maximum curent is the MVA of the load. If they are in synch that equals the MW’s as well. if not there is an angle difference between the voltage and current wave. The we use pythagarous.
        MW – V*I * cos(angle),
        MVars – V*I * sin (angle)
        The square rout of (MW squared + MVar squared) = MVA

        All are important for differing reasons.See part 3,%3D%20V%20x%20Ir%20(kvar)

      • Agnostic – we will cover reactive power – the MVArs – in part 3.
        The typical running cost of a syncon is about 1% of its rating, so a 100MVA one needs about 1MW of power continuously. Then if it is a converted generator, you need staff to maintain things like the cooling, lube oil and hydrogen systems.
        So that is all parasitic costs

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        Chris & PE – I may have misunderstood your response to Agnositic regarding reactive power, though wouldnt you need maintenance for synchro converters also?

        the second question – As I read through the Mark Jacobson’s (and others renewable experts) 100% renewable feasibility studies, I dont see any of these type discussions of operational issues. Is the omission because the renewable experts dont know they exist (ie lacking actual knowledge) or because these operation issues are trivial in the renewable scheme?

        Please comment, thanks

      • Joe
        Syncons, particularly converted generators do need maintenance but it is not that big a cost in the overall scheme of things. Maybe pull the rotor every 10 years to inspect it, the diodes and stator, so the cost would be less than a year’s worth of power to run it. However, if there is a big grid fault, then they may need inspection and possibly replacement or major parts.
        The major cost is capital, installing them. Plus going to N+1 so there is always cover for when one is out of service.
        And yes, as PE has previously pointed out, almost no academics have any practical understanding of the electrical system. The operational issues, particularly the details, are the important parts and where the costs are, while the principles are just relatively trivial. There is a lot more to installing a new transmission line into a system than just erecting towers and stringing wires.

      • Joe - the non climate scientist

        Chris – thanks for the info

        noting Chris’s comment – ” And yes, as PE has previously pointed out, almost no academics have any practical understanding of the electrical system.”

        Chris – your and PE’s comment raises the obvious rhetorical question – How can the “renewable grid experts” be experts in something they have never done?

      • Joe
        I think you answered your own question there.
        Many people conflate academic with expert. That is not the case, especially on practical subjects. Look at things like IEEE or ASME guidelines, standards and rules. They are written by practitioners. Why? Because they know what they are talking about.
        In the power industry, one often finds the true experts are long-time operators and plant engineers. They might not know the theory, but they can tell you what happens, why and what was done to fix it. They are a goldmine of info, often squirrelled away on handwritten notes and mimeogragraphed documents in folders kept in their lockers. Ignore them and failures are repeated. Santayana’s quote should be the touchstone.

      • David Appell

        Joey the (lol) accountant wrote:
        Chris – your and PE’s comment raises the obvious rhetorical question – How can the “renewable grid experts” be experts in something they have never done?

        How could any physicist be an expert on the Higgs particle before it was detected?

        How can someone design a bridge before it exists?

      • That is a pretty stupid comment even by your low standards David. The discussion is about renewables and how they impact on the grid. How many Higgs bosuns come down your wires when you flick the light switch? And whether or not they do, does it matter? Academics don’t design bridges. It is engineer practitioners that do. They follow set rules – maybe ASCE ones, following calculations all developed by other practitioners.
        How about you stay on topic, rather than do your usual threadjacking? Or is that beyond you.

      • David Appell

        Chris Morris wrote:
        That is a pretty stupid comment even by your low standards David. The discussion is about renewables and how they impact on the grid. How many Higgs bosuns come down your wires when you flick the light switch?

        You missed the point entirely.

        First, I wasn’t responding to you.

        ”And yes, as PE has previously pointed out, almost no academics have any practical understanding of the electrical system.”


        Why should they know the ins-and-outs of running an electrical grid?

        That’s what workers & engineers are for.

        That hardly means they have nothing to contribute. I suspect you have no idea what they do.

        Let’s not pretend that the specifics of operating an electrical grid mean renewable energy can never happen. It can, and it will. Workers can either get on board and help, or become irrelevant.

      • joe - the non climate scientist

        Appleman’s comment to PE & Chris Morris regarding 1oo% renewable experts need to have actual knowledge running a grid –
        “Why should they know the ins-and-outs of running an electrical grid?”

        Appleman – Is that supposed to be a serious question?

        Appleman – please Enlighten us as to why “experts” dont need knowledge of the subject upon which they are pontificating.

      • aplannignengineer

        I think Appell sets up the start to a good analogy.

        “How can someone design a bridge before it exists?”

        What if bridge building seemed to bold to existing architects and designers? Suppose the bridge “experts” know things that the others just haven’t figured out yet. I probably agree with Appell that we haven’t done that before is not a good criticism. But whatever the innovations of the new “experts” are, they must work in recognition of many of the foundational understanding of architects as regards structures and materials. They will still be constrained by the properties of stone, masonry, iron, bolts, cables, steel, concrete of whatever. Just because they propose a novel support technology, it doesn’t mean they have transcended the limits that impact the basic materials that will be central the completion of the project.

        It’s not enough to say I have a good innovation, everything else whould work out.

        (Small aside for any bridge technology, they should build a bunch of small successful proto type bridges and learn, before proposing widespread adoption of new types across many varied and difficult environments. )

      • aplanningengineer

        To be clear, I think there are some academics who have great understandings of the grid. I don’t think you hear from them as much as you do many of the others.

        I discuss why that is some here:

        Also, Chris is an operator, me a planner. Planners and operators typically always fight with each other. Both have valuable but different perspectives. I don’t believe any company has ever been successful by turning planning over to operators, not by letting planners call all the shots for planners. Both articulate and focus on serious concerns and usually a good balance is achieved.

      • To add the ‘salt and pepper’ to what aplanningengineer said, quote “. Planners and operators typically always fight with each other. Both have valuable but different perspectives.”

        In the ‘practical’ circumstances one has also to consider the other players. The ‘Regulator’ who may have dictating powers, who may be a lawyer learning from brochures; and the Vendor who may not give a hoot about the system he tries to foist on the uninformed Buyer.

      • aplanningengineer

        More special sauce if you can navigate the cumbersome interface and find the article I wrote with Jill Teitjen entitled “Drivers and Determinents for Power System Entities”. We argue the three critical concerns are reliability, economics and public responsibility (environment) and then discuss 7 different groups whose input is important in gaining an effective balance of those three critical concerns.

        Follow up to that article here:

      • A bridge too far …

        He appointed Carnegie to lead the build effort which required building a bridge over a mile long. No bridge ever has been attempted that matches its scale.

        Carnegie invested all he had into the bridge believing that a new material, Steel, would be able to sustain the bridge’s integrity. He erected the Keystone Bridge Company to raise funding for the bridge after running out of money. Carnegie, with the help of Henry Bessemer found a new way to manufacture steel that reduced its production time from 2 weeks to 15 minutes. Carnegie saw this opportunity to capitalize on it.

        The bridge was completed in 1874, but the public was weary of the bridge’s strength. Carnegie devised a plan using superstition at the time that elephants wouldn’t cross an unstable structure. The parade with the elephant was successful and after gaining the support of the public, Carnegie received massive amounts of orders from railroad companies wanting to replace their iron rails with Carnegie’s steel.

      • Adding to what PE wrote. I have done a fair bit of work over the years with academics. Even co-authored a number of papers that have been published in peer reviewed journals. I have enjoyed working with them and they have supplied a different perspective on operational difficulties. But not one of them has been identified as a “renewable energy expert”. A number of the ones I see in our local press with that nomenclature, often self-identified, I have also had interactions with. Invariably, I find them impossible to deal with. They have an insular arrogance – “I have a PhD so I am the expert” mentality even when they make fundamental mistakes and can’t grasp critical concepts. That carries over to a lot of their writings. There is no understanding of how System Operations work, nor do they want to. And without that, they are more ignorant than the person in the street who generally knows their limitations.
        I do understand the fundamentals of bridge building. I’ve a daughter who is a structural engineer and a son who’s an engineering geologist doing foundations. But they are in the workforce, getting out of varsity as soon as they got their qualification. I would never design or sign off a bridge. I stay in my lane, like chartered engineers are supposed to. Academics would do well to follow the same practice.

      • First:
        @ jim2: re bridges, see

        The power industry has its own examples.

        @ aplanningengineer: Tks for the links. I have to admit I never had/experienced so many ways of ‘thwarting’ a good design from the outset.

        As an engineer, but from the other branch (the mechanicals) there are many pitfalls in the system before the juice outs from the generators terminals, that impact both the reliability of supply, and equally important the safety of the working crews. In design the pitfalls are many, as the limitations of old alloys, and the limitations of the new at the edge of their usefulness is rarely understood except by a few specialists.

        Since this is about renewables, these impact on the rest of the system, and any changed mode of operation. In particular cycling of old plant that was not considered in its design.

      • Anyone, PE or Chris or others

        “… the limitations of old alloys,…”

        I don’t recall seeing this as an issue. If a problem, could someone expand on the extent, costs, challenges, etc. Thanks.

      • CKid: This is a taste of some of the problems with “old age” (and don’t tell me, I feel it :) ).

        See under ‘Graphitization’. Failure is abrupt and catastrophic, and not limited to the two points raised. In HP steam piping, cycling induces higher stresses at bends. To cut short, it was extremely costly.

      • David Appell

        aplannignengineer wrote:
        But whatever the innovations of the new “experts” are, they must work in recognition of many of the foundational understanding of architects as regards structures and materials. They will still be constrained by the properties of stone, masonry, iron, bolts, cables, steel, concrete of whatever. Just because they propose a novel support technology, it doesn’t mean they have transcended the limits that impact the basic materials that will be central the completion of the project.

        Do you think there isn’t anyone of average intelligence or higher who doesn’t understand this???


    • Not all Jim. There are a couple of “just around the corner” fusion projects that do not use steam – they capture the energy directly as electricity. And the ones that do are the ones that are closest to commercialisation.

      • In the fusion world “just around the corner” translates to “in about 50 years.” :)

      • Just heard a talk on status of fusion from Director of Engg for a large AEC firm. He was guardedly bullish, but indicated maybe another 20 yrs. My bottom line – we’ve been studying fusion for about 100 yrs. It may take another 40-50 years (and maybe never) for fusion to actually produce commercial power.
        • Materials problems are huge. 14 MeV neutrons means containment vessel life is months/~ 2 years.
        • Fuel supply is iffy. Likely a peppercorn-sized fuel pellet has to be injected every second (depending on fusion scheme – there are a plethora). These are currently being made in clean rooms. Scale-up???
        • In some schemes, liquid lithium-lead is being used as coolant. Last year, we couldn’t get approval for a Li mine in the middle of Nowhere, ME. How well do we think that fusion reactor owners are going to be able to compete with the battery manufacturers already scrambling to gobble up Li reserves? And think of the Doomsday possibilities if molten lithium would ever encounter water!
        • Tritium extraction continues to be a problem. Technically possible, but horrendously expensive

        Historically, fusion has been a “make-work” project for physicists. It looks like the engineers have now decided it’s their turn!

      • “In the fusion world “just around the corner” translates to “in about 50 years.” :)”

        Not anymore Jim – it used to be so, but we will commercial reactors well before the end of the decade. I put a fair bit of money on it. First up will be Helion.

      • Beta Blocker

        Several private firms who now collect investment money from government and private sources claim they will be commercializing fusion power by the end of this decade.

        These claims are in the same category of the claims being made thirteen years ago that biofuels sourced from genetically-enhanced varieties of algae would soon end the need for oil drilling as the primary source of carbon fuels feedstock.

        Just as the claims being made about sourcing huge volumes of biofuels from algae were preposterous, John Plodinec explains why the claims that commercial fusion power is just around the corner are equally preposterous.

        And yet, private investors who should know better are putting money into these schemes. Why are they doing this?

      • John, there are so many ways to do fusion. There are a few very different methods getting close to commercialisation. It won’t be 50 years – or even 10 before you see the first iterations.

        All fusion projects do have a materials problem, but for different reasons. Fuel problems also vary – there are a couple that are shooting for anuetronic B+P – Boron + hydrogen (proton). So they have no fuel problems at all. Some actually embrace neutrons as part of their power generation and thus require much lower densities. Some have ways of breeding their own fuel, but are trying to work out which is the best path since that breeding process also produces energy – just less of it and is technically trickier.

        Yet others go for entirely inducted capture of energy – no thermal step at all. I know of two projects that have separate patents on X-ray to electricity conversion.

        What is striking is the rate of development. One of the lead scientists on one of the projects likened it to Moore’s law. But these smaller projects are not aiming for >Q in the development phase – just proof of concept that will scale up. Quite a few have achieved that, but scaling up has its own challenges.

        So while I would agree with PE that we should not be relying on fusion to deal with our current energy problems, its probably reasonable to factor it in in case it takes off with a rush. What I don’t like is the investment in renewables if these projects do start bearing fruit. By the time we have got them online they’ll be obsolete. Just a huge waste of money.

      • Beta Blocker

        agnostic2015, the NuScale SMR team says that if the money needed to build their roll-out East Idaho nuclear plant was firmly committed today, and made immediately available, they could move up the construction schedule by two years allowing production operation in late 2027 as opposed to late 2029.

        Here is the basic question. Should we believe what the NuScale team claims for early delivery of its SMR technology, or should we instead believe what Helion and other fusion research companies claim for early-horizon delivery of their various fusion technologies?

        I will make a prediction here that the supposed early arrival of commercialized fusion power by the end of this decade will be used by those opposed to nuclear power as one justification among several for not investing in the oncoming small modular reactors.

      • Curious George

        “they capture the energy directly as electricity.”
        Interesting. Is there a prototype?

      • “Is there a prototype?”

        That’s actually a good question. I’m not sure. What I do gather from both projects, is that it is not the technical challenge that most concerns them.

        Of the technical challenges for these “shot” based fusion techniques, is capacitors and very high performance switches. In order to produce usable power, you have to do many shots per second. Helion have already 100s of thousands of “shots” which produce energy (not above Q because the reactor they test on is too small). The fusion part of it works fine. What they are needing to develop is high performance capacitors and switches so they can do many shots per second. At the moment they can do about a shot per minute.

        The other project is going great with all of their issues. They are the leaders in the field for what they call “wall-plug efficiency” – producing usable electricity. My issue with them is that they are just a bit too boutique…boffins in a garage. They need (IMO) some heavy duty investment and engineers. For example, one of the problems with their beryllium cathode is impurities which cause problems with subsequent shots lowering the high pressures they need for B+P fusion. They solved it by literally hand-polishing the surface of the cathode. They also need to resolve issues with fast firing capacitors and switches in order to produce commercially viable electricity.

        Somehow these don’t seem to be deal breakers. What Helion as they scale up to a prototype commercial device is that the physics changes subtly in surprising ways. There is still a bit to do but we are much closer than most people think.

      • David Appell

        agnostic2015 wrote:
        So you say “So while I would agree with PE that we should not be relying on fusion to deal with our current energy problems,” but then you write “What I don’t like is the investment in renewables if these projects do start bearing fruit. By the time we have got them online they’ll be obsolete. Just a huge waste of money.”

        So we shouldn’t rely on fusion, but we shouldn’t do anything else.

        This doesn’t sound consistent.

      • David Appell

        Beta Blocker wrote:
        Several private firms who now collect investment money from government and private sources claim they will be commercializing fusion power by the end of this decade….

        And yet, private investors who should know better are putting money into these schemes. Why are they doing this?

        Has it occurred to you that they have information that you don’t?

      • David Appell: “So we shouldn’t rely on fusion, but we shouldn’t do anything else.

        This doesn’t sound consistent.”

        We should not be trying to replace fossil fuel based energy with such an unreliable and inefficient source as current renewables. We should be building as little new infrastructure as possible, not mining for raw materials for something that likely will become obsolete in 10-15 years from now. We certainly shouldn’t be encroaching invasively on the environment based on an extremely spurious fear.

        If we were looking to new power generation sources outside of FFs, then it should be conventional nuclear. Or use the most efficient FFs (LNG) and try to make what we have more efficient. The investment that has gone into renewables is eye-watering. Imagine that had gone into fusion? We probably wouldn’t have it much sooner, but it could be deployed faster.

        The reason for the rush is because many people think there is a climate “crisis”, and this urgency is the source of really bad policy. Very few think we should stay on fossil fuels for longer than we have to. It’s dangerous and difficult to mine, transport, refine, store, causes pollution, and fraught with geopolitical issues. But what we are doing to replace it is stupid.

      • David Appell

        agnostic2015 commented:
        We should not be trying to replace fossil fuel based energy with such an unreliable and inefficient source as current renewables….

        Hmmm. My brother-in-law has been leasing and driving an EV to work for about 5-6 years. He’s never once had a problem with reliability, and says he has saved a lot of money. He seems to really love how it drives.

        Another friend, an ex- college Chemistry professor, has had an EV since the middle ’00s, I think it is. He’s never said he’s had problems with reliability except the one time he made it home with just 1 mile of charge to spare, to the great consternation of his wife.

        But then, I once had to rescue a roommate from a busy intersection in Nashua, NH when she ran out of gas. Hairy!

      • David Appell: “My brother-in-law has been leasing and driving an EV to work for about 5-6 years.”

        Does the EV generate electricity? We are talking about the grid and renewable energy penetration, not EVs. EVs make good sense for a lot of other reasons that have nothing to do with energy.

        Their impact is only that we need MORE energy from our grids in order to power them and the resources required generate the energy via renewables makes no economic or environmental sense. Far better to use extremely cheap, high density, reliable energy such as nuclear, and until such time continue to use fossil fuels.

        If you want to be environmental responsible, don’t buy EVs or new cars. The amount of energy required to produce an EV from all the resources mined and processed to producing it is vast compared to keeping an old banger going.

  10. Excuse me, but WHY are we doing this at all? First of all, the official temperature record says there is no “climate crisis” now or in the foreseeable future, and more importantly, even the climate models, along with simple math, say that eliminating fossil fuel CO2 will change future temperatures by somewhere around 0.1 degrees, 100 years from now! Nothing stupider than racing to do something that does not need to be done at all!

    • Fascinating discussion about what is wrong with the “solution” to a problem that DOES NOT EXIST– i.e. manmade-CO2-caused global warming. Governments are pursuing absolution from the “sin” defined by the Great Church of Global Warming. Nothing more. It’s all pointless and very expensive, even if it DID work, which it can’t, and won’t.

    • J.Ewing commented:
      First of all, the official temperature record says there is no “climate crisis” now or in the foreseeable future

      You are ignorant of the science.

      The world is now warming at a rate of about 0.20-0.25 C/decade.

      The average warming rate from the depth of the last ice age to the Holocene was about 6 C in (23000-11000=) 12,000 years ~ 0.005 C/decade.

      In other words, we’re warming up about 40 times faster than after the last Glacial Maximum.

      Total warming since 1850 = 1.0 C (NOAA).

      That’s enormous!

      Unprecedented for this long. We have no precedent for this.

      And that’s just the global average. On land the warming is about 0.35 C/decade for the last 30 years.

      That’s a warming of 1.9 F in just 30 years. Now project out to 2100…. or 2150 or 2200.

      Now again, tell me why this isn’t a crisis.

  11. Good Here

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  13. Love to see a goal that is accomplished and even if not accomplished, people willingly and assiduously working hard to accomplish something but… does it affect the assessment of how big the accomplishment is if global warming is a hoax and scare tactic? I mean… working hard to train your dog not to sh** in the house is understandable but, does anyone else really care?

  14. There is no Australian authority tasked by our Govt to warn of unsafe planning.
    The Australian Energy Market Operator AEMO writes reports with words explaining that they heed policy like net zero by 2050 and consequently do not report on hydrocarbon fuel electricity generation for the future.
    Interested Australians cannot find modern reports that accurately show comparative costs of hydrocarbon versus wind or solar in actual operating circumstances. Reporting is almost all mantra of renewables being cheapest and getting cheaper. Many people accept this inaccuracy because they have not been shown accuracy.
    There is no official audit body willing or able to report on the actual situation versus the fabricated policy preference cases.
    Geoff S

  15. UK-Weather Lass

    All the writings of Planning Engineer (PE) have encouraged me to believe that sooner or later ‘the Establishment’ will have to face the music or have the dance hall permanently closed with unknown consequences.

    PE’s incisive looks at what grid generation, management and development has to take into consideration in its many global guises is clear evidence that had wind and solar (together or separately) ever been an answer to baseload dilemmas then the ‘generation’ that gave us ‘electricity grid generation’ would have seized hold of that option very, very quickly because they were that clever. But they didn’t and there are many reasons why explained in any good tome about those times. The grids as we know them were painstakingly built to provide all of us with energy options previous generations didn’t have and many works of genius were encompassed in that process from the moment the steam engine was born. And what of electric cars? Why on earth did those clever people shun such an idea when drilling and harnessing oil was a problem to be solved? Trial and error – the history of mankind – but not it seems for some very foolish people around today and seemingly ‘in charge’.

    The alarmists have for decades readily dismissed ‘baseload issues’ as ‘wasteful options and lies promulgated by deniers’, citing new technology as able to deal with every single one of the issues be it connectivity, grid dimensions, distances and reach, synchronicity, intermittency or energy wastages. It is as if we have, as a race, been sitting on the answers to a green, clean future forever (nuclear we have sat on but the rest – they are having a laugh if they really believe our ancestors didn’t consider or try wind and solar). But as with SARS-CoV-2 mitigation the alarmists never go into detail about just how, when and where they are going to overcome the obstacles they are confronted with be it a matter of physics, chemistry or realities. They just stay silent and pretend to be above such questioning. Just as with SARS-CoV-2 ‘a cobbled together and untested vaccine’ in the form of so called free energy is being injected into the blood vessels of a grid with both known and unknown issues to account for in the now let alone for in the future. When people, especially those in politically powerful positions avoid questions they can no longer be trusted – period.

    Meanwhile tried and tested medicine (the fossil fuel elements of the solutions) are being harmed to the extent they are now highly expensive and no longer secure or to be relied upon. We cannot even know that the electricity generating workforce or its suppliers is worthy of our trust any longer as it is ordained in ‘new beliefs’ like “green is clean, fossil fuel ain’t cool” which are the very opposites of the truth. Wind and solar are not clean green and fossil fuel remains a good efficient source of heat at least until we grasp the nettle of nuclear, really take the next several decades seriously and not as a stage show where big sums of good money is being thrown to the bad actors who are not having to offer or solve anything to get rich, while the good guys stand in the wings banned from performing ever again.

    If only PE were in charge of global energy policy or at least a go to guy before any decisions are made. They say it is never too late but I wonder.

    • aplanningengineer

      Thank you for that overly kind assessment. Policy is hampered because some people lack sufficeint knowledge, and others are overly-focused or not sufficiently specialized. But, I don’t believe there is any shortage of bright capable people who could guide us toward saner energy policies. The question is “how do we provide the incentives for them to speak and the incentives for others to listen?”

  16. This is a reasonable summary of what the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) already knows and has reported on. What it doesn’t say is that AEMO has developed a framework to resolve the unknowns.
    In addition, AEMO has separately reported that it estimates that around 25 synchronous condensers or equivalents will be required for a 100% renewable grid. They think around 10 of those will come from repurposed fossil fuel generators. We’ll also see whether inverter technology can take the place of some of the condensers.
    There is no doubt that the transition to majority renewable energy will come with missteps. Technology transitions always do. So the work and experience of the Australians will help us all in defining what is achievable and how.
    And for all you nuclear spruikers in the comments, it’s funny how you’re happy to embrace unproven technology and its costs while criticising the exact same thing on renewable systems. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sound of molten salt thorium SMR reactors but it’s not yet proven at scale and the costs are not yet demonstrated, but this doesn’t bother you as much as the unknowns of renewable systems. However more than anything, nuclear power has yet to solve an intractable problem that didn’t stop its introduction 60 years ago – a proven, safe and cost-effective long-term disposal and containment system for spent nuclear waste. Until this is done it will be difficult to get public support for widespread small modular reactors especially in a country like Australia which has no ultility-scale nuclear power plants

  17. This essay describes synchronous condensers as if the only way to stabilise frequency is with mass inertia. But every asynchronous source is connecting to the grid via an inverter, which provides a synthetic 50Hz. Surely at this stage the grid can be sensed and electronic controls can emulate the response of a spinning wheel.

    As described here:

    • In some cases, inverters require batteries. The article didn’t provide an estimate of how much battery storage would be required for a 100% unreliables system. Also, ERCOT is managing its grid by shutting down certain loads. This is very much less than optimal. It results in an unreliable electricity supply. The affected businesses will lose production because of it. Finally, it’s a much larger management headache than spinning generators. More expensive and less reliable isn’t the direction we should be headed.

      • Nick – In part 3 we will explain why inertia is needed for both frequency control, load shedding and reserves. They are all linked.
        As Doug pointed out, rapid injection from batteries is not inertia, it is very fast acting FCAS. There are differences.

    • Nick – are you one of the academics who doesn’t understand the grid, relying on academic studies?
      The asynchronous generation connecting to the grid use the grid as a signal to fire its diodes. When the frequency changes, they change. They have no inertia. That is why they can’t support the grid. If you have batteries and special electronics – grid forming inverters, then they do provide synthetic inertia, but their reliability and performance still unproven. The batteries have to be dedicated to that purpose as well. The inertia provided by one thermal unit is massive – 4-5000MWs from memory.
      There have been a number of trials of synthetic inertia using windfarm rundown, but as far as I am aware, there have been no actual big frequency swings to gauge their behaviour or reliability. There have been a lot of issues with the renewables tripping out because of software issues. Go back to Odessa 2022 when many of the plant that tripped out had tripped out in 2021 and was supposed to have been fixed. And the other really relevant point. If the wind is only running at 5% rating, they can’t be used for inertia even with the nrel proposed system. A thermal plant’s inertia is unchanged, minimum to full load.

      • Chris,
        I’m not an academic; the doc I cited was from NREL, a laboratory of the DOE.
        But synthetic inertia is real. Electronic circuitry can do more than just a bunch of diodes. It can monitor on a nanosecond scale the 50 Hz grid state, and modify the response accordingly. When South Australia moved to majority renewables, they famously installed a giant battery. It was mocked at the time, but in fact was very profitable providing FCAS services, which of course included frequency control. Now every state has at least one.

      • You might note, Nick, that electricity in Australia is twice as much as in the US. This in spite of having huge supplies of coal and natural gas. Why is the price so high, Nick?

      • Chris,
        In fact, the AEMO in February produced a report (link below) titled “Transition to fewer synchronous generators in South Australia”. It had this to say in the summary

        “Based on the results of the investigation via power system modelling and simulations, AEMO has derived the
        following conclusions:

        • Synchronous generation is not required for grid reference.

        • The SA power system configuration (as of March 2022), including synchronous condensers (syncons), gridconnected inverter-based resources (IBR) such as wind farms, solar farms and battery energy storage systems (BESS), is capable of sustaining a grid reference in SA, even during conditions when no synchronous generation is online in SA. “—transition-to-fewer-synch-gen—grid-reference.pdf

      • Nick.
        The AEMO chose its words very carefully. If you had read the post above, the major contributor to SA’s security is the Heywood interconnector. Find out what will happen if that is out of service – oh that’s right, they did last year and had to run the GTs ,shutting off wind and solar.
        In AEMO’s December report, they weren’t confident about transitioning away from inertia. To quote them “This structure is characterised by two foundational premises: frequency will continue to act as an indicator of supply-demand balance in the power system; and that it will continue to be necessary to
        maintain frequency within relatively narrow bounds around a nominal value for equipment to operate safely. Actions related to inertia are included under this section to acknowledge the critical role mechanical inertia plays on managing the rate of change of frequency (RoCoF). However, it also acknowledged that inertia is an inherent physical property of the power system that impacts the overall system dynamic performance, and all forms of stability more generally, both local and global, which will require consideration as frequency response is increasingly provided by IBR.As the power system evolves, with increasing DC applications, and continued proliferation of IBR and other modern power-electronic devices within AC power systems, these premises may change, and will require new control strategies and methods to capitalise on the wider frequency ranges that may be tolerable.
        ” They have been bitten before – in both their and Electranet’s reports on the grid in mid 2016, low inertia wasn’t a problem. Look how that turned out.

      • “— wider frequency ranges that may be tolerable”.

        Any idea what is in mind there?

      • Chris,
        The AEMO’s words were blunt:
        “Synchronous generation is not required for grid reference”.

        Re interconnectors, their main study was scenario 2, SA islanded. They also added in a trip of a couple of syncons. It passed

        “The results of SA island power system for the trip of Davenport unit 1 syncon and trip of HPRx are shown in Section 4.2.1 and Section 4.2.2, respectively. Key observations are:
        • The network voltages remain satisfactory and able to meet the success criteria following the respective contingency events. The voltage oscillations meet the 5 second halving time requirement with adequate damping.
        • Following the trip of Davenport unit 1 syncon in Section 4.2.1, the frequency in SA (as seen in Figure 15) stabilises close to 50 Hz. However, following the trip of HPRx in Section 4.2.2, the frequency (seen in Figure 20) takes longer to stabilise due to the lack of fast frequency control resources within SA, following the tripping of HRPx. In both cases, the frequency remains within the containment band of 49-51 Hz.
        • The active power response of IBR during the fault and post-fault conditions exhibits transient fault-ride through behaviour around 15 seconds in Figure 16 and Figure 21. However, most IBR generation returns to pre-fault levels, without any significant generation loss or multiple fault ride-through behaviour. It is noted that the dip in active power is more pronounced (around 1,100 MW temporary dip, seen in Figure 16) due to the trip of Davenport unit 1 syncon, compared to Figure 21. This may be due to the reduction in fault levels following the tripping of the syncon compared to the trip of a BESS.”

      • My earlier question appears to have been answered.
        ” the frequency remains within the containment band of 49-51 Hz.”

        In a 50Hz system that is equivalent to 2% change from design. That my have considerable impact on the service life of some rotating plant.

        In my ‘limited’ experience I have seen quotes of 1% maximum frequency swing allowable (in spite of asking for 5% CEGB recomm – if I recall correctly). It is difficult to know when abrupt failure is to occur. The cost of unplanned extended outage, and the added cost of a reblading of a rotor may be exorbitant (known from experience).

      • In the real world, nothing is out of scope.

        n scope of the study 
        • High level assessment and operating envelope for non-credible separation of SA and operation of SA
        island without synchronous generation, assuming a self-sufficient SA island following a separation
        • A maximum of 200 megawatts (MW) of flow on Heywood Interconnector (HIC), to avoid a large
        frequency excursion triggering under-frequency load shedding (UFLS) or over-frequency generation
        shedding (OFGS), while still assessing grid reference, which is the focus of this work.
        • Proof-of-concept analysis for grid reference without synchronous generation.
        Out-of-scope X
        • Adequacy of emergency frequency control schemes such as UFLS, OFGS, and supply-demand
        • Development of granular limit advice and detailed transient stability and voltage stability assessment.
        • Specific operating measures to resecure the power system within 30 minutes of a contingency event.
        • Protection adequacy, meeting system design standards including power quality.

      • Nick
        If everything is OK in the world of inertia, why is AEC worried about declining inertia and wanting AEMC to establish an inertia market established? I note that only some grid forming inverters will be eligible but they see it mainly coming from syncons and generating rotating synchronous plant.
        Despite what you wrote, the AEMO still says there is an inertia shortfall in SA sub-grid and there will soon be in all the other states.
        To quote: “For the period to December 2027, AEMO has assessed that the minimum threshold level of inertia will be met. However, the existing shortfall against the secure operating level of inertia remains. ElectraNet has services in place to address the shortfall until 30 June 2023 and is presently finalising services to meet the shortfall for 2023-24. The shortfall will persist until Project EnergyConnect (PEC) Stage 2 is operational and until ElectraNet has implemented a scheme to effectively manage the non-credible loss of either of the Project EnergyConnect or Heywood interconnectors26
        . The end date for the shortfall could be affected by the provision of sufficient services through the establishment of very fast FCAS markets (from October 2023), or the completion of updates to a special protection scheme for South Australia (scheduled for July 2024). AEMO and ElectraNet will monitor these and other events and will re-assess the shortfall if required.”
        So they are just scraping by if they get enough bids on the VFFCAS, but won’t be secure until they get a new interconnector. Not exactly a ring of confidence, is it?

      • Chris,
        ” why is AEC worried about declining inertia and wanting AEMC to establish an inertia market established?”

        They say why they are worried. In the past, inertia and generation were linked, and they didn’t have to worry. Now generators may not have inertia,; there are ways of providing it, but the AEC needs to make sure that it actually happens. Currently batteries etc do it by bidding for FCAS services, but what happens if there are not enough people able to bid? So the AEC wants an explicit market for inertia. This is just management stuff.

        The point is that the means exist, and are in operation, and are not limited to the syncon you talk about. They just have to make sure someone will do it.

        ” the AEMO still says there is an inertia shortfall in SA sub-grid”
        And, they say, also in Tasmania, still mainly hydro. But what you didn’t quote was the bit heading it in large print:
        “AEMO has confirmed the existing shortfall against the secure operating level of inertia in the South Australia region. Fast frequency response is likely to provide an efficient response to address this shortfall, which is sized at 360 MW from July 2023 until Project EnergyConnect is operational.”

        FFR is the various forms of synthetic inertia, via battery or wind system inverter. They say that the new NSW interconnector will solve the problem, but FFR will likely work first.

      • Nick – I didn’t know it was already October 2023.

      • Nick with regards you claiming FCAS is synthetic inertia, Here is Wattclarity’s take on it
        And my summary of what this new very fast raise / lower service is not – though AEMO will need to consider the interactions between these:
        Very Fast Raise/Lower isn’t “inertia”. Inertia is the physical resistance to power system frequency change that comes from synchronous spinning machines such as steam, gas or hydro turbines, which instantaneously speed up or slow down if there’s a supply/demand imbalance on the power system.
        This AEMC paper is pretty clear that it isn’t trying to solve the problem of falling synchronous inertia in this rule change, and isn’t trying to substitute FFR for inertia as these are different physical commodities.
        While it’s not addressed by this rule change, there’s considerable discussion in the paper about how to value inertia.
        Now why is the rest of the industry out of step with your thoughts?

      • Chris, this issue of kinetic versus synthetic inertia I find very puzzling. I am professional composer and I use digital audio equipment in my working life. I synchronise audio equipment to a frequency of 48000 Hz and there can be no slippage at all. Not even 0.5 Hz.

        I realise that synthetic grid forming inverters are maybe more expensive and some solutions are not “tested”. I agree that until something reliable has been tested, then rushing from reliable methods is unwise. But it’s really hard to see how technically making something respond to a change in frequency and demand is unfeasible/very difficult or even particularly expensive. From my experience dealing with DSP in the audio domain it shouldn’t be that hard at all. I use cheap plug-ins that responds to amplitude and frequency variations in order to boost or attenuate signals near instantaneously.

        What might help is some outline of the short-comings. For example, can the batteries that it uses for make up gain or frequency change their output fast enough? Is it because 50 Hz is too coarse a signal and that might be the issue?

        Or is it that having so many of them on the grid creates a huge complexity? Could that be characterised so we can get some sort of grip on what you think concerns you?

    • Inertia is a state of being and cannot be created sythetically. Fast frequency response should help minimize the need for actual inertia, but cannot eliminate it. Inertia provides the immediate negative feedback any stable system requires.

      The inertia issue can probably be solved IMO at considerable cost. The intermittancy problem cannot. That is obvious at this point…CAISO, PJM, TVA, ERCOT, SPP, MISO…how many more examples do we need?

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  19. Aging metals have plagued nuclear plants in France. Not many things last forever when operated under stressful conditions.

    • And the 14 MeV neutrons produced by a fusion reactor (vs 2 MeV for fission) will be even worse.

    • O Boy! On the same date as my earlier post.

      “– utility’s discovery of a “significant” corrosion crack at its Penly-1 plant. The defect is located near a weld that had been mended twice during construction of the facility, which was commissioned in the early 1990s.”

      Corrosion cracking. An old “terror”. Scared the s*** out of any ‘mechanical’ earning a living near powerful rotating beasts.

      Beats the nerves out of you when the characteristic vibration signature changes with every startup – with the new cycling mode of operation.

  20. Russ S and Chris M,

    Thank you for these 2 essays.

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  25. Michael Cunningham aka Faustino aka Genghis Cunn

    I recall that at one point in recent years SA totally lost its power supply and was entirely dependent on that from other states.

    • That was not the case – In 2016, SA went black for about 12h because a lot of wind farms tripped off during a storm, the interconnector from Victoria overloaded and the frequency dropped too quickly for them to be able to shed load to save the core of the state’s grid.
      The most they can import on the Heywood line was about 750MW – been reduced to ~500MW most of the time now, 200MW on a DC line up north. Their actual load (not grid load as a lot of behind the meter domestic solar) varies between about 1200 and 3000MW

      • “In 2016, SA went black for about 12h because a lot of wind farms tripped off during a storm”

        There is a lot of myth-making about this event. The AEMO report is here

        The storm first knocked over a number of towers on the major power lines which had brought power from the former coal power stations to the main SA grid. These disturbances (not the winds) then caused wind turbines to trip. This loss of power threw the burden onto the Heywood interconnector, which also tripped. Supply to SA failed at 4.19 pm.

        First power was restored to customers at 7pm. About 40% of the power that could be restored was there by 8.30 pm and 80-90% by midnight. The remaining problems were the power lines that were damaged in the storm.

      • “These alleged failures contributed to the black system event [BSE], and meant that AEMO [Australian Energy Market Operator] was not fully informed when responding to system-wide failures in South Australia in September 2016.”

        Conboy added that the regulator would seek declarations, penalties, compliance program orders and costs.

        On 28 September 2016, a major storm, which included two tornadoes, knocked down transmission lines in the mid-north of the state. The AER argues that the blackout — which affected 850,000 customers and in some areas lasted for days — was then triggered by a loss of generation from the accused companies’ wind farms (see below).

        This contradicts the results of a previous AER investigation last December into the blackout, which stated that although there had been some instances of non-compliance with obligations, these “did not contribute to the state going black”.

        Pacific Hydro Clements Gap Pty Ltd (Pacific Hydro) has been ordered to pay $1.1 million in penalties by the Federal Court for breaching the National Electricity Rules by failing to obtain written approval for critical system settings in their wind farms.

        This comes on the same day that HWF 1 Pty Ltd (Hornsdale) has been ordered to pay $550,000 in penalties by the Federal Court for breaching the same rules, in proceedings brought by the Australian Energy Regulator (AER).

      • A more interesting question is if all SA electricity were generated by traditional, spinning coal and natural gas plants, would the total blackout have happened? I’m guessing that analysis was never done.

      • “if all SA electricity were generated by traditional, spinning coal and natural gas plants, would the total blackout have happened?”

        Had SA still been relying on coal, the situation would have been very bad. The powerlines that were knocked out were the ones leading from Port Augusta, where the coal stations were, to the rest of the grid. There would have been only the interconnector, plus a small amount of gas.

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  27. There is a lot of mythmaking about the event Nick, including some of which you have indulged in. It wasn’t towers over that took out the windfarms as there was a number of successful auto reclosed. The windfarms tripped on their protection, even though circuits were restored. Even after the event, there were a number of unaffected circuits from Davenport to Adelaide (map on P33 helps). To quote the report
    “If this event had not happened, it is possible that output of these wind farms could have continued to fall. To understand the significance of this, AEMO has undertaken a scenario study assuming:
     The loss of the four 275 kilovolt (kV) transmission lines damaged in the storm.
     No sustained power reduction due to the operation of the protective feature triggered by multiple voltage disturbances, but a further 200 MW reduction in wind generation due to operation of the over-speed protection.
    The simulation results for this scenario have indicated that the SA power system would have remained stable and separation from the rest of the NEM would not have occurred.
    I got details on time to restoration wrong, I was going from memory – always a risk. AEMO considers it as 7.5h (P77)

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