Gas & Coal Power Plants: 135 Breakdowns in 2018

New research shows that gas and coal power plants broke down 135 times in 2018, breaking down at a rate of once every 2.7 days. While this could be expected of an aging coal fleet, the new analysis shows that Australia’s newest coal power plants (so-called “HELE” plants) are faring just as poorly.

The Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program has today released its Gas & Coal Watch 2018 review, which tracks unscheduled breakdowns in gas and coal plants across the National Energy Market (NEM).

Key findings:

  • The Australia Institute’s Gas & Coal Watch found 135 breakdowns at gas and coal plants in 2018, equivalent to one breakdown every 2.7 days
  • 118 breakdowns of coal power plants, equivalent to one breakdown every 3.1 days
  • Per gigawatt capacity, brown coal plants suffered more than twice as many breakdowns as black coal plants.
  • New technology black coal plants (so-called “HELE” plants) suffered more breakdowns per gigawatt than their ageing black coal counterparts.

“Our research demonstrates the threat to the reliability of electricity supply in the NEM. As we’ve seen this Summer, extreme heat events are increasing as our already antiquated coal fleet continues to age,” said Mark Ogge, Principal Advisor at The Australia Institute.

“It is clear Australia’s gas and coal power fleet, some of which pre-dates colour television, failed to deliver ‘reliable fair dinkum’ electricity in 2018.

“Our research showed, however, that it is not just the age of Australia’s coal fleet that is causing it to fail. In fact, per gigawatt capacity it was the new so-called “HELE” coal plants which broke down more often than their ageing black coal counterparts – coal-fired power is simply unreliable in the heat.

“Solar power has consistently stepped up as gas and coal plants failed. While fossil fuel generation becomes less reliable in the heat, on hot days Australians can count solar power for a consistent supply of electricity.

“Extreme heat leads to peak demands but also peak solar energy. If commentators are going to question solar energy reliability ‘when the sun doesn’t shine’ then Australia ought to take advantage of when it does, and when the grid needs it most.

“Last summer, solar significantly reduced and delayed the levels of peak demand by many hours, which is crucial in avoiding electricity shortfalls and keeping prices down.

“Hundreds of millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution is pumped into the atmosphere every year by Australia’s coal and gas power plants, fuelling global warming and increasing extreme heat, drought and bushfires that are devastating vast areas of Australia now.

“It is far from ideal that Australia’s National Electricity Market relies on emergency reserves from outside the market to get through the Australian summer. This simply drives electricity prices up, without addressing the underlying systemic issues causing these breakdowns.”

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