30 or so years ago I was a young lad at school when a massive storm hit my state. I remember being in my classroom as the roof was shaking and tin sheets are tearing off it, it was reported afterwards as a mini tornado, rare for South Australia. It was terrifying and a talking point for months to come in the playground and finished up as one of those moments in your childhood that you never seem to forget. Back then it was claimed to be a one in a hundred year event.
So recently there has been another similar weather event which led to a massive power outage in South Australia. The whole state was left without power for hours due to a failure in the infrastructure.
You can read all about here:
Almost immediately after occurring the stories and blogs started pouring into the internet about how it was South Australia’s renewable energy that was to blame for the outage.
I will start off by saying that I am not an electrical engineer and that a power network is a sophisticated complex beast hence will not attempt to explain these types of things.
Also know that this is a highly sensitive issue for some and that factors such as renewable energy, CO2, climate change, etc. can reach religious proportions. However, it seems that once something this significant happens that a lot of people turn into “experts” and string together conclusions based on initial reports and political commentary. This first and foremost was a failure in infrastructure not in renewable energy. Now I cannot honestly say that South Australia’s energy mix may not have had something to do with the outage and I am sure due to the complex nature it may have had some impact, but the fault occurred in the infrastructure that supplies the power, not the electricity generation itself.
You can perhaps blame high prices, regular unreliable energy, black outs or brown outs to renewables in South Australia but to place the blame of recent events at the feet of South Australia’s Renewable Energy policy and generation is at best laughable.
Now I know my two children can’t live without wi-fi and electricity for more than five mins and I certainly felt the consequence of that during the failure, but if that is the worse that we as a state or society have to contend with then, we should consider ourselves lucky.
Now people will say that it’s not about the general public, it’s hospitals and other critical infrastructure that rely on the power that we need to worry about. To that I say correct…but that is why those places have a backup, and it’s all part of the makeup of the power “network.”
I guess its just not as simple as saying it’s renewables fault. Initially, it was the fault of the bad weather that was predicted and expected. Perhaps all that is needed is a change in procedure when events such as these are predicted?
This event could also be used by those that accept anthropologic climate change is a reality and that the utilisation of renewables is an effective means of mitigation against its effects.
Anthropological or not if you were to accept that our climate is changing to more frequent and intense events it could be argued that we should be adapting our infrastructure to cope with these events more often. The common term that was used when the weather system was heading the way of SA was a One in the Fifty-year event. There was a time when these were called a One in a Hundred; how long until they become a One in Twenty, Ten or Five, if you accept climate change predictions this is most likely what will happen.
This level of acceptance has an enormous financial impact as to create a more robust network means greater capital and maintenance costs. Rather than blaming renewables perhaps the answer is to embrace as part of bigger solution localised power sources and battery systems which are now becoming part of sustainable developments across the nation.
Other first world power networks have greater failures than this due to extreme weather events, more often and affecting a more significant amount of population, and they are not renewable based.
This was and still is an extreme weather event first and foremost, one that strains the state’s infrastructure and emergency services to its limits.
Rather than worrying about the state’s power which was mostly restored after four hours, we should perhaps be more concerned about the strain on our water drainage systems which will have a lot greater impact both economically and physically to the state.
So as much as perhaps we want to BLAME renewable energy for this maybe we should stop blaming and using misfortune to make irrational point scoring and start looking at building modern infrastructure across the state and nation to have a greater resilience overall.
But perhaps I am overthinking again.