Keeping Up With The Manhattan Contrarian: Wind And Solar Power Don't Work

Here's the big headline in the middle of the front page of today's print edition of the Wall Street Journal:  "The Energy Shortage No One Saw Coming."  (Admittedly, the online headline is different.)  Sub-headline:  "Australia, a major global gas exporter, can't keep the lights on in Adelaide."  For those who don't know, Adelaide is the capital and largest city of the Australian state of South Australia, which occupies about a seventh of the land area of Australia in the south-central part of the continent.

No one saw it coming?  Could they have missed the Manhattan Contrarian post of October 6, 2016?  The title was "Pay Attention To South Australia."  The specific subject was that South Australia had put on a big push to become the world leader in getting its electricity from wind and solar sources, and in the process had made itself hugely vulnerable to power shortages and blackouts:

[O]n September 28[, 2016], the entire state of South Australia was plunged into a power blackout in the midst of a major rain and wind storm.  Those who follow the subject know that South Australia has made a big thing in recent years of turning itself into the world leader of "renewable" energy, principally from the wind.  Immediately prior to the blackout, SA was getting some 50% or more of its electricity from its wind farms.  I have written several posts here (for example, this one) about how difficult it will be to make a fully-functioning 24/7/365 electricity system for a modern economy when production from intermittent sources like wind gets above about 30% of total electricity supply.

So how's that romance with intermittent wind and solar energy going, South Australia?  From the WSJ:

A nationwide heat wave in Australia [in February] drove temperatures above 105 degrees Fahrenheit around the city of Adelaide on the southern coast. As air-conditioning demand soared, regulators called on Pelican Point, a local gas-fueled power station running at half capacity, to crank up.  It couldn’t. The plant’s operator said it wasn’t able to get enough natural gas quickly to run its turbines fully. At 6:03 p.m., regulators cut power to 90,000 Adelaide homes to prevent a wider blackout.  Resource-rich Australia has an energy crisis. . . .      

You won't be surprised to learn why the WSJ thinks that "no one saw this coming."  The theme of the article is that Australia produces lots of gas, but then exports most of it, thus leading to unexpected shortages at home.  But there is barely a mention that South Australia has created its own crisis, in a way that everybody should have seen coming, by making a huge push to increase reliance on wind and solar sources of power, without ever thinking through how such intermittent sources can be integrated into an electricity system that must produce reliable power 24/7/365.  In a long article of several thousand words, this is all they say about the subject:

As exports increased from new LNG facilities in eastern Australia, some state governments let aging coal plants close and accelerated a push toward renewable energy for environmental concerns. That left the regions more reliant on gas for power, especially when intermittent sources such as wind and solar weren’t sufficient. 

This is an embarrassment for the Journal.  Has environmental religion penetrated even the Wall Street Journal's news pages to such an extent that they can't give an honest account of what is going on?  Sure the gas plant's unavailability that day was the immediate precipitating cause of the particular problem.  But what goes unmentioned is that the South Australians have painted themselves into a corner where one after another of such situations is inevitable, and if they didn't see it coming they are really blinded by their environmental faith.  First they increased renewable capacity, particularly wind, to the point of getting over 50% of their power from wind when it blows.  Then they forced closure of all coal capacity.  Then they prioritized the power from wind in the dispatch scheme, leaving the few remaining natural gas plants sitting idle much of the time and having no clue when they might be required to crank up at a moment's notice -- a regime under which the gas plant operators can't make money.  And finally, they claim to be "surprised" when the wind suddenly stops blowing and the gas plant operators can't or won't come on at a few minutes' notice.  Why should the gas plant operators contract to buy gas that they may never need at prices that they can't recoup?

To be fair, I'm not the only one who predicted that the push for wind and solar was going to leave South Australia subject to regular periodic shortages and blackouts.  For example, Australian blogger Joanne Nova has been all over it.  See for example, this post from March 29:

The [South Australia] Blackout on Sept 28 last year was an accident waiting to happen, and it wasn’t storm damage to lines that caused it.  The blackout would not have happened if wind power had not been so dominant.  The transition to a 35% wind powered system left the SA grid very vulnerable.

Well, at least this WSJ story was not as stupid as the New York Times this morning wetting its pants over the discovery that Donald Trump, Jr. once talked to some Russian.