South Australia set to destroy energy market

Darryn Capes-DavisEngineer, Opinion

Solar panels and electricity towers.

First up, let me say that I am no expert on the energy market but I am trying to follow the current discussion closely, especially with my Engineering hat on.

Much discussion around energy supply in South Australia focuses on issues of last September and this February.

The SA state blackout experienced last September was rooted in the extreme damage to the grid, and the grid central character being unable to respond. Electricity grids in Australia have been created based on supply concentrated in small areas of generation. The grid is not designed for wide spread renewables. To link with the grid renewables need to be able synchronise with the frequency of the grid, ‘listening’ to the base load generators for that frequency. A new renewable friendly grid needs to be able to work independently of the base load to be ready for emergency situations like last September. Standards must exist to allow this to happen with synchronisation to take place without the base load, and allow isolated grid sections to remain up for emergency services and base load restart.

The rolling local blackouts of February may be an energy market issue to address. However, it is less about suppliers not wanting to supply generation, and more of the forecasting of supply and demand. When the market was created, demand forecast was historical and climate based but supply forecasting was all about baseload availability. Now with renewables of wind and solar in the mix, we have a situation where both supply and demand is both climate based. Indeed, the stoppages of Feb X was all due to the supply forecast being incorrect, with solar and wind lower than expected, and not having base load reserve ready due to this poor forecast. The improvement here is better climate forecasting models to be usd by the market operator to make sure that this situation does not happen again.

Back to SA today. Their move is akin to suggesting that they will demand energy reserves be available before the market asks. So in effect, it will be running its own local market. Everyone knows that to have reserves available, base load generators spinning, or batteries at the ready and not used elsewise, will come with a premium price. This will destroy the market as it is.

The solution to the energy crisis is to improve the grid and improve demand and supply forecasting. No state needs to go along like SA has chosen to do so.

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