This article was originally published in The Advertiser on February 23, 2017. Click here to read the original.
IF South Australians realised how straightforward the engineering solutions to our power crisis are, they’d probably choke on their morning coffee.
Consumers basically want two things: cheaper power and greater energy security. Some would say those things are not compatible because investing in better energy security costs money – but that is a false assumption.
Every issue we’ve experienced – the increasing reliance on wind and solar power, the tripping of the interconnector, the problems during last year’s storms and the overall energy security of the system – each has an engineering or technology solution that is available now. And many of these solutions would also deliver a more efficient power supply at a lower cost to the consumer.
Energy storage is a key part of the solution, and battery options are available now which allow us to use energy more efficiently, by storing energy generated at times when prices are low – for example, when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining – for later use when prices are high and there is not enough power to supply the state.
This is a simple engineering solution being used in countries like the US right now. There are other technologies like intelligent wind turbine controllers, synchronous condensers, all of which can contribute to system security while also getting us more bang for our megawatt. But the National Electricity Market does not currently encourage the adoption of battery storage or many other technologies because it has a narrow way of valuing the services they provide.
We have simply not kept pace with the transition to a modern energy system with renewables playing a far greater role. Until new technologies are incentivised, we will continue to see higher prices, lower levels of energy security and more unhappy consumers.
The last thing we need is another toxic political debate. The early signs are bad, with a focus on coal-fired power stations distorting the facts on the cause of blackouts.
The good news is that people aren’t buying it. A new poll just out shows only 16 per cent of people think the power blackouts are the result of too much reliance on renewable energy, while 46 per cent said it was because of failures of the energy market to respond to extreme weather events.
A Senate Committee established to look at these issues heard evidence from experts in Adelaide this week which confirmed renewables do not need to be a problem for the electricity grid, if we put in place the engineering and technology solutions to make them work.
With electricity prices continuing to rise, let’s hope for all our sakes that the politicians are listening.