Grid Lock Gloom

John Heffernan

What I’m going to tell you is not an exercise in fabricated scare mongering. It’s a simple, honest attempt to place some straight-forward facts in front of you. That’s not to say they aren’t scary facts; they most certainly are. I’d even call them them potentially terrifying facts that only the most hard-core card-carrying fool would disregard. And they have everything to do with the ridiculous transmission line behemoth that is said to be looming our way.

Australia’s National Electricity Market (NEM) Grid is a big beast which threatens to grow even more tentacles to cope with our ever burgeoning renewable energy sources of wind and solar. Trouble is, according to a growing number of our experienced engineers and power system experts, “future reliable electricity supply via the NEM grid is at extreme risk” if we insist on building “dominant wind and solar generation”.

It all has to do with inescapable electrical engineering principles that must be followed for any grid to function effectively and efficiently. The first thing that must be grasped here is that: “An electricity grid can only function if its multiple parts are interconnected precisely, enabling it to operate as a completely integrated system. When the number of generators feeding into a grid increases (especially with wind and solar generators which are intermittent) whole-system interconnecting requirements become more complex, exponentially so as the number of feed-in points increases. The grid then becomes far more difficult to manage, can become unstable, and ultimately, cannot function at all.

“That wind and solar generated electricity can flow into the NEM grid at all is because there is a stable grid frequency set by coal-fired power stations providing the bulk of electricity in the first place. At present, wind and solar generators feeding into the grid are doing so “on the coat tails” of coal-fired power generation. If all those coal-fired power stations were to cease, on present settings, it could become impossible for the grid to function at all.”

That is the sort of energy nightmare we will ultimately face if we continue swamping the NEM grid with these intermittent sources of energy. You see, “deep penetration of intermittent sources is fatal to predictable power system operations.” The simple fact is that we “risk destabilising the grid as more and more wind turbine and solar panels push DC electrons through inverters onto the AC grid”, driving up system costs and driving down service quality. “Market suspensions, brown outs and black outs  are already present and will become the norm if we pursue current policy settings.” Moreover,  do not think that growing our grid, adding transition lines and towers will help one bit; that’s just an exercise in blatant futility.

Make no mistake, swelling our NEM grid with more and more transmission lines could well be a massive white elephant, especially if we also swamp our region with evermore turbines and solar panels, effectively increasing the risk of grid failure. Surely it is time we recognised what a parlous state of affairs we are creating with our ever widening wind farm debacle, and actually did something to avert almost certain disaster.

The facts quoted here come from Queensland University Electrical Engineering experts Dick White and Stephen Wilson. 

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