By ERWIN CHLANDA
The current upheaval in the Territory’s electricity business – mostly government owned through the Power Water Corporation (PWC) and Territory Generation (TGen) – clearly has some of its roots in the drawn-out and largely inconclusive pursuit of getting 50% of the power we consume from renewable sources (RE50% in the jargon) by 2030.
Although this was a plank in the Labor platform for the 2016 election, more than three years later it clearly remains a mystery how to feed growing amounts of solar power into the grid without having the kind of massive blackout we had in October this year.
There are significant delays with getting up to speed the $75m worth of 10 gas-powered generators at Owen Springs, south of the town.
As of 2017-18 (the most recent figures available) the generation in Alice Springs was Owen Springs (77MW), the ageing yet still very useful Ron Goodin power station in the town (43MW) and the Uterne plant (4MW).
Yet a fluctuation in the output of the tiny Uterne plant (pictured above during its official opening) and rooftop solar initiated the October 13 “system black”, catching the operators with their pants down: The condemnatory 13 point finding by the Utilities Commission, with its technical advisor Entura, requested by the government, and leading to the sacking of the two electricity CEOs on December 9, starts like this:-
“The initiating event for the system black was the sudden unforeseen (by those managing the system) reduction of solar generation from Uterne solar farm and from rooftop solar installations, which resulted in a discernible increase in load on dispatched synchronous generation.
“If the automatic generator control (AGC), [the new] Jenbacher generators [in Owen Springs], battery energy storage system (BESS) and under frequency load shedding (UFLS) had functioned as expected, then the initiating event would not have led to a system black.”
This is not a good omen for the advent of more willing private solar power producers, including the airports in Alice Springs and Darwin.
Airport Development Group (ADG) have negotiated a $150m loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) for storage and energy infrastructure and to boost operational capacity at Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek Airports.
The Power Water Corporation’s Amelia Farmilo on February 2, 2018 wrote to NT Utilities Commissioner Patrick Walsh, about the airports’ intentions. That’s a year and a half after the election – surely facilities and knowledge of integrating solar should have been in place by then.
The Commission reports that ADG “is seeking to operate solar photovoltaic facilities at multiple locations in the NT, consisting of a mix of existing ground mounted round-mounted, solar arrays and rooftop installations, and planned additional ground-mounted solar arrays.
“The facilities are (or will be) located within the land boundaries of Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek airports.”
However off airport locations and opportunities will also be considered, says an ADG spokeswoman.
“The Commission has approved a generation licence be issued to ADG for existing solar generation facilities … subject to the Airport Development Group’s updating its access agreement with Power and Water Corporation.”
And that agreement, it appears, is still under discussion, well over three years after the Gunner Government made its RE50% pledges. The ADG spokeswoman says the approval is conditional.
Meanwhile PWC’s System Control is seeking to define the “Generator Performance Standards in light of foreseeable increasing applications for (and connection of) renewable generation sources in all three electricity networks (Darwin-Katherine, Tennant Creek, Alice Springs)”.
In cleartext that means they are still trying to get a handle on making fossil fuel generators live with solar ones, achieving “system security and reliability … incorporated into a regulatory instrument, yet to be determined”.
The commission’s report is a tale of ups and downs:–
• Annual energy consumption from the grid in 2017-18 is down by 1.4% compared to 2016-17 and down by 2.3% compared to 2015-16.
• Annual energy consumption from the grid is initially forecast to decline due to declining population projections.
It then increases in 2020-21 by 20% due to a “large industrial facility” connecting to the grid. That is a novel name for the US military base Pine Gap.
This is followed by a gradual decline again due to population reductions and rooftop photovoltaic.
“Minimum system demand from the grid, under the RE50% scenario, is forecast to become negative in 2029-30, meaning surplus generation would need to be absorbed or stored in some way, or “output constrained”.
This seems to be a bizarre proposition: Are they saying that we should be holding back from using more than 50% solar power? And use fossil fuel just because the policy is 50%? Or would mothballing tens of millions of near-new gas engines as stranded assets be a really bad look?
Predicts the commission: “Under both the base and RE50% scenarios unserved energy above the commission’s target of 0.002 per cent is forecast across multiple years, primarily as a result of high demands and high levels of planned outage rates.”
“Unserved energy” is a term for when your lights go out. “It is a reliability assessment, a planning tool, used by the commission in its report to advise the government and industry to facilitate planning and investment decisions,” according to the commission.
“The reliability outlook in Alice Springs improves once new generators [put in by Adam Giles, remember?] at Owen Springs become operational, but is then influenced by the timing and magnitude of this power plant’s planned outages.
“High unserved energy levels are expected in 2020-21, 2023‑25 and 2026-27, primarily due to planned maintenance work on Owen Springs units during summer.
“In 2018-19 there are high unserved energy levels relative to other years, due to a heavier reliance on the older and less reliable Ron Goodin units (the commissioning of Owen Springs new generators and subsequent retirement of the Ron Goodin units has been delayed) and planned maintenance outages of Owen Springs units 1 to 3.”
Keep that genset handy!
Gas and solar: Still uneasy bedfellows
By ERWIN CHLANDA