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The rise of solar is ‘jeopardising the grid’ and it's a lesson for Australia (abc.net.au)
91 points by clouddrover 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 144 comments





Strong motherfucking opinion warning.

South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent. It's the most perfect place for solar power. Australia as-a-whole is a perfect place for solar power.

A university lecturer of mine got one of the first solar panel installations in South Australia, it was mentioned in the local Adelaide paper, that's how much of a big deal it was. This was around 20 years ago. Twenty years!

South Australia (still) has some of the highest priced electricity in the world. There's been talk of privatization as the cause of this, which has been somewhat debunked[0], and the primarily agreed reason for the high prices is what's referred to as "gold-plating of the network" in which there was an agreement that the 'poles and wires' companies could not lose money on any infrastructure investment they committed to - the regulator would allow them continually increase the prices they charge in order to cover the cost of the infrastructure investment[1][2][3].

So, despite how perfect Australia is for solar power, private or commercial, despite the fact that solar panels have been getting commercially installed on private homes for 20-odd years, and despite the networks being given carte-blanche for infrastructure investment, somehow, Australia is un-prepared for a flood of solar power.

The various organizations that are meant to be on top of this shit have been asleep at the wheel for fucking YEARS. This was highlighted by the big power failure in South Australia in 2016 when a number of wind farms shut down due to 'safety settings' being set at overly paranoid parameters, which was a problem that had already been solved in Europe (the frustrating irony of this is that the wind farms were being blamed for the power failure, when the actual situation was that the wind farms could have PREVENTED it, if their configurations were 'best practice' - the problems in the electricity network that caused the wind farms to trip were powerful winds that took down some big-arse transmission lines)[4][5]

Australia's issues with renewable energy are entirely of their own making. And it's far more likely attributable to incompetence than malice. I'd almost prefer it was malice because malice comes and goes. Incompetence is systemic.

Off on a tangent, here's my 10-years of electricity usage / costs investigation: http://electricity.atcf.com.au/economics/

[0] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-25/fact-check-does-priva...

[1] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-02/senate-inquiry-to-pro...

[2] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-03-25/grattan-urges-consume...

[3] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-04/energy-policy-solar-e...

[4] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-28/wind-farm-settings-to...

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/oct/19/south-au...


Hello fellow south australian! I agree completely with everything you said.

One thing you left out though is the very real possibility of an electricity utility death spiral, as the (wilfully) rising grid costs combine with obligation of supply and the declining cost of solar self-sufficiency meet on an economic collision course.

The cost of a tesla powerwall in SA right now is about $10k. One or two of these combined with an average size roof PV array will run you about AUD$20-30k. For people used to a quarterly power bill of $1k+ this is an absolute no-brainer. Even if you don't have the money up front it's an easy loan that simply pays itself off, then it's nothing but upside.

Right now that payback period is 5-10 years but as the tech progresses that will decrease. Once the price tag to substantially remove electricity bills from your life reaches $10k or so everyone will do it and the utilities are fucked. Hell, I can envisage neighbourhood power co-ops. I know someone with so much extra power they have no idea what to do with it. They air condition their garage 24/7!

Perhaps a startup opportunity there coordinating and organising "local sourced" power. There would be hardware involved but I know at least 5 people who would love to be able to sell power to their neighbours. Someone just needs to remove all the friction.


There are startups in NSW/Canberra that are working towards doing exactly what you're talking about. I know for a fact that hardware from these two companies is based on off-the-shelf Raspberry Pis and Beaglebones. https://www.switchdin.com/ https://youtu.be/FKqmj6oUY4g https://repositpower.com/

I think the concept of micro-grids is the likely direction. The grid itself is too useful to give up, and it's "there". This may be analogous to the co-op that you're suggesting. I think there are already companies that allow you to share your power like that. If I find a link I'll post it.

The grid will become the backup for when there is a local issue with your system, that's my take from a very shallow amount of reading.


Yes! I said a few years ago that we will need decentralization in power grids and mesh networks around the world, not just in software. It will also help prevent a Carrington event and survive an EMP:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WzMm7-j7yIY


The grid is also important to stabilise the frequency of the grid. The inertia of the spinning rotors from the generator helps to counteract the increase in frequency causes by large amounts of export power from the solar inverters


I'm fairly certain this is systematic malice (or at least systematic self-interested callousness).

And reading through your linked blog posts, it seems you know it too.

People don't just accidentally campaign against carbon taxes and coincidentally embrace climate change denial and attack science when it benefits their largest donors.

This article itself is knowingly malicious in presenting a false narrative in order to stop Australians saving money that would otherwise go to fossil fuel interests.


>And reading through your linked blog posts, it seems you know it too.

Heh, thanks for taking the time to read it.

I like to try to present the facts as I see them before getting too tin-foil-hat ranty.

Yes, the current Australian Government is as close to being in the pockets of mining companies as it's possible to be, and yes, they rail against renewable energy to an extent that is confusing to anyone somewhat literate and numerate.

Our Energy Minister spoke at an anti-wind-farm rally for goodness sake.

The opposition party seem entirely toothless on numerous issues and just do not, for whatever reason, hold the government to account on any of it's ludicrous statements, policy suggestions, or general direction.

But saying that stuff, in a forum where people can reply, is asking for a flame-war.

Hopefully the facts speak for themselves, whilst Australia's political class continues to shred any of its remaining reputation.

As a follow up, as of the third quarter 2019, I'm $50 away from my solar system having paid for itself. I need to update the graphs...


> The opposition party seem entirely toothless on numerous issues and just do not, for whatever reason...

The opposition is a political party who was explicitly formed to champion the rights of people like the coal miners. A lot of their heartland in Newcastle-region and probably QLD is mining towns.

I'm always impressed that they can take an anti-mining stance at all; anti-coal policies target people who are traditionally core Labor activists. The mining union isn't the be-all and end-all, and I don't follow their internal struggles very much, but the Labor party must have some pretty structural reservations about shutting down mining jobs. These jobs are the easiest way for unskilled or semi-skilled labour to make money in Australia.


> malice comes and goes. Incompetence is systemic.

now that is a quote


Australia's energy problems are a symptom of a much larger issue.

Australia is run by mining magnates and an energy oligarchy. Its government has very little concern for the future of the country - having sold most of it, out from under the Australian citizens - and its political class is hell-bent on cashing in. Australians should stop being so shocked about the impropriety of the nation and start paying more attention.

This is the nation that watched the Great Barrier Reef die in front of its eyes, for the sake of a few smashed avocados. Its the nation that got away with its genocide, while the world wasn't watching. Its a nation which glorifies war criminals as heroes and hides its political dissidents behind secret courts and non-public processes.

Its political system was specifically designed to allow only the ruling classes to wield power - the riffraff of the general population will never get what they want from their government, if big changes are required to get them.


The argument for Solar always sounds a lot like terra nullius, that was used to dispossess indigenous Australians of their land, and later their land rights.

Australia is a MASSIVE country, that is largely uninhabitable by humans. It is estimated that 75% of the species on the continent are undiscovered: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-07/75-per-cent-of-specie...

Large scale solar is likely to cause problems for large numbers of native species. YMMV in how important you find that, but to me personally it is a huge issue.


1sqkm is 300GWh a year at 20%

A patch of land 20 miles by 20 miles generates enough electricity for the entire Aus requirements.

That’s an order of magnitude less than area taken by austrailia’s roads.


I reckon I've seen a single open cut coal mine that's probably 10% of that size... Leigh Creek in SA. Actually, I just looked it up on GoogleMaps. It's "only" about 8km x 3km or so, or 2.5%. I still wonder how much electricity we could generate if we covered every coal mine in Australia with solar panels?

Carmichael coal mine is planned to be 447 square km [0], over half being "surface disturbance area"

Insolation at that location is about 2.1MWh per square metre per year, or 2100GWh per square km per year. [1]

Solar panels are around 20% efficiency, so lets call it 15% to include things like support areas.

The area used by that coal mine could generate 2100 x .15 x 447 = 140TWh per year

Austrailia currently uses 190TWh/year [2], so an area the size of that one mine could generate the majority of Austrailia's electrical requirements.

That's just back of envelope numbers, if we look at existing solar plants though, Solar Star in California generates [3] 526MWh/acre, or 130GWh/sqkm -- so this plant would generate 58TWh a year, still over 25% of requirements

There are many problems with solar power, but space use in Australia is not one.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmichael_coal_mine

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_power_in_Australia#/medi...

[2] https://www.aer.gov.au/wholesale-markets/wholesale-statistic...

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_Star


Why would 'large scale solar' cause an issue for native species? Even if 100% of Australian power were generated by solar, what percentage of the total land area would be used?

Well, lets check! The total power generating capacity of Australia is about 66GW, but about 18 is already hydro, wind, or solar. So we need to come up with about 48GW. Lets take a fairly moderate estimate of 4 acres per MW (4000 acres per GW). It may be more or less than this, but in the long run this is not a terrible estimate. So we need to come up with about 50 * 4000 == 200,000 acres of land.

South Australia by itself is 243,000,000 acres, we need about 200k, so this is about .8% of the total land area. This seems like a lot! However, the total number of dwellings in South Australia is about 768,000. The average size of a roof, according to google, is about .03 acres. So just putting photovoltaics on 1/2 of the roof area (meh, I don't know how to estimate usable roof area with a random direction and I don't know whether roofs in Australia are flat, so lets take 1/2) would get you 11.5k acres.

So 5% of the total power usage of all of Australia could be provided just by putting solar panels on the roofs of houses in South Australia. Seems like a good deal for endangered species.

What about the other 95%? Well, again, you would only need 0.8% of South Australia to supply the energy needs of all of Australia.

Like you said, Australia is a MASSIVE country, and has extremely low population density and an almost perfect climate for solar power production. So what is your point exactly? That if they took less than 1% of the land of one part of the country and converted to 100% renewable energy some lizard which is only 'unique' by an arbitrary human criterion might have too much shade?


Cover every roof in Austrailia with a solar panel and you're pretty much set. No extra land use needed.

https://www.pv-magazine-australia.com/2019/06/13/australia-c...


Terra nullius is a bit suspect as legal doctorines go, I haven't seen a reference that it was a used before it was created to be rejected when granting the Aboriginals land rights. The 'legal' justification for considering Australia uninhabited was basically (1) Australia was reachable by the British Navy and (2) the inhabitants didn't have a standing army that could inconvenience the British Navy.

The matter was that the High Court recognised that Aboriginals had every right to be part of Australian society & had a pretty solid claim to be the effective owners of the land. That is to say, 'terra nullius' was more about racism and culture than about facts and technicalities. It seems comparatively unlikely that we are going to recognise 75% of the species in Australia as being property-owning members of society.


You’ve described the legal basis for British sovereignty over Australia, but ownership and sovereignty are different and independent (eg my backyard is the sovereign territory of Australia but the property of me).

The legal basis for considering Australian territory to be the property of no-one was that the Aborigines appeared to have no concept of landownership; they were nomadic, didn’t build and permanent structures, didn’t farm, didn’t have any concept of which bits of land belong to whom. Without that, it’s difficult to say that anyone actually owns any piece of land in particular.


First paragraph - absolutely.

Second paragraph is half based on commonly-held misconceptions that are partially the result of early colonial propaganda: indigenous Australians did indeed have strong traditions of land occupation and diplomacy and knew exactly which land “belonged” to which tribe. They farmed extensively (research Wollombi as an example - yams from horizon to horizon according to white explorers recorded notes).

Of course, all nations are based upon the power to take or prevent what you have from being taken, and in that regard it’s no different from anywhere else in the world.


Ownership and sovereignty are different, but very much dependent on each other. Sovereignty literally means the ability to unilaterally determine what rules and rights shall apply and what rights won't, to define what's legal for that land and people.

You have rights to property, life and liberty essentially because the local constitutional law asserts that these rights are the law of the land - and it's worth to note that the basic set of unalienable constitutional rights is quite different in different sovereign countries, some things are almost universal, but there's a lot of differences. If sovereignty changes hands (e.g. if Australia would be conquered by USSR in a weird alternate history), then it's perfectly plausible for the new sovereign to assert that people like larnmar can't have any property rights, and all real estate is now the property of someone else - and that would be entirely legal, because they get to define legality.


That air around you, it's difficult for me to see how you've claimed it. I'm officially claiming it can be claimed, and it's mine now.

Yes, that would be the downside of that.

On the other hand, suppose aliens land on Earth and quietly blorple all the fuzzbars between our atoms. We can’t possibly understand the blorpling but it doesn’t seem to be doing any harm so we leave it be.

A couple of centuries later we realise that if we’d blorple our own fuzzbars we’d be rich by now. But let’s face it, we were probably never going to develop blorpling technology on our own.


Might is right. If you can forcibly take my air then, yes, it is yours.

> Large scale solar is likely to cause problems for large numbers of native species.

Bigger problem then coal mines?


Solar can be deployed on land that's already being used for other purposes.

For example on top of houses and shopping centres. While we're also looking at shopping centres - there's a huge amount of unroofed parking, throw up some basic shelter to put the solar panels on and you get the dual-benefit of energy generation, and keeping the cars cooler.


Guess what else will cause problems for native species? Climate change.

e.g. gigantic fires that eradicate whole areas.

Did you see the photos of the lightly-charred koalas?


They did the analysis for the Square Kilometer Array. WA came up as the perfect place for this kind of construction because of the lack of ecosystem to interfere with. Politics then moved half of it to Africa sigh.

If you had to pick somewhere in the world to build enough solar arrays to power the entire planet, WA is the perfect spot for it.


Actually, politics moved half of SKA to Australia, South Africa won the initial site selection (https://www.nature.com/news/south-africa-wins-science-panel-...).

The site evaluation itself states both sites are about the same, and I think I've read that the eventual political compromise means there will be less RFI overall, at the unspoken cost of some simultaneous coverage of the targets.


interesting. That's not the version of events I heard from some of the people involved ;) But I heard it in WA, so they may have been audience-pleasing

On just merit it seems to have been a rather close thing (though South Africa was the better site), which I think was known in advance. So the entire process was pretty highly politicised; you can find much more information here: https://www.skatelescope.org/site-documentation/ though there is quite a bit of reading between the lines.

Of note to the sort of sociological questions we are discussing here, I note not only is the Site selection report ~200 pages, but also fairly interesting is a 16 page "Report on Validation of the SKA Site Selection Process". This comes with a lot of other documents as appendices, but also lays allows one to make out the timeline a bit more.

The final site report is from February 2012, while an "evaluation plan" was set in November 2011, and a "Revised Plan for SKA Site Selection" approved in May 2011. The Siting Group was created in 2010, to help with the "final" site selection. All this paints a picture of a somewhat fluid process.


> solar arrays to power the entire planet

Generation is probably less than half the problem. The infrastructure to transport it everywhere is. So even if there's a goldmine of free electricity there getting it to the places that need it is a challenge.


yeah, I wasn't proposing that we actually do it. I was just making the point that if we did, WA is the perfect place for it.

"excess solar power from households and businesses spilled uncontrolled on to the system, pushing the amount of power needed from the grid to increasingly low levels.... The only way to manage the solar was to scale back or switch off the coal- and gas-fired power stations that were supposed to be the bedrock of the electricity system."

Wow, that sounds like a great problem to have. Note the aggressive rhetoric ... 'spill', 'uncontrolled','pushing', 'bedrock', 'solar smashes utility finance'. Well-crafted FUD from ABC's Mercer, if he wrote it all.

Coal and gas being endangered sounds perfect, if you give a rat's ass about climate change. But let's do everything we can to get in the way of progress by painting the result as blackly as possible. Maybe instead of pushing that excess onto the grid, people can sell it their neighbors instead ... or 'the industry' could install more batteries to store it in.


> "excess solar power from households and businesses spilled uncontrolled on to the system" ... Wow, that sounds like a great problem to have.

It's also a problem that has already been solved at the technology level.

Australia just needs an equivalent to California's updated "Rule 21" regulations for smart inverters, which came into force in 2019. These rules require inverters to support "remote control" management by utilities, so that their output can be throttled back in low-demand scenarios.

Rule 21 also specifies features like dynamic volt/VAR (dynamic reactive compensation), so inverters actively work to stabilise the grid in the event of voltage deviations, as well as ramping and "ride through" requirements to prevent large numbers of inverters tripping simultaneously during voltage/frequency deviations which could result in a cascading fault.


Yes, that is in fact exactly what the original article is arguing - that the stability of the Western Australian grid requires a switch to "smart" solar which the grid operator can remotely curtail the output of on demand. Hence all the rhetoric about how excess power "spilled uncontrolled" onto the grid which the previous comment complained about.

This is also not, in fact, a good situation to be in. The stability of the power grid depends on balancing supply with demand in real time, and if that can't be done then the whole thing fails. Not only that, the old-fashioned gas and steam power plants have inertia that helps stabilize the grid and as that decreases overall stability margins fall. I think wind farms can emulate this inertia to a certain extent, but that doesn't always seem to work so well...


Wind mills have to be designed to deliver inertia, older mills generally aren't as this wasn't an issue when they were built. If you have a grid that relies primarily on solar, you might want to build dedicated flywheels to keep it stable.

> Wow, that sounds like a great problem to have. Note the aggressive rhetoric ... 'spill', 'uncontrolled','pushing', 'bedrock', 'solar smashes utility finance'. Well-crafted FUD from ABC's Mercer, if he wrote it all.

Hmmm, it must be a dog whistle. I read it. Those terms had me cheering the rooftop solar roll out on. You are saying that wasn't the intended effect?

And the article did say what the solution was - pour resources into storage and wind. I'll grant you it was at the end, but there was no mention of stopping the solar roof top rollout. That continuing seemed like a forgone conclusion, and more to the point - how could they stop it?

Mind you, I didn't quite understand the problem with "lots of output on cool spring days". The solar inverters are required by law to protect the grid. As the output rises above consumption the grid voltage rises. When the voltage crosses a threshold every solar inverter is required to disconnect itself from the grid. The effect is very well known among root top solar owners, and is the topic of a hot conspiracy theories. (The conspiracy is when the major supplies aren't making enough money, they mistakingly/on-purpose let the voltage rise for a small time.)

Interestingly they didn't mention the obvious solution - more gas generators. I guess the gas people didn't pay for it.


I’m skeptical of cryptocurrency solutions to everything but what if they tackled the under-demand problem instead of the over-supply problem and spun up cryptocurrency miners to eat the excess instead of shutting down the coal plants.

Why should we be trying to keep coal plants online?

Long term we shouldn’t but it’s expensive to shut them off and on again.

So, "jeopardising" in the seense that, say, me driving west on a road which comes to a north-south "T" in the road, would be "jeopardising" the car's safety...if I don't turn the car in an appropriate manner when I get to the "T". Yes, if you add solar with absolutely no changes elsewhere to accommodate that, you will eventually have problems.

But, that's like saying smartphones jeopardized the cell phone infrastructure, which they did except the cell phone companies added capacity. Bicycles can jeopardize the road network of a city if they become widely used, and you don't do anything (e.g. bike lanes) to accommodate that change. Every change in technology can jeopardize the network it is part of, if nothing else is changed to accommodate it.

But, you know, there are several (already known, developed) methods of handling this (big batteries, utilities being able to turn off your solar like they can currently remotely control my thermostat). It seems a bit of an overstatement to say that it's jeopardizing the grid.


The powers that be in Australia are very, very, very friendly (read: in bed with) the coal industry. For the last 5 years they have been doing everything possible to discredit renewables, and there is a lot of money at stake.

It's a fascinating view into what happens when a few very rich and powerful people control essentially all the media in an entire country.


That pretty much describes governments around the world, it's nothing exclusive to Australia unfortunately.

Hmm, I'd say Australia's mining industry holds a significantly more hefty sway over politicians than it does in other countries, just because of how much of Aussie's GDP is based on mining - plus how the miners have attempted to controk the media there: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gina_Rinehart#Business_career

> In 2010 Rinehart took a 10 per cent stake in Ten Network Holdings; James Packer had acquired an 18 per cent stake in the same company shortly before. Since then she also acquired a substantial stake in Fairfax Media. Rinehart was a major player in the media and no longer limits her interests to the mining business. In February 2012 she increased her stake in Fairfax to over 12 per cent, and became the largest shareholder of the company. Fairfax journalists were reportedly fearful that she wanted to turn them into a "mouthpiece for the mining industry". In June 2012, she increased her stake further to 18.67 per cent, and was believed to be seeking three board seats and involvement in editorial decisions in Fairfax's newspaper division. Negotiations between Fairfax and Hancock Prospecting broke down in late June because of disagreements over Fairfax's editorial independence policy and other issues relating to board governance; chair Roger Corbett subsequently announced that Rinehart would not be offered any seats on the board. After failing to get board representation she sold her shareholding in 2015.


In Canada you have one family that owns almost all the news media in the country and also Reuters. From what I understand they are the 5th richest family in the world.


But 5th according to Reuters!

While that may or may not be true, I’d say it is true that the powers that be for most countries are in bed with one or more industries comparatively to Australia and the coal industry.

We've got it pretty bad here.

This man is now the Prime Minister (the highest political position in Australia):

https://www.theguardian.com/global/video/2017/feb/09/scott-m...


Yeah, it's a stupid headline. The real story here is that the government owned energy utility made a massive loss and is blaming rooftop solar. The headline should say: "Energy planners fail to account for obvious and foreseeable structural change to energy generation".

> But, you know, there are several (already known, developed) methods of handling this (big batteries, utilities being able to turn off your solar like they can currently remotely control my thermostat).

That was the point of the article: the solar CANNOT be switched off, it's dumb. That's what's causing the problem, all the dumb solar.


Interesting because I've got a box to just shut off my power. If I don't pay my bill the company can shut off my power. Seems to me that the power company should be looking at ways to handle the free power generation the public is providing and being the storage utility, otherwise the homeowners can just start storing it themselves and cut the power company out of the picture entirely.

Energy storage is a lot harder than it sounds, particularly at scale. Typical solutions are pumping water uphill in hydro stations: not particularly efficient, but it's easy to do on demand.

Western Australia is very flat (especially the bit near all the people). And pretty dry (though the bit near all the people is not so dry). There's nowhere to pump water to, and not much water to pump.

However, there is a huge demand for fresh water, and lots of available seawater. You could just soak up excess power by using it for desalination, which is power-hungry.

But that doesn't benefit the mining industry, so no-one in WA govt will think of it.


I'm curious, what's normal to do with all the waste from desalination?

The concentrated salt water is pumped back into the sea. Doesn't seem to be too damaging to the environment. See:

https://theconversation.com/desal-plants-might-do-less-damag...


Jeopardizing it as in a problem to solve. No one is saying that this is the end of solar energy, good grief. I'm sure they'll figure something out. The article is just pointing out that it is an issue and it's coming to a head. No one said it was unsolvable. Big oil/coal isn't trying to take your solar.

No, they are just working with the Murdoch press and LNP government to stymie and delay the uptake of renewable energy and ensure that enough of the electorate has sufficient doubt about possible, future ramifications of mass renewable uptake to protect the returns on coal power station investments.

What a dumb article.

To begin with, nothing is jeopardising the grid right now in Western Australia, it is running just fine.

The claim seems to be that if we do not account for the increasing share of solar power in the future generation mix, then we may grid stability have problems sometime in the future...

Given that the solutions to such problems are well known and inexpensive - how about we don't plod stupidly into the future? Was that ever the plan?

And the "lesson for Australia" is what, exactly? Plan ahead?


>On those days, excess solar power from households and businesses spilled uncontrolled on to the system, pushing the amount of power needed from the grid to increasingly low levels.

>Ms Zibelman said WA's isolation amplified this trend because the relative concentration of its solar resources meant fluctuations in supply caused by the weather had an outsized effect.

>The only way to manage the solar was to scale back or switch off the coal- and gas-fired power stations that were supposed to be the bedrock of the electricity system.

>The problem was coal-fired plants were not designed to be quickly ramped up or down in such a way, meaning they were ill-equipped to respond to sudden fluctuations in solar production.

Sounds like it's time rebalance the system with lower baseload assumptions for coal and gas plants. I'm quite sure the incumbents are loathe to suggest that since it means investment in buffers to soak up so-called excess power from solar panels and splitting the profit with solar panel owners.


How does a lower baseline estimate factor in when you have a particularly cloudy day or week?

Traditional power plants are perfectly able to adapt to weather patterns. Weather forecasts on a time scale of 12 hours or a day are very accurate. For very shorts fluctuations you can always buffer into batteries.

The real problem is that fossil fuel plants are designed to be profitable at high load factors. Building a coal plant and only running it at 50% load is not profitable.


Traditional power plants have never had to deal with weather patterns that can significantly increase or decrease output, no?

Exactly as I described above - by assuming fluctuations will first be buffered by battery or other storage and only addressed if required by gas peakers and increased coal-based energy production in extended periods of lower light.

The largest installation in the world is in South Australia and it can run the state for 15 minutes.

It cost $100 million to build.

Batteries energy density puts them so far past green washing that in the current day and age they are Potemkin villages.


The purpose of the battery isn’t to power the entire state for 15 minutes.

It can respond to market demand within milliseconds, and after coming online was responsible for dropping the average wholesale price of electricity by 90%.


In the fcas market, the total electricity price has increased by over 30% in the last three years.

That's a particularly easy fix in Australia - site your solar plants in the readily available 90% of the country that's largely desert.

Slight problem that the dessert will get to around 50C on sunny days. No infrastructure on earth is designed to operate at those temperatures. That's on top of distances like those between Huston to New York between the main sun light areas and the population centers.

What is the problem with operating the power delivery infrastructure at those temps, exactly?

And as for distances - power grids have been built at similar scale, and even longer. When there's essentially free power for the taking, why wouldn't you invest into delivering it where it needs to go?


>What is the problem with operating the power delivery infrastructure at those temps, exactly?

It costs three or more times as much since you need to use uncommon materials and design from scratch.

>And as for distances - power grids have been built at similar scale, and even longer.

There is no country in the world as large and as sparsely populated as Australia. The distance between Perth and Brisbane is the same as that between NY and SF with no one living between them. When I worked in finance here it was always fun explaining to Americans why their algos will fail regardless of what we do, the speed of light matters.

Hilariously enough, even the US doesn't have one grid continent wide, and it's ten times as densely populated as Australia.


Russia is an example of a country that is much larger, and also sparsely populated.

And I'm still confused - what kind of "uncommon materials" are we talking about? What exactly is the problem with normal power delivery infrastructure that precludes it from operating at high temps?


https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/11/11/1...

> Elevated air temperatures can reduce the rated capacity of electric transmission lines, meaning that their ability to transmit power will be diminished during peak hours.

That said, it looks like it's just a couple percent, so maybe you just overbuild a little.


Solar panels are also less efficient when it's hot, but these are all just losses that can be overcome by throwing more panels at it. If you have a giant desert, it's basically free energy for the taking - you just need to make that initial investment. And unlike e.g. Sahara, there's well-developed infrastructure around the desert, nor are there issues with political instability.

> main sun light areas

You say this like it doesn't get sunny in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane (the top three largest cities)

Plenty of room for solar on existing buildings and structures. No need to transport it long distances.


In 2008, when I was working in geothermal in Australia, I was at a meeting where the 2008 AUD price of a transmission line was quoted at 1.4 million/km.

Multiply that by 1100 or so km across the nullarbor (rough guess; what really matters is the path between closest transmission lines of sufficient capacity) and you begin to see the scale of the problem.

Oh, and Australia has roughly the land area of the lower 48 of the US, with roughly the population of Southern California. In other words, it's bloody empty.


This issue has been known for quite some time, so it sounds like they basically failed to plan ahead sufficiently.

It would have been 5-10 years ago that GE put out research warning that electricity retailers needed to shift their fee models from charging actual power usage to charging to be connected to the grid (even if you only sometimes used power).

They simply really need speed up investment in infrastructure that can take up any available free power. For example, there are two large seawater desalination plants in WA that run mostly off wind power. You would think water scarcity/security would be a top priority, so building more would be a priority.

There is also some opportunity for pumped hydro (far cheaper to run and maintain than coal-fired power stations) despite the lack of a prominent mountain range. Just needs someone to put up the money.

https://www.arena.gov.au/assets/2018/10/ANU-STORES-An-Atlas-...


> electricity retailers needed to shift their fee models from charging actual power usage to charging to be connected to the grid (even if you only sometimes used power).

I can't speak for the rest of Europe and Scandinavia but that is how it has been in Norway for many decades. I buy my electricity from one entity and I pay a fixed fee for the connection plus a fee proportional to the usage for the transport to another entity that provides the connection.


Add to that 95% of the population of Australia lives in 5% of the landmass. Yes, empty is an understatement.

To be nitpicky: you don't have to multiply by 1100 since Australia has two power networks that are not connected - one for Western Australia, one for the rest

And you are going to connect those two networks precisely how?

The point in the article is that WA's grid is isolated from the Eastern States' grid. If there was any hope of "following the sun" (or indeed the wind) to leverage the geographic diversity that is Oz' one true strength, those networks would need to be interconnected.


It's not like they're on opposite sides of the planet.

Sounds like a case of perfect being the enemy of good enough. Split the energy storage capacity across the two and get on with it.


These are resource problems. Economics is essentially everything. However, I agree that storage in both grids is a good way to go. The Eastern States have that already -- recently most visible in the Tesla battery project in SA, but also in pumped hydro in the Snowys. WA, not so much...

The SWIS has transmission out to Kalgoorlie and the South Australian network reaches Woomera - those are 1500km apart as the crow flies, but the transmission lines out to those places wouldn't have enough capacity for a worthwhile interconnection so you'd have to go further.

I'm originally Australian and a huge hot springs nut. Out of curiosity, where in Australia is there geothermal potential?

There's theoretical potential pretty much everywhere -- in that hot rocks exist underground, and some form of permeability can be created. Economical potential is quite limited, and technology dependent.

In particular, the Cooper Basin project, while technically viable with demonstrated generation capacity, died after failing to get investment needed for a transmission line. At the same meeting I referred to in my top post, I also heard that the CB project was about 600 km away from the nearest transmission lines.

N.B. I was not working on that project, so my knowledge is not firsthand.

Birdsville Qld, is still the only operating geothermal power generation plant in Oz as far as I'm aware.

If you are only interested in hot springs, there are developed baths on the Mornington Peninsula in Vic.


Thanks!

According to this (1) quite good actually.

But getting our government to do anything that isn't coal related. Pfft.

(1)http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/geot...


While I dont disagree with the point of your statement. that number is the "gold plated" number and highly disputed. 1.4 million per KM is a bullshit value.

Fair enough. Do you have a more accurate number?

Funny how things are a matter of perspective. I view the baseload / coal generation as what is jeopardising the grid. It can't react to fluctuations in demand or supply so it's just not a tenable solution for a modern power grid where demand is intrinsically variable.

Having said that, I feel like some regulation mandating a certain amount of storage be supplied with rooftop solar wouldn't be a bad thing. It doesn't seem responsible to set up generation capacity without the storage to buffer the effect of that capacity's generation on the grid.


Sorry not everyone in SW Australia has a solar energy supply, so just because you have that advantage doesn't mean others should have to suffer with blackouts. Has the whole world forgotten how to compromise and work together as a society rather than "my solar tribe" vs "your coal/poverty stricken populace who can't afford solar roofs tribe". I thought you Aussies were more civilized than us people in the States.

This really is just another poor-me major piece of spin that we Aussies have had to cop in the media in the last decade - following on from these other two gems: 1. too much air-conditioning is overloading the grid; 2. the power bills have been high because they've over-spent on the grid (apparently preparing it for future demand); 3. too much solar is stressing the grid... Looks like the grid is the weakest link. Time to go off grid perhaps?

1. could be loosely verified - mid-day black-outs were a common occurrence on extremely hot days in Sydney, esp. in the noughties. Or was the grid just not up to it? Lucky they over-spent on it. 2. price gouging is still be rampant, the rates are still as high as ever, and solar feed in tariffs are a joke; If we're swimming in free/cheap electricity, where is the lowering of the rate? and why is green energy still much higher for the consumer? Good reasons I'm sure... probably something along the lines of "the grid can't handle it".

3. Given that we're now (apparently) swimming in all this extra grid-damaging power, maybe it was the solar that really stopped the blackouts - after all, the air-con comes on when the sun shines! Just tell everyone to turn on their air-con. That should solve it!

Good luck to anyone trying to get a clear answer on any of it - like it's been noted, too many vested interests in politics and the media. My view: go-off grid as soon as you can.


Just researched this today after talking to some Aussies about it!

The problem is that Australia is so married to coal that they have no national electrical grid strategy, including transmission line investment, so it’s harder to get generation to load centers (“follow the sun” generation”). They also don’t have natural gas to fill in when renewable generation dips (unlike the US).

The solution is going to be a lot of utility battery storage (Hornsdale Power Reserve Tesla battery is currently being expanded, for example), more renewables, and actual transmission infrastructure investment.


Australia does not have a national electricity grid.

We have this:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d4/National...

Also, we have plenty of natural gas:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_in_Australia#Natural_ga...


I’m familiar. Note the lack of East<->West transmission capability between coasts (important for solar generation to follow the sun), and the lack of almost anything to the Northern Territory (who doesn’t even expose their real time generation data on the internet!).

Also, there are natural gas reserves, it just doesn’t appear it’s used extensively for electrical generation based on historical ElectricityMap.org data.


The Northern Territory has a total population of only 250,000, of which 180,000 live in the Darwin area.

There is no way that spending the enormous amount required to connect it to the east coast grid would be an efficient use of resources.


Really depends on the path an East-West line takes, cost per mile (edit: kilometer), existing generation fuel costs, possible future generation locations, etc.

It’s not just about existing load centers (the population you mention), but possible future generators (big solar plants in the middle of the desert).


There is no shortage of suitable locations available for big solar plants that are thousands of kilometres closer to the big load centres than the Northern Territory is.

There are also plans to go the other way and connect WA to Indonesia with the potential to tap into the electricity market of a population 10x larger than Australia's.

https://www.pv-magazine-australia.com/2017/11/30/australias-...


> Also, there are natural gas reserves, it just doesn’t appear it’s used extensively for electrical generation based on historical ElectricityMap.org data.

Probably because it's all shipped offshore. > https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2018/12/aussie-paying-gas-j...


that comment (while technically correct) is undoubtedly from someone who has obviously never driven across the nullabor.

Haven’t been through the Nullabor myself, but I can’t imagine it’s so treacherous that you can’t drag a few five inch HVDC conductors through it (which only need to be buried, no concrete channel or conduit required, to support ~2500MW of transmission capacity).

If I recall, that’s where the latest Mad Max film was filmed.


It's not that it can't be done, it's that the Nullarbor is 1,100 km of absolutely nothing. More broadly, it's ~3000 km from Perth to Adelaide, vs ~4000 km for the continental US.

Also, the last Mad Max was mostly filmed in Namibia. The older ones were filmed in Australia, notably Coober Pedy, which is north of Adelaide and not near the Nullarbor.


> Also, the last Mad Max was mostly filmed in Namibia. The older ones were filmed in Australia, notably Coober Pedy, which is north of Adelaide and not near the Nullarbor

The originals were filmed just outside Broken Hill actually. There is a sign on the highway way to Mildura, and there is a big lot where you can see some of the props from Number 3 (notably the plane). I grew up in Mildura.

Also, the latest was filmed in Messum Crater in Namibia, I spent some time exploring there too - (bottom half of this post/pictures) http://theroadchoseme.com/riverbeds-and-craters


The first film (pre-apocalypse) was actually filmed mostly in and around Melbourne. I grew up in Warrnambool and Horsham so any trip to Melbourne would take you through some of the filming locations along the old Western Hwy. The first film was really about 70s Australian car culture and filled with utes, panel vans and of course big V8s. More early Fast & Furious than the later dystopian theme.

You're correct about the second being up Broken Hill way.


My meaning was that it is too far for a transmission line to make sense, and once the transmission line gets to South Australia (the state closest to Western Australia) you have only delivered the power to a state with the same problem - too much solar without enough storage. A better way to solve the problem would be to prohibit new installs of rooftop solar without an accompanying battery system.

This won't happen because it would be politically difficult, and because the power companies would lose a lot of money as consumption fell through the floor. They don't want too much battery for a while because this would require them to move from a usage model to a majority fixed fee billing. To reduce public outrage the changeover needs to be slow.


HVDC systems don't do too well in high temperatures. One thing the Nullabor has in spades is high temperatures.

Why would we go to all the expense to build a long distance HVDC link for that, anyway? WA's grid has very different capacity demands from the NEM grid for the east coast. The difference in populations (and energy needs) is huge.

Makes a ton more sense to invest in energy storage systems on each side than to dump tens of thousands of tons of copper in the ground to build a pointless link.


I also have never driven across the Nullabor. Would you kindly elaborate on what you mean?

s/Nullabor/Nullarbor/ (no trees).

The Nullarbor is a vast, arid, unpopulated plain over 1000km wide. I think the comment was meant to suggest that infrastructure projects like this are challenging in Australia, because the distances involved make them expensive, but the low population density makes them much less profitable than in places like the US and Europe with high population densities.

Many tourists from other parts of the world come to Australia thinking they can "just drive" from Melbourne to Cairns or Perth to Adelaide, not realizing how much of an undertaking that is because they don't have a good sense of the distances involved.


One does not simply drive across the Nullabor.

Solar did not just rise mysteriously - it was driven by government policy, first by huge feed in tariffs (US$270/MWh) and later with massive rebates.

"West Australians who applied for rooftop solar panels from the 1st of July 2010 till the 30 of June 2011 could lock in a 40 cent feed-in tariff for 10 years and those who applied in July 2011 could lock in 20 cents for 10 years." [1]

"The current Rebate subsidises 54% of the price when purchasing a Solar System for a home or property." [2]

[1] https://www.solarquotes.com.au/systems/feed-in-tariffs/wa/

[2] https://www.solarmarket.com.au/wa-solar-rebate-scrapped/


Reading all the comments, remote, cheap powered Western Australia sounds like the perfect place to set up shop if you're a super villain. (There's only so many extinct volcanoes to go around.)

If it weren't for that pesky non-compete clause with the evil villain run government.


This sounds like the "Utility Death Spiral" and also happened in Germany, Hawaii, and Nevada.

Best article on it IMO (2014): https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/this-is-what-th...

tldr:

Renewables require additional grid maintenance costs (storage + two-way distribution) while simultaneously prompting more consumers to buy less conventional energy from utilities. Historically, utilities made money from selling electricity. Now they have fewer customers and higher costs. They have to charge higher prices to the fewer customers. Then more people want to choose renewables. This keeps going until the utilities bankrupt.

The solution is to change the business model for utilities, which are regulated monopolies. So it's a policy question. Absent strong leadership, the utilities tend to claw back against renewables instead of innovating (saga of Nevada)...

fun fact: this is named after ants, where some species will literally march around in circles to starvation if the pheromone scent trails get tangled up.


This is exactly right. There's utility in being an as needed source of power as well as storage point. There's so many different types of storage options as well. There's batteries, liquid potential energy storage, potentially flywheel but this hasn't worked out too well, there's adding wind capacity.

As a business model they get to charge for storage maintenance and generation when needed. Storage is a consistent amount of money with extra coming in from power generation as needed.


On the other hand, if a technology requires higher levels of organizational competence than is available from the government of a major first-world country, maybe it isn't ready for primetime.

An interesting technical problem to face, but it had to be solved eventually.

All sorts of solutions need to be combined to upgrade the the grid to something which is ready to accommodate so many renewables. Breakthroughs in battery technology need to happen very soon (globally). Hopefully the push from large nation states and the accompanying investments in it will make this possible.

An interesting problem here is energy security, especially for places like hospitals or the military. You do not want a country who's critical infrastructure relies on the power generation of suburban rooftop solar but unfortunately the large amount in WA, Aus seems to indicate that might be a possibility.

At the very least, a move away from coal is needed. Even though natural gas isn't ideal as a final destination, it might be needed in the iterim. Quick fire up/down during rapid demand change periods is needed to allow the shift to renewables to happen. Sadly, building natural gas generators - even if with the aim of supporting renewables long-term - would probably be met with opposition by some on the eco-left in WA. Worth a shot though.


Nuclear requires something to help load follow too since reactors don't throttle quickly. The French use hydro and import/export.

Load leveling is a problem that must be solved to go beyond fossil fuels, and even without climate concerns we will run out of cheap easy fossil fuels eventually anyway.


Reactors can throttle quickly. The current designs just don't.

Not soon enough.

Can't they do something useful with the energy?

E.g. aluminum is used everywhere, the ore is also everywhere it's 8% of the crust, the major cost to convert ore into metal is electricity. Can't they engineer a robotic aluminum factory which scales fast enough to capture the cheap power?


Given that this is one of the most arid regions in the world, with a huge oceanic coast line, how about water desalination?

If you invest in a aluminium smelter you will want to run it 24/7, not just when there's cheap power. Also Australia enjoys the most expensive power in the world because of grid costs.

Modern aluminum plants can operate in a fairly wide band around "expected power" and are often used in a load shedding/load taking capacity to use excess capacity or make up for lack of capacity. They get cheaper electricity prices to pay for that grid stabilization service.

It seems that at least some of australias smelters haven't caught up with that development yet: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/31/austra...


This is another real-world example of why our lack of energy storage is becoming a crisis. Without energy storage, large amounts of wind and solar energy will wreck our power grids. We must build more storage immediately to prevent a climate crisis.

This is why our project, Terrament, is studying this problem and working on a solution. https://www.terramenthq.com/


I'm curious how you approach the earthquake problem with underground pumped hydro storage?

> The only way to manage the solar was to scale back or switch off the coal- and gas-fired power stations that were supposed to be the bedrock of the electricity system.

Oh no. What a tragedy.


The problem here is the fluctuations in supply: you still need that coal & gas power for when renewables aren't producing. And the specific problem is that coal plants are not good at starting up and spinning down rapidly.

Gas plants, however, are quite fast, so if this leads to coal plants becoming obsolete, that's win all around even if it requires more gas power in the interim.


Gas TURBINE plants can respond very quickly, but tend to be overall less efficient. Gas BOILERS are more efficient, but are slow to respond like coal plants.

Well, you need something.

Diversity in renewables, diversity in their placement (it's unlikely for the wind to be zero everywhere), and stuff like energy storage (which Australia is very successfully experimenting with on moderate scales: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/feb/18/tesla-big...) goes a long way.


Storage, I think, is where our existing grids will need to invest in heavily. I'm thinking "Batman villain with a warehouse full of giant capacitors" storage.

Or, at the very least, a system where excess grid power is used to store gravitational potential energy in a reservoir.


Exactly - gas is better at responding to rapid spin ups/downs, and releases less CO2 than coal. So replacing coal with gas is still an improvement.

Or forcing people with rooftop solar to get off the grid via intelligent controllers when it's starting to overwhelm the system, since they're the ones inducing the issue.

So what is needed is an intelligent grid, not more bulk power generation.

The Big Battery of South Australia seems to be working.

So well that the anti-battery Liberal Party is funding its expansion.

Are you talking about the Elon Musk's project that can store 3 minutes of South Australia's electricity needs?

No, they're talking about the battery that has taken substantial costs out of the network by providing the stabilizing supply when there are swings in demand.

The battery was never meant to supply "South Australia's electricity needs" and quoting that shows how the anti-renewables lobby in Australia has corrupted the debate.

https://reneweconomy.com.au/how-the-tesla-big-battery-kept-t...


I would love to see all this surplus energy used in direct-air-capture stations to pump CO2 from the air and transform it (either store it as a liquid, or convert it into plastic precursors, etc).

Should say better and smarter management. It should not be accusing the solar panel. Computer jeopardising a lot of things otherwise.

Need to make big accumulator. Problem solved. xD



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