First shot at trying to understand what went on, leading to the SA blackout of Wednesday 28th September

It’s very late on Wednesday 28th September (actually, a little too late the next morning) and power restoration is still underway, and I have a full day committed for “tomorrow”.  Curiosity got the better of me tonight, so I started using ez2view (our “NEM-Watch on steroids” dashboard-style product) to prepare this initial animation of the day:

It begins at 06:00 and runs through to 17:00 – so it includes the blackout, but does not even start to look at the restoration efforts (which are a whole other story in their own right).

Apologies that it’s not as detailed as it should be – I’ve just run out of time (and any semblance of an ability to think clearly) tonight.

About the Author

Paul McArdle
One of three founders of Global-Roam back in 2000, Paul has been CEO of the company since that time. As an author on WattClarity, Paul's focus has been to help make the electricity market more understandable.

9 Comments on "First shot at trying to understand what went on, leading to the SA blackout of Wednesday 28th September"

  1. thanks for sharing this Paul, looking forward to your update when more is known about the transmission failure.

  2. It was fascinating here in Adelaide watching from the hills some suburbs in darkness while some had just had their power restored.

    My main question is why it took so long to restore power, from about 4 pm until 7:30 pm at the earliest? There is enough inter-connector capacity to power the entire southern half of Adelaide, and there had been no damage to transmission infrastructure in the southern part of the State. Indeed, this is what occurred with the first restoration of power to my area, that all but about 100 MW was from Victoria. They apparently had a meeting – was to make up for not having pre-agreed contingency plans for black starts? Were there contradictory positions that the various market players were arguing about ?

    • Is the apparent slow staged restoration of power about maintaining stability and control of frequency? Not that I fully understand the complexities of electricity generation, but I thought it interesting that the ElectraNet boss on radio this morning mentioned that wind generated electricity cannot be used for ‘black start’ processes, that they need to get full control of load and frequency before introducing wind..

      • andrew w

        black start with windmills? – that’d be “interesting”

        I hope that an honest and thorough engineering led evaluation of the failure is performed – then we’ll see. The moment you see pols pronouncing on the matter – you’re being managed…..

  3. As Paul is aware, Bruce Mountain has an article up over at RenewEconomy based on Paul’s above animation ( I’ll repeat the gist of the comments I made over there based on some research and discussion with a few people in the industry:

    Good clear article Bruce and thanks also to Paul McArdle for getting his analysis up so promptly.

    A couple of very minor corrections to Bruce’s numbers – there was ~300MW of wind generation in the South East at 16:15 AEST – the other 80 MW was from Ladbroke Grove (gas turbines). Torrens Island was producing 274 MW from three (not two) B units (200 MW capacity each), I’m not clear how Bruce knows the 4th Torrens B unit (TORRB2) was synchronised. According to bid data it was not offering any capacity to the market.

    ElectraNet says that “3 of the 4 transmission powerlines between Adelaide and the north of South Australia” were damaged by the storm – this would refer to the four 275kV lines running from Davenport / Robertstown to Para and Mannum respectively (see Figure 2-2 in These lines run on 3 separate corridors almost all the way, so losing three of them in a single event is extraordinary. That said it’s not yet clear exactly where the failures occurred and why that would necessarily lead to the loss of all supply from generation north of Adelaide – we’ll have to wait for fuller information to understand why.

    Given that loss of supply though, and with ~700+ MW already flowing from the South East there is no way the Heywood interconnector and transmission to the South East of Adelaide could have securely picked up the slack (I understand that Heywood interconnector flows briefly shot up to over 1000 MW at which point protection mechanisms tripped it off), nor could TIPS – or any other plant – ramp anywhere near fast enough to meaningfully address the supply-demand imbalance. The question then is why the South Australian Underfrequency Load Shedding scheme did not trigger and reduce load in a more controlled way before the system went black – again we have to wait for a detailed analysis of events before jumping to conclusions.

    • So nothing to do with SA’s second largest subsidy farm, Snowtown North stage 2 reaching 96% capacity, then auto-furling and 140MW of supply disappearing in an instant, just before total grid failure?
      (Actually 2670MW lost from two Snowtown subsidy farms combined at the same time).
      That moments later, the destabilised grid suffered a cascade collapse must be just a coincidence, or something to do with some transmission towers, or something. I’m so glad paid Big Wind shill Bruce Mountain-of-it cleared all that confusion up.

    • Meh.
      should have read –
      Actually 260MW lost from two Snowtown subsidy farms combined at the same time.

      (Unlike Bruce Mountain, I believe accuracy is important. Even if it means admitting error).

  4. Massive power black outs happen all over the world. New York City completely blacked out. Central London where Scotland yard was completely lost. The power grid between Canada and USA where power line easements were ignored and trees shorted out the whole system. Risk management in the power industry looks a 85% reliability. When the 15% failure occurs all hell breaks out. My belief is learn from North Queensland and buy a domestic generator from Bunning’s. North Queensland has always had blackouts from natural disasters. For the academics.

    V stands for power stations. Adding pressure to the system.
    R stands for transmission lines a pathway for the energy.
    I stands for current or energy flow. lose any one and lose the lot. Vectors, Engineering maths, unreal numbers etc etc. Queensland had a similar event in 1986 when Joh ruled and coal was the bees knees. Australians have become an ignorant population. Commercial TV and the owners should be classed as those who broke an ideal way of life for the sake of “”Who is the Greatest”.

  5. Paul

    Just come across an article in which you referred to a “first of its kind” dual solar tracker being installed at the Gatton Solar Research Facilty.

    Can you provide any more information?

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