The Australian energy regulator struggles with the reality of variable wind and solar

The Australian energy regulator struggles with the reality of variable wind and solar

“This has resulted in other generators needing to run at higher levels than expected to meet demand.”

The chart above looks ugly. So exactly what kind of supply shortage are we talking about here? The AER does not say this, but for the context it should be noted that the maximum solar production in Queensland from its industrial-scale solar parks at the time was around 1,600 MW.

So assuming the AER data is correct, the maximum that could be lost with the lower capacity factor is around 150 MW of solar capacity, a small fraction of the coal and gas capacity that went AWOL at the same time.

But here’s the thing: it looks like the AER’s solar data is very wrong.

For starters, it says 1,000 MW of new solar capacity has been added to the Queensland grid over the past 12 months, which would be a 50% increase in one year. It didn’t happen.

We checked with lead renewable energy analyst Rystad Energy, who closely follows the data, and his number is very different. In total, it is said, 800 MW has been added, but it is important to note that that figure reflects the nominal capacity of those solar plants once finished, not what has actually been built so far.

Three of these solar farms, Western Downs, BlueGrass and Woolooga, had been connected to the grid, but were not and are not yet producing near their nominal capacity because they have not yet been completed.

In the case of Western Downs, (pictured above) which will be the largest solar park in the country when finished at 400 MW, it has only recently achieved a commissioned capacity of 100 MW. Some of its modules were not installed.

It appears that this confusion, between nominal capacity once completed and capacity available during construction, would explain the AER’s capacity factor assessments.

The AER appears to count Western Downs’ 400 MW as nominal capacity and use that to tell us that Queensland solar parks have produced less than expected.

Rystad Energy produced a graph (above) of the Queensland solar capacity factors showing the difference between the total capacity of those new projects assuming they were all complete (the bottom line that fits the AER view) and the capacity factor based on what was actually built and commissioned at that time.

It shows that the capacity factor of solar parks in Queensland in the quarter of June, in fact the whole of 2022 – based on what actually built – was in 2022 higher than 2021, not lower than what the regulator stated.

As for the “lower than expected generation”, it is true that there is quite a lot of “hopium” in the renewables industry, but I am not sure how many people – apart from perhaps AER – reasonably expected modules. they had actually not been connected to the grid to provide power.

And, just for the record, this is what the Australian Energy Market Operator said about average solar production in the June quarter in the two largest solar markets, Queensland and NSW. They both went up. (See graph above).

The regulator really needs to do better than that.

The AER also makes the same mistake when it comes to the South Australian wind. He complained that:

“Although wind production levels vary significantly from week to week, average wind power production in SA fell for two-thirds of the weeks in the quarter. Wind levels were particularly low in the week leading up to the market suspension. In the weeks when the wind is low, other generators have to run at higher levels to meet demand ”.

Yes, the wind is variable. Most people know this. But as reported by AEMO in its assessment for the same quarter:

“The available NEM-level capacity factor for wind generation in June 2022 was on average 40%, well above the June 3-year average of 33% (Figure 41).”

According to AEMO data, wind generation production in South Australia was significantly higher in each month of the June quarter compared to the same month of the previous year: 635 GWh against 433 GWh in April; 674 GWh against 612 GWh in May; and 785 GWh compared to 738 GWh in June.

Note AEMO’s use of the “available” capacity factor criteria, not material that has not yet been built or connected.

As you can see from the AEMO chart above, there has been a slight reduction in the capacity factor in South Australia from last year’s record highs and large increases in capacity factors in all other states that make up the core network. Strange that the AER didn’t choose to focus on that.

It therefore appears that the AER has decided to highlight two sets of data which, even if true, would have represented only a minor impact on the network. And then he completely misrepresented them.

Because it’s important? Because if you can’t trust the regulator’s data to be accurate and presented in good faith, then what’s the point. The AER has a significant influence on the political and media thinking of the network’s operations.

Take, for example, his decision to take the owners of the Hornsdale big battery to court for an accident after the Callide C coal explosion last May, which caused massive tremors across the grid and cut power to thousands of people.

Neoen and battery supplier Tesla had confessed and said that while the battery had played its intended role in ensuring that the grid was held together, a software glitch meant it was not draining all the megawatts it was paid for.

There was no need for that extra capacity at the time of the crisis, and no one noticed its absence, but Tesla and Neoen declared themselves clean and returned the money.

Not good enough, the AER said, and he pursued the couple in court in the way that an angry shop owner might take legal action against a customer who suddenly realized he took three packets of cookies instead. of the two who had paid, and that they even returned the excess (unconsumed package) when they realized the mistake.

Now the battery is being portrayed in the media, and in particular by ABC, as if it did not provide the necessary service to protect the integrity of the network, which in reality is not true.

The AER has a vital role to play in the Australian electricity market and in the transition to green energy where we are in between.

If he really wants to give examples of wind, solar and battery power storage, he must really take his role seriously and get his data in the right way and in the right context. Otherwise, others simply cannot be trusted.

Note: We asked the AER for an explanation on their data calculations. They said they would come back to us.

#Australian #energy #regulator #struggles #reality #variable #wind #solar

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