The Queensland Blackout – Tuesday 24 May 2021

Posted on Wed 05/26/2021 by


By Anton Lang ~

Yesterday, here in my home State of Queensland, there was a major blackout, and media reports that perhaps half a million ‘homes and businesses’ had their power cut, and here that number is smaller for Government to say than the real number of people who were affected.

I was in the middle of the blackout as most parts of Brisbane had their power cut, and it had an effect on most of the State. The power went out in our home at 2.05PM. I went out onto the balcony and had a look, and concluded that it was more than just our apartment complex, as people in other surrounding apartment blocks within my vision were also out on their balconies as well. Back inside, I phoned the major power supplying entity for this State, and was connected immediately to blank nothingness, not even a recorded voice, so this further gave me the thought that it was perhaps a little bigger even than ‘in my street’. There was no hint anywhere, I mean, how could there be, as there was no power.

The Callide C Power Plant near Biloela in Central Queensland

The power came back on at 3.35PM, so we were without power for an hour and a half. The TV news came on at 4PM, and they gave an early idea of what had happened, and the resultant chaos. The blackout was caused by an ‘incident’ at the Callide Power Plant in the town of Biloela in Central Queensland. From that news report, five minutes later I was at the computer, chasing up power graphs to ‘see’ the problem for myself, and that was at the trusted site I use, Aneroid. Once there I could see exactly what had happened, and even part of the sequence. Within an hour from hearing the news, I had already framed an initial reaction, (shown at this link to a Comment at the JoNova site) barely three hours after the event.

This mornings online media news reports were full of the story on their front pages. There was reports of an explosion and a subsequent fire. However, when the Company ‘talking head’ gave his report to camera, any mention of an explosion was not mentioned at all, and later, when they showed Politicians in the State Parliament basically glossing over the whole thing, well not reporting it as seriously as it may have warranted, they also failed to say the ‘explosion’ word as well, but here you need to realise that the Company operating the plant on behalf of the owners is CS Energy. CS Energy is in fact a State owned Company, and the State also OWNS the plant, so the ‘talking head’ would say the Government line, and the ‘explosion’ word would not be particularly well taken would be my guess.

However, when the media did some interviews with power plant workers, they did mention an explosion, a pretty big one too, and when they interviewed local people from the nearby town of Biloela, they also mentioned that it was the loudest explosion they had ever heard, and people were ringing each other all over town to ask what it was, using their mobile phones, as the power had already failed in the town. Later on today, the State Premier did acknowledge that there was indeed an explosion, and she added that the damage was limited and that ‘we’ expect it to return to full service.

So, the ‘Explosion’ was in fact in Unit 4 Of the Callide Plant. Unit 3 and 4 are at a separate site (Callide C) to Units 1 and 2. Unit One was off line for regular maintenance. Units 3 and 4 are both Supercritical Units, two of just six in Queensland, and these six Units are the only ones in Australia, and these same six Units are the youngest Units in all of Australia’s coal fired power fleet. Unit Four has a 430MW generator. Now, the report that it was a catastrophic Hydrogen explosion, and that has caused some questions to be asked. Most of the newer generators use Hydrogen as a coolant inside the generator, as the low density, high specific heat and high thermal conductivity of hydrogen gas enables the highest efficiency for generators. So, it’s nothing new for situations like this, and I have mentioned it in the past, usually in relation to Posts about China’s coal fired power plants, as most of them are now large scale UltraSuperCritical plants, and all these new technology Units utilise these Hydrogen cooled generators. As an example, if any of you wish to check, here is a link to a 61 page pdf document from the GE Company who manufacture these large scale generators, and one of these Hydrogen cooled generators in question is shown on page 48, as Gen H GEN-H: Hydrogen-Cooled, one of the GE products available for large scale power plant Units.

Okay then, that’s the background. So what happened to the power.

(With all the images shown at this Post, if you click on the image, it will open in a new window and at a larger size, so you can better see the detail)

This first image shows the power generation graph for the State of Queensland for the day in question. This shows the power generation from every source in the State, and as you can see from the legend under the graph indicating the Region, this is for the State of Queensland, shown here as QLD1. Under the graph are the ticked boxes indicating the power generating source, and the largest of these is that dark grey colour for Black Coal, the coal source for all coal fired plants in Queensland.

You can see that vertical drop of power loss quite obviously here. That’s the black line, and at around 1.45PM time indicated on this graph, the power dropped by around 2800MW in two increments, and the largest of these was that second incremental drop at 2.05PM, and that large loss of power occurred in a very short time. The five minute time increment for all these graphs is the same time increment used by the AEMO, the electrical Regulator here in Australia. So while this shows that time increment as five minutes, this was a typical cascading type failure when One plant went off line, the Load was now higher than the generation, and from that, the other plants also went off line, and this would have happened in most probably less than one minute.  The time of that second larger fall was when I lost power here at our home. As you can also see from the graph, immediately following the loss of power, other power plants were brought on line to make up for that large loss of power.

This second graph shows just those coal fired power plant Units in question, and that can be seen under the graph where I have ticked the boxes for only the four Units at the Callide Plant, the four Units at the Gladstone Plant and the four Units at the Stanwell plant. These three coal fired plants are closest to each other, the Callide plant at Biloela, the Gladstone plant at Gladstone, and the Stanwell plant on the outskirts of Rockhampton. As I mentioned, Callide is owned by the State Company CS Energy. The Stanwell plant is also owned by a State owned Company, Stanwell Corp. You will notice that the Gladstone has six Units. This is a privately owned plant, and is used mainly to power the large Aluminium Smelter on Boyne Island. The State Government has a deal in place with the owners of the power plant (Rio Tinto) to use the remaining power from the plant that is not being directly consumed by the smelter itself. So, Units 5 and 6 of this Gladstone plant were independently supplying the smelter at the time, and the remaining three Units online (one of these Units was also off line for maintenance in the lead up to Winter, when all plants are needed the most to supply the larger power consumption of those Winter Months) were delivering power into the Queensland grid.The Stanwell plant also had one Unit off line for maintenance.

You can see that at the 1.45PM mark, the first power fail occurred, and this was at that Callide Plant, as the explosion dropped Unit four off, and the other two were then shut down as well. Then, at 2.05PM, both the three Units at Gladstone, and the three Units at Stanwell also went off line, the Load (power consumption) now being greater than the generated power, atypical cascading power plant failure. The total power loss was 2600MW, just from these nine coal fired Units which dropped off line.

As you can see, inside of an hour, these coal fired plants started to come back on line, and in the next five hours, they recovered almost 1600MW of the lost power, but this was just from the three Units at Gladstone and the three Units at Stanwell.

This next graph shows part of the recovery process, which happened quickly enough so that some consumers got power back on almost within an hour, and as I mentioned we had our power back in an hour and a half. This graph shows the Natural Gas fired plants brought on line in an attempt to make up the loss of power. Again, you can see that under the graph, I have ticked the boxes for just the gas fired plants which were brought on line to make up the lost power. Within 15 minutes of the huge loss, the first of those extra 15 gas fired plants came on line delivering power as they started to ramp up. Within ten minutes they had 600MW, and then, inside an hour 1125MW, and now, by this time the evening peak was getting closer, so more plants came on line and by that evening peak, these extra gas fired Units were delivering 1600MW, from 15 extra plants.Then, at around 7PM, after that evening peak had passed some of them were taken out of the system, their power now not needed, and by 9PM, most of the others also were taken out of the system, as those other sic large coal fired Units started to get back to their maximum output. This was where those gas fired Units came to help the most, because as you’ll see there was little help from wind, and after 6PM, no help from solar power. So, the bulk of the heavy lifting was done by these gas fired plants, which, because they are small in size, you need a lot of them to make up for that lost power. Also, a lot of these smaller Units are seldomly used, and because of that, for them to start up at such short notice is an expensive task, and because of that the cost for the wholesale power for this critical time spiked to unheard of extremely high levels.

This next graph shows the response from Hydro Power in the State. Now what needs to be realised here that the total Nameplate for Hydro power in Queensland is only 714MW so just 9% of the total Hydro power in Australia. So, while hydro did respond, there wasn’t all that much to respond with. There are eight Units in all, and six of those are less than 30MW Nameplate. The largest of these hydro Units are Units 1 and 2 of the Wivenhoe pumped storage plant, and even these are only 285MW. As you can see from the graph, both came on line as well as the extra run of river hydro at Barron in Far North Queensland, and in all these three Units added an extra 550MW of power into the grid for Queensland.

However, look closely at the graph, and note the time these Units came on line, at 4PM, so three hours after the huge loss of power, and only to cover a little for the evening peak. If I could allow myself to be a little cynical here, I’m wondering if those two, umm, State owned hydro Units came on at that peak power time to take advantage of the huge spike in the cost of wholesale power, as while delivering power, all Units get paid the same amount. If the huge problem of that large loss in power was so critical, why were these hydro Units not brought on line immediately the fault occurred, as those natural gas fired Units did.

This next graph shows the response from wind generation during this large loss of power. Huh, as you can plainly see when you look at the legend under the graph, there are only TWO wind plants in the State of Queensland, a State that proudly proclaims at the top of its voice to be leading the Country in renewables, and also supposedly on the way towards 50% Renewables by 2030, and good luck with that as I have said so many times.

But hey, look at how those two wind plants performed here in this crisis situation. As you can see, earlier in the day the largest wind plant in the Country, The Coopers Gap Wind Plant was humming along nicely, and delivering a goodly amount of power, up around 388MW of its 452MW Nameplate. Then, as the wind fell away, wind generation in the State dropped from a total of 530MW at 7AM to a low of 88MW just before the large loss of power and the resultant blackout.

Then, and say, who would have thought, when the power failed, then so did both of those wind plants, at the same time, and they were off line for the next three hours. But really, 88MW of power was never going to help when almost 2800MW of power was lost. This is just another of those numerous occasions where wind generation fails to deliver when its needed.

This next graph shows the response from Solar Power, not rooftop solar power but from the pow plants that are solar powered. There are a number of these solar plants in Queensland, mainly because it is one of the sunniest States in the Country. Here I have just ticked the solar power plants in question, and most of these are in the general area of the three coal fired plants that went off line. There are twelve plants in this general area and just like the wind plants, these solar plants went off line at the same time as the coal fired Units failed. This was twelve of those solar power plants, but it was only a loss of 407MW, and that’s a substantial loss to take out of the system. And here it’s not like they were ever going to deliver power again, because, by the time the major event was over, it was late afternoon, early evening, and solar power was all but back at zero anyway.

Now, here we could add in rooftop solar power and speculate how it was what saved the situation. But sadly, that’s not the case. Because, while rooftop solar power is largest here in this State of Queensland, it is (99% of it) grid connected rooftop solar power. Now what that means is that if the power goes off, then so too does rooftop solar power because it need that grid power to reference to, and if that grid power is not there, then there is no rooftop solar power.

So sadly, while this was almost a catastrophe, not one of the renewable power sources contributed in any way to the recovery. But, hey, that didn’t stop the Premier, and her Ministers saying later in the evening and today that renewable power helped to keep the power on. In fact, the opposite was the case. When the power failed, then those renewables also failed as well, and none of the renewables assisted in the recovery. All the heavy lifting was done by natural gas fired plants, the dreaded fossil fuelled power plants, and they did not get a single mention from any of those politicians.

This was one of the largest power failures in the State for more than 45 years. The fact that it was not worse than what it could have been is testament to how those engineers are looking after the grid, trying their hardest to keep the power on. All of this resulted from a catastrophic accident, and the resultant blackout, while huge in nature could have been much much worse.

And renewable power, well, it was absolutely no help at all.

My guess is that this Unit which exploded is now destroyed, and will need to be completely replaced. I wonder if this Government so hell bent on (talking about) renewable power will look if it now goes ahead and replaces a coal fired Unit. It waits to be seen, but at the moment, they are all saying that it will be up and running soon.

I doubt that.

Anton Lang uses the screen name of TonyfromOz, and he writes at this site, PA Pundits International on topics related to electrical power generation, from all sources, concentrating mainly on Renewable Power, and how the two most favoured methods of renewable power generation, Wind Power and all versions of Solar Power, fail comprehensively to deliver levels of power required to replace traditional power generation. His Bio is at this link.