The South Australian power crisis, has been blamed on innumerable politicians, policies and agencies, but the underlying reasons are far more disturbing in their simplicity.
The power crisis is as much a result of a lack of lateral thinking as it is forward planning. A basic analysis of cause and effect, especially through skyrocketing energy costs and new technologies that enable consumers to decreased costs in the medium to long term, along with grid technologies, would have led any economic or energy analyst to realise that there would be repercussions if changes were not made.
South Australia is now experiencing those repercussions.
The problem itself as being overcomplicated, but can be summarised simply – the grid is old, and the way in which it is supplied is new. When the South Australian energy grid, and indeed the National Grid was created and improved, coal and gas were the primary sources of power, along with hydroelectric dams and other – now old-fashioned – sources of energy. With the advent of consumer generated solar energy and wind turbine power, the way in which the grid collects energy became more complicated. However, this was an obvious problem and solved simply by allocating priority to various technologies. If it was windy, then increased reliance on the turbines, in high usage times increased reliance on coal or gas etc. However, as Elon Musk has rightly said, the big problem for the South Australian power grid isn’t collecting energy, but storing it.
Basically, those responsible didn’t take into account the substantial impact that wind turbine and solar power would have on the most basic of economic formulas – supply and demand. As more consumers attach solar panels to their homes, and contrary to many people’s opinion, wind turbine power ended up to be an efficient and effective means of sourcing power, coal plants and hydroelectric dams became less cost-effective, the result being the financial need to take dated sites off-line, rather than upgrade them; but the grid isn’t ready for that either.
This, in turn, comes back to how the energy is allocated and the method used for prioritising that energy. As mentioned, on a day-to-day basis the allocation of resources is predicated on weather and demand primarily. However, this attitude of treating energy like a battery is the opposite of how the system works.
Basically, the power grid is designed to distribute energy and not store it. Likened by many to a real-time trading market, the energy is only as useful as the current moment, and then ceases to exist. Already, the Premier has announced plans for a storage battery and Elon Musk has stated that he could resolve the energy crisis in a record short period of time, simply through allowing the soon to be potentially privatised power providers to aim for maximum effectiveness, rather than – as it is at the moment – maximum returns.
And this is where the rubber really hits the road, as energy providers since privatisation have strived to get the most from each consumer, with the thinking being how much can reasonably be charged before a household transitions to another provider. With a focus on effectiveness over profits, consumers can look forward to reduced prices, and should the high storage battery come online; there should be an almost zero chance of power cuts in the future.