Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

On Blackouts and Renewable Energy


Politicians have blamed South Australia’s recent blackout on its reliance on renewable energy. Is this a valid concern for the state’s energy security?

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The SA blackouts had nothing to do with the State’s move to clean energy. The distribution network was affected by a storm. The problem would have been exactly the same if SA used coal or nuclear power to provide its electricity.

Some uninformed commentators have claimed SA has unusually expensive power because it uses so much wind. In fact, wind power is cheap. SA’s back-up power comes from gas, and gas prices have inflated to world levels because of the Queensland export industry. Despite this, SA prices are in the middle of the range: cheaper than NSW, Tasmania and the NT, more expensive than Victoria, WA and Queensland.

Ian Lowe is Emeritus professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, and former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.

These kinds of failures in the National Energy Market (NEM), which covers the five eastern states, are extremely rare. The NEM experiences a range of extreme weather on a regular occurrence and a vast majority of the time copes well.

The system contains multiple levels of redundancy and safety mechanisms, however it is impractical if not impossible to build any complex system that is completely 100% reliable. Providing additional redundancy to insure against such events would be extremely costly, and would still not completely guarantee against...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.