SA’s statewide blackout dates back five years – here’s how the energy supply has evolved since then

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Among the most surreal and enduring images of South Australia’s infamous statewide blackout are photos of collapsed and warped power transmission towers in misty fields.

On the afternoon of September 28, 2016, twin tornadoes ravaged north central South Africa, damaging critical infrastructure and cutting off power to the entire state.

Over 20 of the giant pylons were knocked out, folding in on themselves as if Uri Geller somehow had them magical to subdue them.

By 4:00 p.m., more than 850,000 homes and businesses were plunged into darkness that lasted for hours, with some properties without power for days.

Police are directing traffic around Adelaide’s CBD after the power grid is shut down.(

AAP: David Mariuz

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An initial estimate of the economic impact concluded that the outage cost businesses more than $ 360 million.

But in the harsh, cold light of the day, it didn’t take long for the fallout to begin.

The blackout sparked recriminations, as well as ongoing reforms in the state – and nation’s – approach to energy security.

Here’s a look at what happened in the wake of the events of half a decade ago.

Elon and Tesla build a giant battery

Within six months of the blackout, Tesla boss Elon Musk said his company could install a battery bank that could “fix” SA’s power system in 100 days, or do it for free.

Four months later, the South African government and then Prime Minister Jay Weatherill announced a deal with Tesla to build a 100-megawatt battery near Jamestown.

SA Premier Jay Weatherill alongside Tesla tech entrepreneur and boss Elon Musk.
Former South African Prime Minister Jay Weatherill alongside tech entrepreneur and Tesla boss Elon Musk.(

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The battery was launched on schedule in November 2017 and last year its capacity was increased by 50%.

But while the blackout produced a booming “bromance” between Mr. Musk and Weatherill, it also produced another momentous moment.

Days after the Tesla boss issued his initial challenge, Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg held a press conference, which was later blocked by Mr Weatherill.

Mr Frydenberg was asked if it was “a little embarrassing” to share a platform with a political opponent, when Mr Weatherill called out “this is about to be” before joining the government federal.

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The Prime Minister said it was “infuriating” to stand by Mr Frydenberg after he and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had spent the past six months “bagging South Australia every step of the way” .

“It is a shame the way your government has treated our state,” he said.

“It is the most anti-southern Commonwealth of South Australia government in living history.”

Mr Frydenberg then accused a “desperate” Mr Weatherill of “tackling the crash” of his ad.

Renewables: assessment or revolution?

A more immediate impact of the blackout has been an intensification of the country’s energy wars, with divided opinions on the renewable energy problem or solution, a debate that continues to this day.

Less than three months ago, the owners of two South African wind farms were ordered to pay more than $ 1.6 million in penalties for breaking national energy rules in the run-up to the blackout. electricity of 2016.

The <a class=wind farm near the Hornsdale power reserve in South Australia. The grass is yellow and the sky is cloudy.” class=”_1sqAO WIJbJ” data-component=”Image” data-nojs=”true” src=”https://live-production.wcms.abc-cdn.net.au/656d5a163a8012dbc3544a5b8e69b93e?impolicy=wcms_crop_resize&cropH=2001&cropW=3000&xPos=0&yPos=0&width=862&height=575″ data-sizes=”100vw”/>
The wind farm near the Hornsdale power reserve in South Australia.(

ABC News: Lincoln Rothall

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A formal examination of the outage found overly sensitive protective mechanisms at some South Australian wind farms to be to blame.

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) discovered that the unexpected operation of the control parameters resulted in a sudden loss of output from the wind farms.

But the country’s energy regime has evolved since the blackout, and the new maximum penalties for violations of parts of national energy laws can result in fines of more than $ 10 million for companies.

From batteries to VPPs

There are several Virtual Power Plant (VPP) systems running in South Africa.

The general idea is that by sharing the excess energy produced by rooftop solar panels when not in use, all consumers can benefit.

Key to these systems are smart meters and other technologies that can automatically determine which system is producing excess electricity and whether it can be stored or transferred to another customer.

In early 2018, a little over a year after the blackout, Tesla and the former South African government reached another agreement regarding energy storage.

But this time, instead of a giant battery, it was thousands of smaller ones.

The plan was to provide solar panels and batteries to 50,000 homes to reduce household electricity bills and create the world’s largest VPP.

In June of this year, the current government announced that the program would be expanded to allow low-income South Australian residents without solar panels to participate.

Flatten the “duck curve”

South Australia’s dependence on renewables has only increased since 2016.

For just over an hour on October 11, 100% of energy demand was met by solar panels alone, making the state the first major jurisdiction in the world to be powered entirely by solar energy.

One in four Australian homes has solar capacity – which is among the highest in the world – while absorption is even higher in South Africa, with around one in three houses estimated to run on solar power on the roof. .

The result was what is known as the “duck curve” – ​​a term that refers to changes in the graph of energy demand.

“Due to the high penetration of solar power into our grid, a new ‘slack’ period was created in the middle of the day with distributors sometimes acting as generators during this period,” the Australian said. Energy Regulator (AER). in a 2014 report.

The challenge for energy decision makers has been how to flatten this curve.

In June this year, the South African government warned of the “risk of another state-wide blackout” due to a system overload, should supply fail. never exceed demand.

While giant batteries, which help capture excess production by storing it for the proverbial rainy day, are one way to deal with the problem, there are currently a range of other strategies in place.

In March, South Australia’s energy authorities used their new power to remotely shut down thousands of home solar panels for the first time, intervening when demand for electricity plunged.

Last month, power companies were allowed to charge Australians with rooftop solar panels to export electricity to the grid, under new rules introduced by the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC ).

About 20 percent of all customers now partially meet their electricity needs through rooftop solar power generation, down from just 0.2 percent in 2007, and this figure is expected to more than double over the next two years. decades.

“As we go from 20% to 50% and beyond, the network has to change,” said AEMC CEO Benn Barr.

New infrastructures

Critical infrastructure has been strengthened in the five years since the September blackout, including power plant upgrades and investment in diesel turbine units to provide backup power.

Earlier this year, the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) granted final regulatory approval for an interconnector between South Australia and New South Wales.

A map showing where the South Australia-New South Wales interconnection will go.
The route of the interconnection between South Australia and New South Wales.(

Provided: ElectraNet

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Five years after the disaster of 2016, energy is already emerging as a key electoral battleground.

But while Liberals and Labor have both pledged to boost energy security, they disagree on how best to do it.

In its first major political announcement ahead of the March 2022 state poll, Labor pledged to build a 200 megawatt (MW) hydrogen power plant and storage facility.

But Energy Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan expressed reservations, saying locally produced hydrogen gas was already being exported.


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