Battery halts blast blackout


Image: David Allen

AI in Tesla big battery saves the day following Queensland blast, writes David Allen

The artificial intelligence of South Australia’s Tesla big battery saved the national energy grid from possible systemwide collapse following the explosion at Queensland’s Callide C power plant last week.

In a real-world test of one of the battery’s theoretical features, it’s AI executed a fail-safe act in seconds that usually takes significantly longer for power plants.

The Hornsdale Power Reserve’s operators Noeon have released data showing the battery responded to the sudden drop in grid frequency caused by the blast within two seconds.

The Callide C explosion instantly cut 3100 megawatts of energy, sending what is known as a “frequency excursion” through the national energy grid and tripping multiple other power plants.

The battery’s AI responded to the sudden drop in energy by increasing output and then immediately reducing it, halting the excursion, and preventing other major power plants from tripping.

Noeon’s Head of Development Garth Heron calls this AI intervention part of the battery’s “virtual machine mode”, a new feature set to change the game for the national energy market.

Fluctuating output from power plants have long been known to create frequency changes big and small in the grid.

Power plants respond to those changes by temporarily spinning their turbines and generators faster, risking tripping depending on how big the frequency change.

A battery’s virtual machine mode absorbs the shock of any major surges or outages almost instantly, preventing them from travelling further through the grid.

“This is the future,” said Mr Heron.

Callide C dropped suddenly off the grid last Tuesday following what eyewitnesses to the aftermath are calling “a catastrophic explosion” in the main turbine hall.

Nearly half a million homes in the state’s west and as far away as northern New South Wales lost power as wholesale energy prices momentarily spiked as high as $15,000 per megawatt hour.

The Australian Energy Market Operator instructed power plants in north Queensland to load shed as a precaution but reversed the decision the next day as the grid stabilised faster than expected.

The power plant in Biloela in central Queensland will be offline for a year and the operators CS Energy and the Queensland government have committed to investigate and repair.

But the failure of the relatively young power plant and the successful intervention of renewable technology to stabilise the grid has led many to question the decision.

Queensland is more reliant on coal power plants than any other Australian state and despite recent shifts towards renewable infrastructure, is converting at a slower rate than its neighbours.

Chief executive of the proposed Queensland interconnector CopperString, Joseph O’Brien says the Callide C explosion shows “how vulnerable the grid is if we don’t make the big-ticket investments”.

CopperString would connect the far west of Queensland to the main energy grid, running high frequency powerlines 1,100km from Townsville to Mount Isa.

The interconnector is one of three major proposals designed to link new renewable energy generators and storage projects between states.

Behrooz Bahrani, from Monash University, told a webinar hosted by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency on Thursday, Australia “needs to go beyond synchronous generators”.

“We need to think what else the batteries can do and not just focus on mimicking synchronous generators,” said Mr Bahrani.

Noeon is planning to roll out virtual machine mode to the rest of the Hornsdale big battery later this year following the completion of more modelling with the AEMO.