Renewables Road Trippin’ in South Australia

The first week of May I had to chance to jump on board a trip around South Australia, hosted by The Climate Council, to tour the stellar renewables projects happening in South Australia. Thanks to a connection to a new friend, I found out about a spot on the tour thanks to a last minute cancellation. Woo hoo! Road trip!

I didn’t know much about The Climate Council before my trip, but learned that in the wake of the de-commissioning of the Australian Climate Commission by the “We put the Coal in Coalition” Government, the Climate Council was formed independently to provide a third party view on the progress on climate policy in our federal and state governments. Which in the light of the complete “head-in-the-sand” approach of the current Aussie government, is more necessary than ever.

You can check out the reports that the Climate Council has done recently, like one on the costs of climate change.

Why South Australia?

Well, aside from Tasmania, it’s the only other state in Australia which has been aggressive about the use of renewables.

“Last year alone, South Australia was powered by 51% renewables (approx. 40% wind and 10% solar), a jump of more than 7.4% compared to 2017. South Australia is predicted to have enough wind and solar generation to provide the equivalent of 100% of its demand as early as 2026 or 2027.”

The government of South Australia took action despite an inept and inert Federal government, and they have great results today because of their action.

A quick primer on power and energy for Australia

A handful of facts I scraped from a number of places: Remember there is a difference between power (measured in a single moment, in Watts) and energy (measured over time, in Watt-hours).

First Stop: The Snowtown Wind Farm

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Wind turbines are even more impressive close up.

Our first stop on the tour was the wind farm in Snowtown, South Australia, operated by Tilt Systems. Despite seemingly an unlikely place for snow, it is ideal for wind!

“The Barunga ranges around Snowtown were selected because they enjoyed wind speeds of 30 km/hour off the southern ocean. Snowtown is also close to the main power lines serving the state.”

A few facts:

Wind farms are a serious part of the renewables strategy, though the price/kW is not dropping as quickly as solar. But wind can be a power source 24 hours a day, so it has some benefits over solar, and of course you want of mix of energy sources in the grid for stability.

I learned a bit about PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) and how they provide pricing stability for producers of energy in working with local governments.

The Bungala Solar Farm

We stopped by the expansive “Bungala Solar” farm. It’s the first grid-scale facility in South Australia and is currently the largest solar facility producing energy in Australia.

Our guide used to work at a nearby coal plant which was shut down years before. He spoke about his pride in working on the solar farm, and the contrast to the “dirty work” of coal mining and burning, and how the quality of the air is much, much better now. Win. Win. Win.

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It took me a while to count all the panels individually.

The Lincoln Gap Farm

We talked with the team from Nexif, who had developed the Lincoln Gap wind farm outside of Port Augusta. They gave us a view into the engineering complexity of creating the wind farm.

A Community Meeting in Port Augusta — Politics does matter

While I wish that we had sensible leadership, and the federal politicians were not largely in the pocket of corporate donors, the fact that we still have people arguing for the development of coal mines like Adani speaks loudly to the non-rational state of the government.

We had the pleasure of getting to hear from Jay Weatherill, a former Premier of South Australia, talk about the transformation of South Australia to being a leader in renewables in Australia. Even more amazing was that we had a liberal member in the South Australia state government discussing renewables in a positive, intelligent fashion with his labor counterparts in the South Australia state government. It underlines further the tragic circus of our federal government and the immorality play that we are subjected to day in and day out.

While I don’t have a recording of Jay’s talk, I wanted to include a video that my friend Karyee sent me of one of Jay’s best moments, where he exposes the absolute asinine behaviour of Josh Frydenberg, who I would love to see Oliver Yates replace in the coming Federal election in Australia.

Watch the entire thing. It’s so worth it. Josh’s solution to energy is acting as a giant windbag. Jay’s solution is building wind farms.

Hornsdale Wind Farm, including the World’s Largest Battery

The highlight of the trip for me was visiting the World’s Largest Battery, a Tesla 100 MW battery that I had completely misunderstood before this trip.

The battery got a lot of press because of the rapid tweet-based-agreement between my former boss and Elon Musk. Taking just 6 months to build, the
battery was first switched on in November 2017. In its first year of operation saved consumers $40 million dollars.

The Tesla battery is not about providing power when we don’t have sun or wind. Natural gas does that today.

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At the 100 MW Tesla Battery, and the Hornsdale Wind Farm. Facilities are simple, but the impact these projects have is massive.

The battery provides:

Frequency response. This is primarily about system stability. One challenge of networks, which electric energy networks are vulnerable to, is the shifts in circuit characteristics when a power source is turned on or shut off. When a large power source disappears, the frequency of a circuit can shift enough to cause problems for generators and consumers — the grid is meant to operate at 50 Hz, and small shifts outside that frequency can damage equipment. Generators are then programmed to shut off when the frequency gets outside the desired range. This means one outage can cascade through the network, causing one outage after another, and this is what happened in South Australia. The Tesla battery is the insurance to make sure this does not happen again.

Economic / price stability. The battery can provide additional energy stored in the battery in response to poor market conditions where energy organisations would like to gouge consumers when there are fewer options. In this way the battery has already paid for itself. The frequency response is a daily job of the battery to keep the system in optimal condition, not just an emergency brake.

Thanks heaps to Prof. Andrew Stock for so much of the background on electricity networks!

A few facts about the battery:

Tesla is also working with South Australia on fitting solar and Tesla PowerWall batteries in Adelaide houses. Next year they hope to have 10,000 batteries in homes, with an eventual goal of 50k power walls across South Australia, which will provide another level of stability and power alternatives that the grid can use in times of instability or short term power needs.

Not to be outdone, the nearby Hornsdale wind farm has ~100 turbines and can generate more than 1 million MWh each year, enough electricity to power 180,000 homes.

What else did I learn?

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The bus that took us all over South Australia. A Tesla recharging station in Port Augusta!

And, just so you don’t forget why need to shift to renewables:

And now, I’m headed to the airport, to fly to the states. The fun never stops.

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