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Wind farm settings the culprit for SA blackout

wind farm

Based on analysis by The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the sudden loss of half of South Australia’s wind power was the main contributing factor to the state-wide blackout that occurred last month.

Immediately before the blackout, South Australia was consuming 1895MW of energy: 883MW from wind turbines; 330MW from SA gas generation; and 613MW from the two interconnectors with Victoria (using brown coal).

According to the report, there was a sudden loss of 445MW of wind generation across nine wind farms. This demand shifted to the Heywood interconnector, which has a design limit of 650MW.

Therefore, the Heywood Interconnector’s automatic protection mechanism kicked in, disconnecting the interconnector to avoid damage to it and other transmission network infrastructure in both SA and Victoria. The Murraylink Interconnector remained connected until the SA system disconnected.

The immediate loss of 900MW of electricity supply across the Heywood Interconnector could not be met by the generators remaining online within SA – the sudden and large deficit of supply caused the system frequency to collapse, resulting in a state-wide blackout.

According to the report, the ‘voltage ride-through’ settings on the wind farms were set to disconnect or reduce turbine output when between three and six voltage ride-through events were detected within a given timeframe (which was not included in the models when the generators were registered for the National Electricity Market). There were six voltage disturbances during the storm.

The report also identified two other issues. Firstly, the fact that in winds of over 90km/h, wind turbines tend to activate ‘overspeed trip’, which is a safety feature that restricts uncontrolled acceleration of the motor and rotors. Secondly (and most importantly), there was a mismatch between demand and supply, which is a feature of asynchronous wind energy.

Operators and manufacturers of the nine wind farms that fell through are currently working together to propose improved voltage ride-through settings to be considered by the AEMO.

Meanwhile, businesses left without power during the blackout are threatening to form a class action.

With more than 40 per cent of SA’s power supply currently being generated from renewable energy sources such as solar and wind farms, some politicians such as Nick Xenophon have criticised the state’s adoption of renewables, labelling it “too fast” and “reckless”.

Xenophon has suggested reliance on more baseload power, including gas.

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