Politicians Blame South Australia Storm Outages on Wind Energy

September 30, 2016

By Tracey E. Schelmetic - Power Protection Contributor

The energy industry is not immune to finger pointing, particularly when money and politics are at stake. Tensions often rise when competing interests from traditional energy sources, such as coal-fired plants, and renewable networks, such as wind turbines, rub up against one another. In Australia, these tensions were on display when a strong storm cut off an entire Australian state of 1.7 million residents – including the city of Adelaide – from electricity for 24 hours this week.

 Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told ABC radio that he blames the state’s reliance on wind energy for the blackout.

“Obviously we know that South Australia has had a strong desire to become basically all renewable energy and the question has to be asked: Does this make them more vulnerable to an issue such as what happened last night?" asked Joyce, who noted that this is what happens when you “turn power into just a complete social policy.”

Joyce isn’t the only politician chalking up the outage to renewables. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the press that the state’s aggressive use of renewables may be to blame.

Relying on renewable energy such as wind, of course, requires a robust system of energy storage to help ensure that energy is available when it’s needed, particularly when the wind isn’t blowing. But supporters of South Australia’s green energy initiative say the blame on wind turbines is unfair, and that it was probably unprecedented damage the storm did to three out of the four transmission lines that connect Adelaide with northern parts of South Australia, according to Mashable’s Andrew Freedman.

ElectraNet, which owns the transmission lines, confirmed that 23 transmission towers were pushed over in the South Australia storms, which brought 60 mile per hour winds and saw up to 80,000 lightning strikes. Two tornadoes were confirmed in the region.

Freedman noted that South Australia is in the process of implementing and achieving vigorous clean energy targets and currently derives all its power from a mix of wind, solar and gas. The state met its target of producing 33 percent of its energy from renewables in 2014, and has set a new target of 50 percent by 2025. The state has invested about $6.6 billion in expanding renewables.

If anything, wind power proponents in the region said the storm would have caused outages no matter what the source, and that the region’s use of wind brought the power back online sooner than it would have been with traditional energy generation.

“Wind was going strong when the network went off and was among the first back on when the network recovered," Andrew Bray of the Australian Wind Alliance told The Australian. “The failure of the network was a weather event, pure and simple. Extreme weather knocked out 23 transmission pylons. Storms of this magnitude will knock out the power network no matter what the source of power is.”

The region plans to conduct an investigation as to what damage occurred when, and why the state’s backup power assets did not come online.  

No matter what the cause, it’s important to remember that UPS backups can help restore power when needed. The affected areas lost power for 24 hours—that’s a detrimental amount of time for businesses to be out of operation. If businesses and homes had had their own backup systems in place, they would not be left in the dark when the state’s backups failed to come online.

Edited by Alicia Young