Why Can’t Gas and Coal Hack it in the Heat?

in Medium

In this week’s Follow The Money podcast Deputy Director at The Australia Institute Ebony Bennett, speaks with Principal Advisor Mark Ogge, about Australia’s ageing Gas and Coal fleet and why they can’t hack the heat.

This summer alone we’ve seen extreme heat waves, bush fires and we’ve just smashed the record for the hottest 5 year period globally — for Australia’s energy market this has caused some serious issues as ageing technology fails to keep up with peak demand.

Mark Ogge’s recent report on the reliability of Australia’s Gas and Coal fleet found 14% of Gas and Coal generation failed during the February 2017 heatwave when we needed them most.

Additionally, The Australia Institute’s Gas and Coal Watch has found that over summer a substantial gas or coal fired power station trips every 3–4 days on average.

“What you’ve got to remember is that these plants weren’t designed to respond to heat, they were designed before global warming when you had lot less heat waves and extreme heat days happening” says Ogge

“As well as not being designed for these hot conditions, another issue is that a lot of Gas and Coal fired power plants are getting really old and with anything that gets really old, like a car, it breaks down more over time.”

It turns out that outdated gas and coal aren’t so super in the heat.

They have to use a lot more power to cool themselves when temperatures rise, which reduces the output of power supplied to the grid while increasing the likelihood of a breakdown.

Another issue is the size of gas and coal fired power plants, which are usually made up of a number of generating units supplying megawatts of power to the grid.

“If one of those bites down it has a huge impact on the grid because you lose huge amounts of power instantaneously and of course the grid needs to supply the exact amount of electricity that’s needed at any given moment” says Ogge.

Break downs like this are happening all the time.

“We are only notified when the plant has actually broken down, and we can track how many break downs we are getting on a day by day basis. We really came to a crunch in February last year with plants failing right at the critical moment”

So what type of new technology can handle the heat and is best suited to meet peak demand in electricity on hot days?

Renewable energy has a lot of advantages when it comes to matching increased electricity demand.

“Solar has saved us from having some really serious blackouts because people are getting their electricity from the solar panels on their roof rather than having to draw from the already stretch out grid.” says Ogge.

“That means is that the point of reaching the peak demand, which is often the moment that causes blackouts and load shedding, can be delayed or avoided by people using solar from their solar panels.”

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