Coal and gas a reliability liability in the heat: report


3600 MW, or 14% of coal and gas generation failed during the February 2017 heatwave. Report calls for the National Energy Guarantee (NEG) to require “heat safe” back-up for coal and gas plants.

New analysis released today by The Australia Institute’s Climate & Energy Program shows that coal and gas failed to provide energy security during the February 2017 heatwave. Additionally, it found that solar prevented far worse disruption and load-shedding.

The report notes that Australia is entering an era of dramatically increased heatwaves and our coal and gas power stations are not designed for these conditions.

The analysis found that during the February 2017 heatwave across south-eastern Australia:

  • In South Australia, 17% of gas powered generation (438 MW) was unavailable during the peak demand period that led to the 8th February blackouts.
  • In New South Wales, 20% of coal and gas generation (2438 MW) failed to deliver during the critical peak period of interval, leading to load shedding at Tomaga aluminium smelter. 
  • In Queensland, 7% of coal and gas generation (790 MW) was withdrawn in the 4 hour of the peak leading $13,000 MWh prices eleven times within three hours.
  • Across the NEM, 14% (3600 MW) of coal and gas electricity generation capacity failed during critical peak demand periods in three states as a result of faults, largely related to the heat.

The report concludes that retailers should be required to provide “heat safe” firming power to backup gas and coal plants. This could include dispatchable solar thermal with storage or additional PV to reduce peak demand on hot days. This could be buttressed by with battery storage to dispatch into the evenings.

“Gas plants failed on a grand scale during the heatwaves this year,” report author, Mark Ogge said.

“Restarting mothballed gas plants and stop-gap diesel generators are not a long-term solution to reliability. Given the reliability problems with fossil generators during heatwaves, it would make more sense to require them, through the NEG, to provide firming power backup.

“Generators could be required to provide dispatchable solar thermal capacity, or additional PV to reduce peak demand on hot days, ideally with battery storage to dispatch into the evenings.

“Given the increasing intensity, duration and frequency of heatwaves in Australia, these events have significant implications for any “reliability guarantee” policy for the NEM.

“Coal and gas have not proved to be reliable in the heat, when demand spikes. Storage is clearly the key, along with more solar to help shorten the peaks on hot days.

“Thankfully, solar PV significantly reduced underlying demand avoiding far greater disruption. But the role of solar in saving the summer remains an untold story in our energy debate.” (see Graph 1 below)

The analysis shows that without rooftop solar, the daily peaks that caused the blackouts, load-shedding and high price events would have been exceeded by:

  • 4 hours 20 minutes earlier on February 8th in South Australia.
  • 3 hours 25 minutes earlier on February 10th in New South Wales
  • 5 hours and 10 minutes earlier on February 12th in Queensland

Graph 1 Total Queensland demand and rooftop solar generation February 12th

Coal fail

Source: Dylan McConnell, German Australian Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne.

“There are several dispatchable energy solutions that do not have the heat vulnerabilities of fossil fuel generators and that are cheaper than or competitive with dispatchable fossil generation.

“For instance, the solar thermal power plant being built in Port Augusta would have completely avoided the blackouts in that state and will supply power to the South Australia government cheaper than its gas competitors,” Ogge said.

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