No, Renewable Energy Didn't Cause South Australia's Blackout

We actually asked the experts so no, don't blame renewables.

29/09/2016 11:13 AM AEST | Updated 29/09/2016 1:22 PM AEST
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Clean energy experts deny renewable energy is to blame for SA's blackout.

Almost 1.7 million people spent the night without power in South Australia, as the entire state experienced a blackout in the wake of wild storm that took down 22 transmission towers.

Many politicians and commentators have been quick to blame the South Australian Government's renewable energy for the blackout. But that's not the source of the problem.

Massive winds and storms, including a reported 80,000 lightning strikes, saw transmission towers -- which carry the electricity from power plants to your home -- get hammered. This is what some of them ended up looking like.

South Australia leads the country in the use of renewables for their power needs; about 40 percent of the state's power comes from sources like wind, according to premier Jay Weatherill. When the transmission towers (which transmit the power) went down, it meant South Australia was relying solely on an 'interconnector' which supplies power to SA from Victoria. The extra strain on the interconnector system then in turn triggered safeguards to shut itself down.

Weatherill likened the circumstances to a circuit breaker protecting a household's electricity from a sudden surge, saying "the system operated as it was planned to operate" and that the same thing would have happened no matter what the state's mix of renewable and non-renewable energy was.

However, several politicians including Barnaby Joyce and One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts blamed the state's renewable reliance as the cause of the blackout.

Renewable energy experts say that is "garbage".

We asked Tom Butler, policy manager for the Clean Energy Council, if renewables had anything to do with the blackout.

"No," he replied bluntly.

"What we've seen here is a once-in-50-year event, where a significant weather event caused the transmission line to fall to the ground and the conditions then caused a number of the large generators to basically disconnect from the grid. They do that to protect themselves from damage and protect the population and people's safety if they keep operating," Butler told The Huffington Post Australia.

"At the same time, the protection on the interconnector into Victoria picked up the event occurring in SA, and disconnected the itself to stop the event impacting on Victoria."

MORE: SA Blackout: 'This Was A Weather Event, Not A Renewable Energy Event'

Butler said the blackout was due to the transmission network failing, not the source of the power itself, and would have happened no matter what mix of electricity South Australia had -- even if it was 100 percent gas or 100 percent coal.

"This kind of event would have caused the system to go black no matter what [power] generation was being used, it doesn't make a difference. [The systems] are designed to turn off and protect themselves from these events, and protect the population and residents," he said.

An industry expert, who preferred we didn't give his name because he wasn't authorised to speak on the matter, was even more blunt. He actually laughed when we asked if renewable energy was to blame for the blackout.

"The transmission network was taken down by a violent storm. No generation technology can transmit power without the transmission network. You could replace all sources of generation, but if 22 transmission lines are knocked down, it can't transmit," he told HuffPost Australia.

"When people attack renewable energy, sometimes there is an element of truth. In this instance it is flat out wrong, there's no ambiguity whatsoever. It's so clear what the cause was. It doesn't matter what was generating the power, it's not even relevant. The transmission lines can't transmit anything if they've fallen down."

The secretary of the Communication Electrical and Plumbing Union South Australia, John Adley, also criticised those blaming renewables for the blackout.

"The people making these claims don't know what they're talking about," he said in a statement.

"The outage is simply being used by friends of the coal industry to bash renewables. It doesn't matter how you generate your electricity, when 22 transmission towers blow over in an extreme weather event, the power goes off."

We've also contacted Renewables SA, the government branch "to support the further growth of South Australia's renewable energy industry", for comment.

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