The Laws Of Physics Not Consciously Aware of Human Behaviour, Reports The Australian

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There’s a clever way of criticising something, without needing to adhere to logic or reality. For example:

“I purchased this vehicle recently. Unfortunately, after a week using the vehicle, I found that it was unable to fly. I deem this vehicle to be a failure.”

Set your own criteria. If you really want the subject of your criticism to fail, intentionally shape those criteria to guarantee failure.

It’s this fallacy that drives criticism of the generation output of wind energy on hot days. As with all fallacies, it’s convenient, simple and palatable.

Alongside the Australian Financial Review and Andrew Bolt, Graham Lloyd, Environment Editor at The Australian reported on the low levels of wind generation that occurred last Wednesday, during a week-long heatwave moving across South-Eastern Australia:

“The doldrums that stopped wind power production about midday on Wednesday coincided with warnings from the Victorian government and the National electricity market operator that electricity users faced the possibility of blackouts.”

Note carefully how Lloyd places those two facts in front of the reader, letting them join the two together: Wind farms weren’t generating electricity. There was a potential shortfall of electricity supply. Make up your own mind. Pointedly excluded is the actual text of AEMO’s press release (Update 24/01/2014 – dead link, referred to saved PDF of their press release), in which they explicitly state the reasons for the potential load-shedding:

“A combination of intense weather, high electricity consumption and some unplanned outages on the generation network has triggered the potential for load shedding to occur in parts of South Australia and Victoria.”

Briefly mentioned by Lloyd is the fact that the unplanned outage of AGL’s Loy Yang A coal-fired power station contributed significantly to difficulties in meeting demand:

“Dr Napthine said the problem was exacerbated on Wednesday by one of the four generators at Loy Yang A power station breaking down, and the Basslink cable between the mainland and Tasmania not operating at full capacity for technical reasons,” reported The Age, on the 16th of January.

As it happened, I managed to snap a screenshot from market monitoring software, showing the unplanned outage:

So, should we be tearing down coal-fired power stations, because they sometimes go offline? No, we shouldn’t, and the same logic applies to wind energy.

According to Lloyd, the fact that wind farms were not generating electricity on a hot day constitutes a ‘failure’. Logically, the only way Lloyd could hold this belief is if he assumes that wind speeds are somehow ‘meant’ to be higher during periods of peak demand – perhaps the laws of physics that govern atmospheric movement are somehow consciously aware of how much electricity human beings are consuming. Facetiousness aside, Lloyd obviously feels that, as a fuel type, wind has no place in a diversified energy system. This isn’t based on sound logic.

Wind speed varies according to a variety of things, including pressure, local conditions, temperature, the rotation of the Earth and seasonality. It’s never been claimed that the movement of the atmosphere will precisely match electrical demand. But, at times, wind generation is high, and at those times, we can ditch fossil fuels and rely on the output of renewable energy.

Without picking particular intervals, let’s have a look at wind generation the whole working week- Monday 00:00 AEST to Friday, 23:59:59 AEST (non-daylight savings time):

This pattern is precisely what we expect from generators subject to variations in wind speed. Here’s the same data, with the intervals discussed by Lloyd in the third paragraph of his article highlighted:


When we look at the unfiltered data, it becomes clear that the articles declaring the ‘failure’ of wind energy are hoping desperately to clamp blinders on their readers – presumably, the reason they’ve focused on a short time period on Wednesday.

The total output of wind energy varied quite a bit over that time period. Thursday and Friday were much better; Wednesday wasn’t so great. Here’s the kicker: every single half-hour output of wind was forecasted days in advanced by AEMO. Through their own proprietary wind forecasting system, they plan ahead, and issue warnings accordingly. I’d be interested to see if Lloyd can show where the 500 megawatt coal-fired power outage was forecast.

We need to wean ourselves off our addiction to fossil fuels. One might posit that they’re cheaper, but they’re not – we pay the price down the line, and it’s not worth it.

Some desperately need you to feel panic and anger, when you chance upon the increasingly successful integration of renewable energy into the electricity market – overseen by a capable, logical energy market operator.

Generation by fuel type in South Australia – sourced from AEMO’s Market Management Systems Database.
It’s not a wholesale, instantaneous replacement of thermal generation, but it’s regularly crowding out fossil fuels – South Australia being an excellent example of this. It doesn’t happen 100% of the time, but it happens regularly, and AEMO forecasts this with great accuracy.

In the future, Lloyd might do well to take a more nuanced approach to the complex world of the National Electricity Market.


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