South Australia busts wind myths

Critics have long suggested a switch to wind power would see a return to a dark age. South Australia is proving them wrong.

This week’s charts of the week illustrate how wind is making a major contribution to South Australia’s electricity needs and reducing consumption of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions. South Australia represents an unintentional real-world laboratory, testing how large a role wind could play in our future electricity supply. Wind represents 20 per cent of South Australia’s electricity generation, and it is one of the highest levels of wind penetration in the world according to the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). So far the experience in South Australia has helped to bust a number of myths about wind power.

The chart immediately below illustrates sources of power generation in South Australia last Friday (March 23) as a percentage of total demand over the period midnight to 5.35pm. For almost all of this period wind power was the dominant source of power, and averaged about 50 per cent of total consumption. It should be noted that there are extensive periods where the percentages of all sources can sometimes add up to more than 100 per cent. This is because there were large exports of power from SA to Victoria over the period illustrated due to wind reducing South Australian prices to levels below those in Victoria.

In case you were wondering, the grid did not shut down and the lights did not go out.

Share of South Australian electricity consumption by fuel type for 23 March (midnight to 5.35pm)

Source: AEMO data provided by Infigen Energy (2012)

Looking out beyond a single day to overall annual output, the chart below illustrates how the market share of wind has grown to 20 per cent of annual generation at the expense of imports from brown coal generators in Victoria as well as coal and gas generators in South Australia. This has occurred at the same time that total energy consumption has grown.

Annual electrical energy –share by fuel type


Source: AEMO (2011) 2011 South Australian Demand and Supply Outlook

Contrary to what the anti-wind lobby would have us believe about generators spinning in the background burning the same amount of coal and gas in order to be ready to back-up wind, fossil fuel consumption has declined in spite of overall electricity consumption increasing (note the last data point should say 2010-11 pro rata – AEMO error).

Coal and gas consumption for electricity generation in South Australia


Source: AEMO (2011) 2011 South Australian Demand and Supply Outlook

And naturally CO2emissions have declined as illustrated below.

Annual CO2 emissions from South Australian power supply


Source: AEMO (2011) 2011 South Australian Demand and Supply Outlook

This data is provided not to pretend that wind is somehow a wholesale replacement for other sources of generation to meet our peak demand needs. It should be acknowledged that wind output has tended to be relatively low in South Australia during very hot periods in the day when demand has been at its highest. This information is intended more to illustrate that wind can substantially reduce the need for fossil fuel consumption to meet our need for electrical energy (if not capacity) and therefore reduce CO2emissions – all without the lights going out.

But then again it is always possible that the Australian Energy Market Operator and South Australian fossil fuel generators are all in cahoots with the wind lobby to fabricate electricity market data.

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