Territory Stories

The Northern Territory news Sat 14 Dec 2019



The Northern Territory news Sat 14 Dec 2019

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NT news


The Northern Territory news; NewspaperNT






Community newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin; Australian newspapers -- Northern Territory -- Darwin

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News Corp Australia

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Copyright. Made available by the publisher under licence.

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News Corp Australia



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12 OPINION SATURDAY DECEMBER 14 2019 NTNE01Z01MA - V1 IN October 2017, when the Northern Territory Government released its plan for rollout of renewables towards its 50% target by 2030, it committed to maintaining the delivery of reliable and secure electricity at least cost to consumers and taxpayers. The government repeated that commitment in its response to the report on the October Alice Springs system black. The NTs regulator, the Utilities Commission, has now warned twice, in increasingly strong language, that the Territorys electricity systems may not be robust enough to withstand the rapid introduction of renewables and still maintain supply security. It urges, in regulator-speak, a measured approach to achieving the 50 per cent renewables target is necessary, to allow for the transition to be appropriately considered, coordinated and managed, while keeping cost increases to a minimum consistent with maintaining system security. Clearly, the UC is also concerned about costs of the transition to renewables. What the UC is saying is that what happened in Alice Springs could happen in Tennant Creek and the Darwin-Katherine system. Indeed, the 2014 system black event in Darwin provided warnings. The UC recommended changes to procedures after that event, which was not to do with renewables, but multiple system failures. The key reasons for the UCs warnings are the small-scale and inherently fragile systems in the Territory, into which renewables are being pushed at record rates. These systems, like others in Australia, were designed for traditional supply chain delivery of electricity from generators to substations to consumers. Now theyre being Ubered with disruption coming from burgeoning rooftop solar, two-way electricity flows along supply networks, and new large-scale renewables power stations that supply cheap electricity, but only for around six hours a day. That creates real challenges in keeping the lights on and costs down. Just ask other states. The UCs projections show renewable generation capacity in the Darwin-Katherine system will grow by a massive 100 per cent this financial year. By the end of 2020, renewables are expected to make up about 29 per cent of total generation, up from only about 7 per cent just 18 months ago. Even allowing for solar systems generating for only around a quarter of each day (wet season clouds permitting), it shows that the Territory is well on its way to the 50 per cent renewables supply target. Alice Springs solar capacity is already more than 20 per cent of total generation and climbing. From this position, it cant be that hard to reach the target pretty soon, can it? The problem for sweating system operators is that second-by-second, electricity supply must equal demand, and quality of supply must be kept within very tight limits, or else our fridges could get fried. But solar generation is both intermittent and asynchronous. Intermittent means solar output can come and go rapidly, particularly when our wet season storms roll across. Asynchronous means that solar systems dont automatically maintain the vital 50 hertz frequency needed to keep our home appliances and industrial machinery operating. The fact that rooftop solar capacity in Darwin will soon be more than the systems largest single generator makes life even more interesting for operators. Most of these systems cant be switched on and off, and keep delivering electricity whether its needed or not. Big gas-fired generators and now, large scale batteries, are needed to step up when solar output drops and to maintain frequency. But if enough of these generators are not already spinning and ready to go on-line in seconds, or theres not enough battery capacity, then load shedding is needed. That means that whole suburbs get switched off to protect supply to the rest of the system. If that does not happen, then disaster can strike and we get a system black. This means the entire system shuts down automatically to protect itself, and is devilishly difficult to restart. The prospect of system blacks is what keeps operators and politicians awake at night. A problem for the Darwin-Katherine system is the current lack of a large battery for fast response. That means that as more and more renewables come on line, more and more gas fired generators are required to be fired up just in case. Thats both expensive and greenhouse gas intensive, which rather undermines the whole reason for going to renewables in the first place. A big battery is also expensive, but one way or another, we consumers and taxpayers will need to pay for the solution. Theres another big risk factor: most of the large-scale renewables power stations under construction are located well south of Darwin to capture maximum sunlight. The electricity from them will be transmitted along one large power line, which in around a years time could be supplying a very big chunk of total daytime demand. But in the wet season, that transmission line is a lightning magnet and frequently shuts down due to multiple strikes. Again, several gas-fired generators in both Darwin and Katherine will need to be operating to make sure supply is maintained if the line fails. Duplicating the line to improve security is expensive at around $1 million per kilometre. That would make renewable energy much more costly to deliver to customers. One more thing: bringing in lots more renewables quickly will simply take market share from the taxpayerowned generator, Territory Generation, which still has to keep operating its expensive equipment during the transition. Territory taxpayers will get to pay for that. The Utilities Commission wisely recommends the introduction of renewables is matched to the retirement schedule of current ageing gas generators to minimise costs to taxpayers. The Territory can reach its target of 50 per cent renewables by 2030. How it transitions will determine costs of electricity supply and costs of power outages. Ian Satchwell is the principal of Airlie Asia and former executive di rector, Economic and Environment Policy with the Department of the Chief Minister Theres a reason why the regulator is urging us to take our time with our renewables rollout and its not so we dont do it Slow down on renewables IAN SATCHWELL Racing ahead with renewable energy will only end in disaster Picture: iSTOCK

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