Wind home

South Australia's great success in changing toward renewable energy

South Australia has gone far further far more quickly than any other Australian state (and most countries) in changing from dirty, greenhouse polluting coal-fired power toward clean renewables in the early twenty-first century. The state's last coal-fired power station was closed in May 2016.

This transition has gone very smoothly, and while several major power outages that were caused by storms have been, without justification and quite maliciously, blamed on the state's renewable energy, South Australians have suffered no inconvenience from the transition to renewable energy. There have been no failures of the SA power system that can be ascribed to the variable nature of renewable energy, contrary to the lies of the detractors.

In a world in which the need for swift transition to renewable energy is becoming increasingly obvious and urgent, South Australians have a right to be very proud of this wonderful achievement.

Landmark, February 2021

In an article in Renew Economy, written 2021/02/08, Giles Parkinson noted that South Australia achieved over 60% renewably energy in the year to 2021/02/07. Wind energy accounted for 42.2 per cent, followed by rooftop solar (13.7 per cent) and utility scale solar (4.3 per cent).

This page was written 2017/09/09, last edited 2020/11/01
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©

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The writer of this page lives in South Australia among the highest concentration of wind farms in the nation and is proud to be a supporter.

There is enormous money in Australia's coal industry; Australia is either the biggest exporter of coal in the world or second biggest. The money in the coal industry has corrupted many Australians, a number of them in positions of great power. They have tried to stop, or at least slow the transition to renewable energy by any means that they could use.

South Australia shows the rest of the world what is possible

South Australia's generation record (updated 2020/11/02)
SA generation record
By the end of the month November produced the all-time record for renewable energy generation in SA.
Image credit: Open Nem


Records broken in late 2020

South Australia reached an all time record renewable energy generation as a proportion of demand in November 2020. 20.7% solar rooftop, 6.3% solar utility and 49.3% wind; a total of 76.3% renewables. September was second at 73.3% renewables and October third at 66.7%. See Open NEM for the data in a graph.

Britain goes a week without coal power, May 2019

Britain did very well with over a week without using coal to generate power and 37% renewables; but South Australia has done far better. As of late 2020 SA has had 4½ years without using coal and 58% renewables in the last year. Britain had 44% fossil fuels in the quarter up to March 2019, SA had 42% in the last year. SA has no nuclear, Britain had 17% in the quarter up to March 2019.

Perhaps the biggest difference between Britain and SA is that in the former they are wondering how they can increase their renewables while South Australia has enormous potential for wind, solar and energy storage expansion – all we need is a progressive federal government.

(SA has imported some coal-fired electricity from the eastern states, but over the last couple of years it is exporting more renewably generated electricity than the amount of imported fossil fuel energy.)

The graph above, downloaded 2020/11/02, shows a record of South Australia's huge success in:
  1. Going from near zero renewable energy to about 58% in just 17 years;
  2. Adopting wind power (shown green on the graph);
  3. Adopting solar power (shown yellow on the graph);
  4. Finishing with coal power (shown brown on the graph);
  5. And from 2017, increasingly exporting power to the eastern states.
The table to the right of the graph shows that SA's wind farms generated over 23% of the state's power over the whole of the period. Another graph from Open Nem showed that our wind farms generated 41% of our power over the year to November 2020 and solar generated over 16%.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this achievement is that there was little encouragement from state or federal governments; several federal governments in power while this happened were actively antipathetic toward renewable energy and strongly pro-coal, and the state governments did little to encourage the transition to renewables, but did not discourage it.

I would like to express my personal thanks to the people who were responsible for the Open Nem website as well as all those who have helped South Australia achieve its huge success against the best efforts of the Liberal/National coalition to stop it all happening.

I have written elsewhere on these pages an argument for the thesis that a person in a position of power who knowingly lies in opposing action on climate change has taken part in the greatest crime in the history of Mankind. PMs Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison are all guilty of this crime.

A step along the way toward what is possible

A good week for wind power; May, 2019; 23rd to 30th
SA generation record
Image credit: Open Nem

The graph above shows again what is being achieved in South Australia and gives a hint of what is possible in Australia if there was a will in government to change from fossil fuels to renewables. This was not a typical week, on average about 50% of SA's generation comes from renewables, but it shows that much more than 50% can be achieved. (In the month of November 2020 an amount equal to 76.3% of South Australia's consumption was generated by renewables.)

Significant points that can be taken from the image:

  • Wind power provided 57% of the state's power generation for the week, generating over 1500 MW at times (up to 1546 MW at 3pm on 2019/05/28);
  • Renewables totalled 63% of generation for the week;
  • Power exports to the mainly coal-powered eastern states were twelve times imports;
  • There were eight periods during which renewable energy generation exceeded power demand within the state;
  • There was some use of batteries in keeping wholesale prices down and balancing supply with demand, but there was not yet any pumped hydro energy storage available in the state.
The graph does not show the whole story, some wind farms would have been 'curtailed'; that is they would have had their generation limited because there was too little power consumption and too little capacity in the interstate interconnectors to handle all the wind power generation. When (and if) the proposed new interconnector to NSW is built there will be less need for curtailment and more wind power will go into the grid.

There was not a lot of solar power because of the time of year and the fact that the week was fairly cloudy.

The need and South Australia's achievement

Wineries have been early adopters of solar PV
Photo taken by my drone 2016/01/17
Snowtown Wind Farm
Wind farm
The most productive wind farm in Australia in 2017
Photo taken by my drone 2016/10/19
South Australia went from near zero renewable energy to about 50% between 2003 and 2017. This is a remarkable achievement and it was done with very few problems along the way.

At least in the period from 2003 to 2017 South Australia has done far more toward reducing its greenhouse emissions than any other Australian state. The need for serious action on climate change was at the time of writing being demonstrated by Hurricane Harvey devastating big areas of Texas, record monsoonal flooding in India, Nepal and Bangladesh, record wildfires in Canada and western USA and Hurricane Irma producing unprecedented damage in the Caribbean and Florida.

In addition to climate change there are the related problems of ocean acidification, sea level rise and the air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels that kills millions of people world wide each year.

In 2017 all well informed, open minded people of at least moderate intelligent accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change, and with record storms, floods and wildfires and almost every year being warmer than the previous the urgency of action in reducing greenhouse emissions is equally obvious. If other Australian states and other nations were to adopt renewables as enthusiastically as South Australians have done, and continue to do, future generations – our children and our grandchildren – would be able to look forward to a brighter future than they seem to be condemned to at present.

It would be well worth paying higher prices for clean energy, but the fact is that renewable energy is in 2020 cheaper than the filthy coal-fired energy. And the cost of renewable energy is continuing to fall.

Developments, 2018

Early 2018

I noted in January 2018 that in the lead-up to the state election due in March that both major parties had been strongly supportive of renewable energy; they realise how popular it is with the voters. A recent survey conducted by the Climate Institute found that 96% of Australians want Australia’s future energy mix to be dominated by renewable energy.

Late 2018

A Liberal government was elected in March. It was notably much more favourably inclined toward renewable energy than it had been a few years earlier in opposition, and much more so than its federal counterpart.

SA leading the nation

A snapshot of SA's electricity generation situation at the time of the change of government in March 2018

Electricity generation and demand in Australia
Image credit: NemWatch
The graphic on the right showed that on the day after the election in which the Liberals under Steven Marshall ousted Jay Weatherill's Labor Government South Australia had an outstanding renewable energy industry.

A minimal amount of gas generation had been mandated for the stability of the grid (the red section of the SA bar graph), but 80% of SA's power was being generated by wind and solar power. Wind power was generating more than half SA's power (green) and rooftop solar was generating about a fifth (yellow).

Not only that, but generation in SA was much higher than power demand (the shorter, paler, bar beneath the generation bar). The excess power was being exported to the mainly coal-powered eastern states.

Of course the amount of renewable generation varied from time to time, but at the time the Liberals took government from Labor, on average about 50% of SA's power was generated by a combination of wind or solar.

It was arguable whether SA's Labor governments under Rann and Weatherill actively brought about the state's energy revolution, or whether they just didn't stand in the way and allowed it to happen. Whatever the case, unlike a number of Liberal governments, both federal and state, SA's Labor governments did not oppose renewable energy. The Abbott and Turnbull governments were notably obsessed with supporting the dying coal industry and demonising renewables. (As was the Morrison government later.)

If the Marshall government fails to continue with SA's huge success with the adoption of renewable energy it will be very much to their shame.

A high level of renewable generation and low levels of emissions

Renewables share
Renewables share
Graph from Ozlabs; data sourced from AREMI and APVI
Emissions intensity
Graph from Ozlabs; data sourced from AREMI and APVI
I first became aware of the availability of graphs such as those on the right 2017/09/19, only ten days after starting this page, through a Renew Economy posting. I downloaded the two graphs from Ozlabs on the same day.

They provide yet more evidence that South Australia's adoption of renewable energy has been a huge success.

The first graph, renewables share, shows that SA, which had practically no renewable energy 14 years earlier, had a very substantial proportion in September 2017.

The second graph, emissions intensity, shows that South Australia, through its adoption of renewable energy, had power-sector emissions at a lower level than any other mainland state.

South Australia has moved far more in reducing its emissions, in a world in which reducing emissions is becoming almost daily more obviously needed, than any other Australian state.

Other states, and Australia as a whole, should be using SA as an outstanding example of what could be done and what should be done in this world that is increasingly being damaged by climate change.

The graphs have been made available, and self-funded, by Ben Elliston. Thank you Ben.

Tasmania had by far the lowest emissions of any state due to its high level of hydro-power, which had been in place for twenty or more years.

Victoria had the highest emissions because it relied on particularly polluting brown coal, while NSW and Queensland burned black coal.

The fact that Queensland had virtually no wind power but a moderate amount of solar power was obvious in the daily peak in renewables share and the daily trough in emissions.

The lies of the detractors

Power transmission line downed due to the storms of September 2016
Transmission lines down
The photo was taken about ten kilometres south of Blyth, Mid-North South Australia on 2016/10/06.
The lying opponents of renewable energy (among the vocal opponents there seems to be no other kind) have blamed all sorts of problems on South Australia's renewable energy. I hold that, considering the urgency of acting on climate change, to knowingly lie in support of fossil fuels and dishonestly slander renewable energy is a crime against humanity.

There was a state-wide blackout in SA in September 2016. It was caused by exceptional storm-force winds, and had nothing at all to do with the intermittency of wind and solar power. Three of the state's four major power transmission lines to the north of Adelaide were downed by the winds. The section flattened shown in the photo on the right was within a few kilometres of my place at Armagh. Yet the opponents of renewable energy blamed the blackout on renewable energy.

There were further storm-caused blackouts in December 2016. This time the major transmission lines were not damaged, but over 300 power distribution lines were damaged, largely by falling trees. I am over seventy years old and don't recall ever seeing so many trees knocked down by one storm. In twenty years no Callitris tree on my property had been blown down by storm winds; in this storm alone four were flattened in three different areas. Again, renewable energy opponents blamed the blackouts on South Australia's wind and solar power.

The truth is that while there are certainly challenges in adopting high percentages of renewable energy, South Australia has had no serious problems that could be ascribed to the intermittency of wind or solar power and, with the exception of blackouts that were caused by storms, has had a very smooth transition from near zero to 50% renewables.

Of course climate change has been shown by scientists to make storms more violent than they would otherwise be, so if anyone should be blamed for SA's power blackouts it should be those who oppose taking serious action to reduce climate change.

In August 2017 Prime Minister Turnbull accused the South Australian government of "ideology and idiocy" for their support for renewable energy. Since the state government's support for renewable energy is no more than any reasonable person would believe is justified and the state's adoption of renewable energy has been a great success, I accuse PM Turnbull of ideology, idiocy and criminal behaviour in his support of coal and opposition to renewable energy to the detriment of the planet and all future generations.

(Federal Liberal) Treasurer Scott Morrison shown to be ignorant or willing to lie or both

The Hornsdale Tesla big battery
Big battery
Photo taken by my drone 2018/01/14
When the Tesla Big Battery (more correctly The Hornsdale Power Reserve) was proposed in mid 2017 PM Turnbull's Treasurer Scott Morrison was reported in The Daily Telegraph as having said that Mr Musk’s bid to build the world’s largest lithium ion battery wouldn’t solve any energy problems because its capacity is so small. He said:
“By all means, have the world’s biggest battery, have the world’s biggest banana, have the world’s biggest prawn like we have on the roadside around the country, but that is not solving the problem,”
Morrison said Tesla boss Mr Musk was clearly very good at promotion. “I think he saw [South Australian Labor Premier] Jay Weatherill coming.”

Time has shown the Hornsdale Power Reserve, like South Australia's wind power developments, to be a great success.

For a Federal Treasurer to be so greatly in error, or willingly dishonest, in an important financial matter is quite shocking.

This section added 2019/09/08

Power prices have risen less in South Australia, with its adoption of
renewable energy, than the average for the eastern states

The detractors of South Australia's renewable energy miracle often make misleading claims about power prices. South Australia does have high power prices, but they were high both before and after the adoption of renewable energy and they are high because SA had and has a higher percentage of expensive gas-fired generation than the other states.

According to the Australian Energy Regulator the annual volume weighted average spot prices on the wholesale electricity market in SA have risen more in the period during which the state developed its renewable energy than in Queensland, but less than NSW and much less than Victoria.

Average wholesale spot prices from the Australian Energy Regulator and percentage rise in average spot prices in the period during which SA developed most of its renewable energy. Prices in dollars per megawatt-hour.
5 year average before renewablesJuly 1998 to June 2003$46.6$34.2$33.4$51.4
5 year average following development of substantial renewablesJuly 2014 to June 2019$77.2$71.0$75.0$93.8
Percentage rise 66%108%125%82%

The power price rise in SA during the period of renewable energy introduction was less than the average of that in the eastern states; 82% against 100%

It can be calculated from the table that while South Australia's power prices were 35% higher than the average for the other states before the adoption of renewables they were only 26% higher in the last five years, following the adoption of substantial renewable energy.

It is also notable that in the year to the time of writing this section (September 2019) SA has exported nearly twice as much power to Victoria than it has imported, suggesting that wholesale prices in SA have become generally lower than those in Victoria. In addition, the ratio of exports to Victoria to imports from Victoria has been steadily increasing since late 2016. See OpenNem.

This section added 2019/12/08

Working together: wind and solar complementing each other

South Australia's power generation over one day
South Australia's power generation sources over a 24 hour period, 2019/12/07-08
Image credit Open NEM
The graph on the right shows how wind power and solar power can, and do, complement each other.

When the sun is not shining (more accurately, when the light is not bright, solar power is also generated under cloudy conditions) the wind may be blowing and wind power abundant; as in the right-hand side of the image on the right.

When the wind isn't blowing there may be abundant solar energy, as in the left-hand side of the image.

In South Australia at least it has been noted that winds tend to be stronger at night than in the day.

In this particular 24-hour period 30% of the state's power was generated by solar PV and 39% by wind power; 69% total renewables. Batteries provided 0.6% of the state's demand; expect to see far more energy storage in the future.

This section added 2019/01/16

Causes of power failures

An article in The Conversation, 2019/01/16 by Guy Dundas and Lucy Percival carried the headline "35 degree days make blackouts more likely, but new power stations won’t help".

After studying nine years of power outage data the authors found that while outages were more frequent during hot weather the causes were far more often in the power distribution system than due to a short-fall in generation (contrary to statements from supporters of coal power). Quoting from the Conversation article:

"There have been generation shortfalls in Australia on only three days in the past fourteen years, whereas there are network failures every summer all around the country, every year."

This section added 2018/02/23

Pumped hydro developments

USA Department of Energy graph
Energy storage
This shows clearly that the vast majority of the world's energy storage in 2016 was in the form of pumped hydro. Much of it was built to allow power grids dominated by inflexible nuclear power to respond to variations in demand.

There has been a huge amount of talk (and quite a bit of action) on batteries as a means of storing electricity in Australia, but as the graph above shows the vast majority of the world's energy storage is in pumped-hydro. Pumped hydro is simply a cheaper way of storing large amounts of energy than batteries. I won't explain what pumped hydro is here, I have done that elsewhere on this site.

If Australia is to replace substantial proportions of its fossil-fuelled power stations with renewables we must greatly increase our amount of energy storage; pumped hydro will have to provide a large part of this.

There is little pumped hydro energy storage in Australia, only three operating installations so far as I know. PM Turnbull has proposed a huge pumped hydro scheme in the Snowy Mountains, but that will at least take years if it ever comes to anything.

South Australia is looking like taking the lead here too, with the government announcing investments in four projects in February 2018. For more information see Energy Source and Distribution News, 2018/02/09.


South Australia could soon be in the forefront of a technology that has the potential to replace liquid fossil fuels

Hydrogen is the most common element in the Universe. Most of the hydrogen on the Earth has combined with oxygen to form water.

The world must dump its fossil fuel addiction, but liquid fossil fuels (petrol, kerosine, diesel) are very convenient ways of storing enough energy to power motor vehicles, including ships, planes, trains, cars and trucks. What is there that can replace fossil fuels for propelling our machines?

At the time of writing, in early 2018, an obvious contender is electricity stored in batteries. The limitation here is the cost of batteries; at present an electric car in Australia comes with a price about twice that of a similar sized ICE- (internal combustion engine) powered car. Also, batteries are not suitable as a means of transporting large amounts of energy from one place to another.

An alternative to batteries for energy storage and transportation is hydrogen, which weight-for-weight stores more energy than traditional liquid fuels. To the present there have been several major technical problems with hydrogen:

  • Hydrogen has proven difficult to produce in a way that is both efficient and environmentally friendly;
  • The hydrogen molecule is very small so the gas is more likely to be lost to leakage than are other gasses;
  • Hydrogen can form metal hydrides, which are brittle, with the metals of pipes and tanks;
  • Hydrogen is difficult to store and transport because it is a very light-weight gas that cannot be liquified except at extremely low temperatures.
However, solutions for these problems seem to be getting close:

  • The electrolytic dissociation of water into it two components, oxygen and hydrogen, seems to becoming sufficiently cheap to be economically viable;
  • Hydrogen can efficiently be stored and transported in the form of ammonia (a compound of hydrogen and nitrogen). Ammonia is a gas that can be easily liquified for convenient storage or transport and it can easily be converted back into hydrogen and nitrogen, as required.

The ABC's Nick Harmsen wrote about a Hydrogen-fuelled power plant planned for Port Lincoln in South Australia on 2018/02/11. Meanwhile, the CSIRO have developed a method for collecting the hydrogen following the dissociation of ammonia. See Renewable hydrogen could fuel Australia's next export boom after CSIRO breakthrough ABC, Rebecca Turner, 2017/05/12.

A second renewables-to-gas hydrogen plant was announced in February 2018, this one in Tonsley, an Adelaide suburb; see the article by Sophie Vorrath in Renewable Energy.

South Australians love renewables

The Australia Institute conducted a poll of a sample of 624 South Australians and released the results in March 2019. The poll asked: Would you support or oppose a Renewable Energy Target of 100% by 2030?

The overall result was 69% support, 14% opposed and 17% undecided.

There was strong support for the renewables target even among Liberal/National party voters: 60% support, 25% opposed, 15% undecided. Support from other parties (with the unsurprising exception of Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) was significantly higher at 77-79%.

This poll emphasises the basic premise of this page: South Australia's transition toward renewable energy has been a great success.

Where next?


Our energy future

Since writing this section I have written pages on South Australia's energy future, 2018/08/08, and Australia's energy future, 2018/08/20.
Following the power outages of late 2016 the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) became understandably cautious; they ruled that a minimum amount of gas generation should be on-line at all times. Since that time it seems that the maximum amount of renewable energy in the South Australian generation mix has been about 80%, the remainder being gas.

The graph below, recorded on 2016/08/20, a month or so before the power outages, shows 90% renewable energy in SA's generation. I don't think that this was very uncommon, in fact, renewable generation in SA occasionally reached 120% of consumption, as recorded in the Electranet document mentioned below under synchronous condensers. (The excess generation would have been exported to the eastern states.)

Power graph

After this time when wind power generated more power than was needed to get to the 80% some of the wind farms had to be 'curtailed'; that is, had to reduce the amount of power they put into the grid. This, of course, reduced the economic viability of the wind farms as well as meaning that more fossil fuels were being burned than necessary.

Introduction of synchronous condensers

In May 2018 Electranet, the owner/operator of eastern Australia's transmission lines, proposed installing synchronous condensers in three places in South Australia.

Quoting from Electranet's page:

"A secure power system needs adequate levels of both system strength and inertia, which to date have been provided by synchronous power generation. System strength relates to the ability of a power system to manage fluctuations in supply or demand while maintaining stable voltage levels. Inertia relates to the ability of a power system to manage fluctuations in supply or demand while maintaining stable system frequency.

Both are important to ensure secure supply for customers. If there is not enough of these services within the power system, there is an increased risk of system instability and supply interruptions."

Electranet's page defines synchronous condensers as:

"A synchronous condenser operates in a similar way to large electric motors and generators. It contains a synchronous motor whose shaft is not directly connected to anything, but spins freely and is able to adjust technical conditions on the power system. Synchronous condensers are an important source of system strength and other services such as inertia."
So the synchronous condensers should be able to provide at least some of the system strength and inertia currently provided by gas-fired generators.

With the synchronous condensers in place we might hope that renewable energy will be able again to produce substantially more than 80% of the state's electricity when there is sufficient wind.

Related pages

On this site


Australia's energy future
Base load power: the facts
Electricity prices and renewable energy in Australia
Glossary of technical terms relating to wind power
How should Australia generate its electricity?
Impressive renewable energy developments in Australia
In-situ gasification of coal, the dirtiest energy on the planet?
Mid-North South Australia, leading the nation in renewable energy
Northern SA's renewables
Power prices in Australia
Pumped hydro energy storage
South Australia's energy future
Wind power in South Australia
Wind power in Australia

Environment, climate change, ethics

Climate change
Climate change, natural disasters and what we should be doing
Major threatened disasters compared
Greatest crime in history
Opposition to wind power and to the coal industry
The end of coal
The Turnbull Australian Government

On the Internet

South Australia records 100pc solar in world first. SA has also recorded periods when wind power was sufficient to power the whole state and it is not unusual for combined wind and solar to exceed demand.

South Australia’s stunning renewable energy transition, and what comes next; Renew Economy, 2019/11/05, written by Giles Parkinson.

In a 2019/09/19 Simon Holmes à Court wrote an article in the Canberra Times headlined "ACT upstages the federal government with low-cost carbon policy". It's a good run-down on the ACT's great success in aiming at, and already getting close to achieving, 100% net renewable energy (while the federal government dithers).

Jay Weatherill talks about South Australia's journey to a renewable-energy future; Robert McLean's Podcast. Jay's speech corresponded very well with my memory of developments; it entirely lacked the lies heard from the likes of Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison.

A ReachTel poll conducted for the Climate Council on 2018/01/29 showed that a majority of South Australians think that the rest of Australia should follow SA's lead and "switch to renewable energy and storage in the next 5 to 10 years".

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction report: The human cost of weather-related disasters 1995-2015.

Renew Economy; AGL ridicules Coalition request to keep Liddell [coal-fired power station] open extra 5 years.

The Conversation; "Wind power: why is South Australia so successful?", John Boland, Professor of Environmental Mathematics, University of South Australia, 2012/09/25.

The Conversation; "Why coal-fired power stations need to shut on health grounds", David Shearman, 2016/11/28.

The Uninhabitable Earth, Annotated Edition: "The facts, research, and science behind the climate-change article that explored our planet’s worst-case scenarios", by David Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine.

The big three Australian power generators see no future in coal

AGL's statement on the Liddell closure.
Energy Australia boss says there are much better options than keeping the old Liddell coal-fired power station running for a few more years.
Origin Energy boss rejects coal