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South Australia's great success in changing toward renewable energy

South Australia has gone far further far more quickly than any other Australian state 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, blamed on the state's renewable energy, South Australians have suffered no inconvenience from the transition.

While South Australian electricity prices have for a long time been generally higher than in the mainly coal-powered eastern mainland states, SA has had lower electricity price rises than those in the eastern states during the period of renewables expansion.

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.

This page was written 2017/09/09, modified 2018/08/08
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com (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.

A winery in the Clare Valley
Wineries have been early adopters of solar PV
Snowtown Wind Farm
Wind farm
The most productive wind farm in Australia in 2017
South Australia went from near zero renewable energy to more than 50% between 2003 and 2017. This is a remarkable achievement and it was done with very few problems along the way. (Supporters of coal and detractors of renewables – generally the same people – have dishonestly claimed that there have been problems; this claim is dealt with below.)

I note (January 2018) that in the lead-up to the state election due in March that both major parties have 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.

South Australia has been doing 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 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 similar in cost to filthy coal-fired energy (which, by the way, kills millions of people world-wide each year by its air pollution).

South Australian power prices have risen less than in coal-powered states

Electricity costs
Table credit: Household Energy Costs in Australia 2006 to 2016, Ben Phillips, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, February 2017.
Detractors of renewable energy have long blamed South Australia's wind power for high power prices. In fact South Australia had power prices that were higher than most other states before the state's wind farms were built. There was proportionally less increase in power prices in SA in the period 2006 to 2016, during which most of the state's wind farms were built, than in the eastern mainland states that rely heavily on coal power.

Research by Ben Phillips, ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods, published figures showing that the increases in electricity expenditure between 2006-2016 were 109%, 119%, 136% and 87% for NSW, Victoria, Queensland and SA respectively. Ben Phillips' table showing electricity prices is reproduced on the right.

Another SA energy first

Coincidentally, only a day after I wrote this page, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) recorded that South Australia's highly successful adoption of rooftop solar power had resulted in record low power demand from the grid about 2pm on 2017/09/10. SA's rooftop solar had already shifted the time of lowest demand from the night to the middle of the day.

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.

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.

Tasmania had by far the lowest emissions 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 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.

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
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 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 is 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 (at least) two major technical problems with hydrogen:

  • Hydrogen has proven difficult to efficiently produce in a way that is both efficient and environmentally friendly;
  • Hydrogen, as such, 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 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.


Where next?

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


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

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

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; Why coal-fired power stations need to shut on health grounds, David Shearman, 2016/11/28.
The Uninhabitable Earth, Annotated Edition, 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


Another SA energy first
Lies of the detractors
High level of renewables – low emissions
Lower power price rises
Pumped hydro developments
Related pages
SA leading the nation
SA power prices have risen less than in coal-powered states
Synchronous condensers
Treasurer Morrison ignorant or dishonest
Where next?
Wind home
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