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Blaming renewables for Aussie blackouts 'dangerous and wrong'

Politicians and media fuelling mistaken perception that wind and solar at root of network failures, says think-tank

Blaming the growth of renewables for reliability problems in Australia’s power system is “wrong and dangerous”, said a leading think-tank there.

Sections of the country’s media and political class have been keen to link renewable generation sources with blackouts and other network failures since a state-wide outage that hit South Australia in 2016.

That incident was seized on by anti-wind factions that pointed the finger at the state’s relatively high penetration of wind power, forming part of a narrative that continues to argue that renewables are both expensive and unreliable compared to the conventional plants they are replacing.

“The popular perception that Australia’s electricity supply has become less reliable with more renewable energy, and that this is inevitably going to get worse, is wrong and dangerous,” said the Grattan Institute, a research body that claims to take a bi-partisan approach to major public policy issues in Australia.

'Weather not renewables' caused South Australia blackout, says PM

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A new report from the think-tank claims the power sector has become far better at adapting to higher renewables penetration since 2016 – and that in any case, transmission infrastructure issues are overwhelmingly likely to be the cause of major problems.

“Equipment failures, falling trees, inquisitive animals and crashing cars can all cause the power to go out in the local distribution network,” said the Grattan Institute. “Over the past 10 years, more than 97% of outages across the National Electricity Market [interconnected grid system] could be traced to the poles and wires that transport power to homes and businesses.”

It was soon after the 2016 blackouts that South Australia awarded a tender to Tesla to pair a ground-breaking 100MW battery system with a wind farm in the state.

Clean energy policy is set to play a pivotal role in Australia’s national elections later this year, with the two main parties – the governing Coalition and opposition Labor – taking distinctly sceptical and enthusiastic positions respectively over renewables growth.

Grattan Institute programme director Tony Wood said: “What Australia needs now is not panic and politicking, but cool-headed policy responses to manage electricity reliability without unnecessarily adding to consumer bills.

“Increased renewable generation does create challenges for managing the power system. But if we keep calm and carry on, these challenges can be met without more big price increases for households and businesses.”

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