South Australia’s heavy use of wind power wasn’t the cause of last month’s statewide energy blackout, but nine of 13 wind farms switching off during severe storms played a role in the shutdown.
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has updated its initial review into the blackout and says it’s now known that five system faults occurred within 88 seconds on September 28, prompting the interconnector with Victoria to drop out and the power network to go down.
It says the inability of the wind farms to withstand voltage disturbances was the result of safety settings which forced them to disconnect or reduce turbine output when transmission lines were brought down.
But it says the intermittent nature of wind energy was “not a material factor” in the blackout.
Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said the report put to bed suggestions South Australia’s high use of wind energy was the cause of its problems.
“This isn’t about intermittent energy, this is about a storm and the storm caused the blackout,” Mr Koutsantonis told reporters on Wednesday.
“But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues for us about integrating renewable energy into the grid.”
Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said it was important to note the issue with the wind farm safety settings and that those issues had now been addressed.
But he said AEMO would continue to examine the circumstances of the blackout in more detail before delivering its full report to COAG energy ministers, something the operator has forecast to take up to six months.
The Australian Energy Council said AEMO’s updated findings reinforced the need to modify the way electricity grids with a high penetration of renewable energy were managed.
Chief executive Matthew Warren said the ongoing investigation would inform how more stable and reliable systems could be run in the future.
However, the Climate Council said AEMO still hadn’t answered why it failed to take action before the forecast storms.
Spokesman Andrew Stock said the severity of the abnormal weather conditions was obvious and AEMO could have taken steps to increase the security of energy supply.
The Australian Wind Alliance said AEMO’s latest findings clearly showed that wind farms were not to blame for the lights going out, with SA’s wind farms doing exactly what they were programmed to do when the storm hit.
The Australian Youth Climate Council said the report showed the blackout was not a technology problem.
“The message from the experts is clear, the dramatic storm triggered safety controls in our power network which brought the system down” spokesman Dan Spencer said.