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Why did energy regulators deliberately turn out the lights in South Australia?

Hugh Saddler writes in The Conversation (10.2.17) about the blame game between state and federal governments over the power blackouts enforced by South Australia’s electricity regulators. But, the author argues, with much of the state’s gas power offline, the regulators had little choice.

‘Last Wednesday evening, shortly after 6pm local time, around 90,000 homes and businesses in South Australia were deliberately disconnected from the electricity grid for up to an hour. In what is becoming a familiar pattern, this event provoked politicians and political actors to release a stream of claims and counter-claims about what happened and what should be done about it.

‘So why did it actually happen? At the start of the day, electricity was being supplied by a combination of wind power, the two interconnectors from Victoria, and a modest amount of local gas generation. As the day heated up (the temperature in Adelaide hit a maximum of 42℃), demand grew, wind generation fell away, and the volume of electricity supplied by gas generators increased rapidly.

‘Half-hourly total state electricity consumption reached its maximum for the day between 5.00pm and 5.30pm, by which time rooftop solar was supplying about 9% of the total. This is a very common pattern on hot days in the state.

‘… High gas prices are the direct result of the huge demand for gas by the three export LNG plants at Gladstone, in Queensland. Gas that might notionally have been used to supply electricity for South Australians is instead being shipped to customers in Asia.

‘Meanwhile, smaller amounts of nominally available gas-fired electricity were also offline in South Australia on Wednesday. We are unlikely to know why until the official reports on the incident are published.’

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