By now, every Australian would know that the entire state of South Australia experienced a power system failure as severe storms with high winds uprooted 22 high voltage power pylons cutting off a major part of system generation at Port Augusta. For about 10 hours on Wednesday, we all effectively went ‘off grid’. Rolling blackouts or brownouts are not uncommon but this was the first time that an entire state has been without power.
At 3.30pm light and power was cut to my office. The desk top computer stopped – the laptop, however, continued working for another 5 hours. The land line phone connection ceased – but the mobile did just fine. Televisions stopped but information got out to everyone via Facebook on mobile connections. Power was mostly resumed at 1.10 am Thursday but, for ten hours, the battery was king!
Those in government responsible for the future of our infrastructure might well have asked themselves whether climate change might not engender future storms like this and, reflecting on the fact that the statewide blackout was caused by the necessity to protect the integrated system, perhaps they might also have asked themselves whether the efficiency benefits of integration might not come at a cost? They might then have considered whether a more disintegrated system of power generation and distribution, such as is now available with the growth of renewables such as wind and solar might not have mitigated the impact? After all, when the system goes down, those who are not reliant on it benefit. So it is curious that the Prime Minister and assortment of others antagonistic to wind and solar should blame renewables for the failure!
Or perhaps not so curious if the aim is to protect incumbent power and distribution networks? The electricity industry is well aware of the threat of wind and solar to its generation and distribution networks when long lasting batteries are developed, which is now, perhaps, not more than five years away.
Our Question today: Given that battery development will represent a major disruption to power production and distribution what should be the intelligent, forward looking, attitudes of our government – to block, or to adapt?