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|Thursday 23 February 2017
Autumn likely to be warm and dry: BoM
Following unprecedented heatwaves in eastern states in late January and early February, the Bureau of Meteorology's Climate Outlook for autumn gives little cause for comfort.
Temperatures for the season are highly likely (above 75%) to be above average across most of the country with the exception of northern NT and northern WA. Rainfall has a high (greater than 65%) chance of being drier than normal across most of the southern two-thirds, with a very high (greater than 75%) in the SE quarter of the country.
The full Outlook is here, and there's a good video explaining it all.
Ex-Tropical Cyclone Alfred still causing problems
Heavy rain continues to fall along the southern Gulf of Carpentaria coast in QLD from the remnants of the short-lived Tropical Cyclone Alfred. This slow-moving and peripatetic system has been hovering around parts of the southern Gulf for over a week. Mornington Island in the SE Gulf has recorded 731.2mm in the 10 days to 09.00EST today which is an average of three inches per day in the old money. 450.6mm has fallen in the past four days. Their largest 24-hour fall was 158.8mm to 09.00 this morning, and they have had three other days with over 100mm.
Fortunately, the rain has been very coastal so there has been little main river flooding. However 268mm of rain at Borroloola NT, close to the coast just west of the NT/QLD border, in two days to 09.00 last Monday caused the bridge over Rocky Creek to partly collapse, cutting the town in two and closing the main Carpentaria Highway. A full story and photos at ABC News.
Climate change a side issue as blackouts fire arguments
Events on Monday and Wednesday have taken some of the puff out of the stoush between the Commonwealth and South Australian Governments over SA's increasing reliance on renewable energy. It has been maintained that this reliance was the main cause of the blackout of 28 September last year which threw almost the whole state into darkness.
Counter arguments say it was the result of unprecedented storm damage to infrastructure followed by a cascading failure of the transmission network. Several enquiries have been held while others are ongoing, but the event has acted as a political touchpaper. Wikipedia gives a detailed account of the story so far.
A further blackout in SA on 8 February during a heatwave that caused 90,000 households to lose power for at least 45 minutes due to a surge in demand again drew recriminations about reliance on renewable energy. Last week, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) released a report saying that the gas plant at Pelican Point SA had not been available to meet the shortfall and that 100MW had had to be shed to protect the network. But inexplicably 300MW were shed. Renewable energy was not involved.
It turns out the extra 200MW were wrongly offloaded as a result of a computer glitch, blacking out two-thirds of the 90,000 properties. SA Power Networks knew within minutes that its computer system was at fault, but it stayed silent for a week and a half while the renewables argument raged back and forth. The Guardian gives an entertaining blow-by-blow description of the action at a Senate select committee hearing on Monday when SA Power Networks was called in for questioning.
Yesterday, AEMO released a report into why the NSW electricity network had been under such stress during the heatwave between 8 and 10 February. So dire was the situation that at one point the spot price for electricity had risen to $14,000/KWh, and power had to be urgently reduced to Tomago Aluminium which consumes 10% of the state's power output. Matt Howell, chief executive of Tomago, told ABC News "$14,000/MWh is equivalent to paying close to $400 a litre for fuel. If we had to pay that amount for fuel there would certainly be a community backlash, so why do we allow the electricity market to get that far out of kilter?"
The cause of the power reserve shortfall was found to be outages at two gas-powered plants and reduced output from two coal-fired plants. Renewable energy was again not involved.
In all the argy-bargy, the aim of phasing out coal and oil energy production in favour of renewables to reduce climate change through the emission of greenhouse gases seems to have become lost. As Greg Jericho writes in The Guardian, "So long as the energy debate ignores climate change our policy response will remain at [an] infantile level. And so long as that is the case we should condemn both the policy and the politics." And Lenore Taylor looks at the facts behind the blame game and the fiction of a coal comeback.
The Climate Council today released a report, State of solar 2016: globally and in Australia, which says "Solar costs are now so low that large, industrial-scale solar plants are providing cheaper power than new fossil and nuclear power." ABC News says the report finds "Solar energy is now cheaper in Australia than retail power prices in most capital cities after dropping 58 per cent in the past five years."
And to give an idea of what a really large solar plant looks like, NASA Earth Observatory gives a satellite view of the current world leader at Longyangxia Dam Solar Park in China, currently generating 850MW. In 2016, Chinese total installed solar capacity doubled to 77 gigawatts, and in the pipeline, according to Bloomberg, is a single solar park with a capacity of two gigawatts covering 46 square km.