Renewables save the day in interstate energy crisis
A key section of the nation’s energy infrastructure has been restored after the storm-affected interconnector between South Australia and Victoria was turned back on this week following the successful installation of temporary transmission towers.
The repair job and storm damage have come at significant cost, with a bill of more than $60m to balance the system set to be borne by power companies, government, businesses and households across the two states.
But in a promising sign for renewables, it has emerged South Australia — which had been off the national grid for the past three weeks — was able to meet the bulk of its energy needs during that time through solar power, with the system augmented by the minimum requirement of gas.
South Australian government insiders described it as a “nerve-racking experiment” in keeping the lights on.
The state was producing so much consistent and reliable power from the sun this month that it fuelled itself chiefly through rooftop solar, even turning off its wind farms for fear that the surplus energy being produced would overload and crash the system.
In the biggest energy crisis of this summer, Victoria’s power supply was plunged into chaos on January 31 when a storm forced the South Australian interconnector to shut down and also cut power to the state’s giant Portland aluminium smelter.
An extended shutdown of the Portland plant would have destroyed the facility, which relies on 24-hour electricity for its survival, costing 3000 jobs and threatening aluminium supplies.
A workaround was found with the Murraylink interconnector between the South Australian town of Berri and the Victorian city of Mildura being used to link the Portland plant alone to South Australia, cutting the state off from the rest of Victoria. This meant that for the whole of February to date, South Australia was removed from the national grid.
However, the state passed with flying colours, managing to meet its own energy needs through renewables and gas.
The state’s Minister for Energy and Mining, Dan van Holst Pellekaan, said the decision to ensure the survival of the Portland smelter and the 3000 jobs associated with it was “the right thing to do”.
“We had to weigh the risks of blackouts in SA if something went wrong versus the near certainty that the smelter at Portland being irreparably damaged and 3000 jobs lost if we did not agree to supply electricity from South Australia,” Mr van Holst Pellekaan told The Australian.
“Initially the risks to SA were extremely high but thankfully some brilliant engineers worked fast to design a protection measure for South Australia on the Victorian side of the border.”
Since being elected in 2018, the government has tried to arrest the problems in energy storage from renewables by investing $100m in a home battery scheme.
The state was deriving 49 per cent of its power from renewables in 2018, but that figure has since risen to 55 per cent, with AEMO predicting it will reach 85 per cent by 2025.