Noteworthy analysis of the state-wide blackout across South Australia on 28th September 2016

Bruce Miller’s post on WattClarity on 30th March 2017 has prompted me to put this record together this listing of reference materials relating directly to the South Australian blackout of 28th September 2016.

As more materials come to hand (or are identified by some of our readers – gratefully received) I will seek to keep this update – though it might be sporadic.

(A)  Coverage on WattClarity

Click through here for a fuller list of articles that have been posted in this particular category.  Of particular note are the following:

Date Report or Publication
28th September 2016 (early) As soon as we saw it happening, we posted this brief article to let our readers know, if they were not already aware
28th September 2016 (later) Very late on the day, I posted this animation (using ez2view) of what I could see that had happened.  At the time I noted that I would post more analysis later on WattClarity – but have not had the time.
12th August 2019 On Monday 12th August 2019 I extracted two of the illustrations included in the Generator Report Card to provide an illustration of what the instantaneous level of inertia was in the South Australian region on the day of the SA System Black (and how that particular day highlights an inflection point in the trajectory of generator-supplied inertia over a period of approximately 10 years).

(B)  Reports from the AEMO

In the table below, I have linked (in chronological order) to the main reports published by the AEMO analysing what happened in the blackout – the causes, the consequences, and recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of it happening again:

Date Report or Publication from the AEMO
5th October 2016 Only a week after the incident, AEMO published a Preliminary operating incident Report:
1)  Here’s the HTML note.
2)  Here a direct link to the PDF report (referencing information as at 3rd October 2016).  This report was only 31 pages in length, so 1/10 of the final size.
19th October 2016 2 weeks later, AEMO published an update – in its Second Preliminary Report:
1)  AEMO published this update to the first report.
2)  Here’s the PDF.
12th December 2016 Just under 3 months from the incident, the AEMO published some preliminary recommendations in a Third Preliminary Report:
1)  The HTML note is here; whilst
2)  The PDF is linked directly here (referenced to information collated as at 7th December 2016).
28th March 2017 5 months after the incident, AEMO published its Final Report:
1)  The HTML note is here; whilst
2)  Direct link to the PDF “Black System – South Australia 28th September 2016” is here (now up at 273 pages).

(C)   Finkel Review

The “Finkel Review” was set up following the blackout, but has a broader scope than just analysing this particular incident.  For completeness it is listed below:

Date Report or Publication
14th December 2016 On the 14th December 2016, a preliminary report was published:
1)  HTML reference is here.
2)  The PDF report (66 pages) is linked directly here.  This Erratum was also published.  See the Case Study on page 31
Interim A range of records being related to the Finkel Review are assembled here on the Department of Environment & Energy website.
9th June 2017 The final report is currently available on the Department website at this location.
23rd June June 2017 Note that (underneath the final report) supporting information was published a couple weeks later at this same location.

(D)   From the AER

Thanks to Allan’s comment (below) I have started the listing here:

Date Report or Publication from the AER
3rd March 2017 As Allan noted in his comment (below) on 30th March, the AER Quarterly Compliance report talks about certain investigations being completed – some of which relate to the SA blackout:
1)  Website page is here.
2)  Direct link to PDF document is here.See, in particular, p23 (section 2.4.1) where the AER talks about their responsibilities in terms of reviewing:
1)  Pre-event
2)  Event
3)  System Restoration; and
4)  Market suspension.
14th December 2018 The AER released its “The Black System Event Compliance Report” here, which is an investigation into the Pre-event, System Restoration, and Market Suspension aspects surrounding the 28 September 2016 event.

The larger (200 page) report is summarised in this 3-page Fact Sheet.

7th August 2019 As noted in this news release from the AER, the AER commenced proceedings in the Federal Court against four wind farm operators for alleged breaches of the National Electricity Rules (NER).Proceedings have been brought against subsidiaries of:

  • AGL Energy Limited (ASX: AGL) in relation to the Hallett 1, Hallett 2, Hallett 4 and Hallett 5 Wind Farms (Suzlon turbines);
  • Neoen SA in relation to the Hornsdale Wind Farm (Siemens turbines);
  • Pacific Hydro Pty Ltd in relation to the Clements Gap Wind Farm (Suzlon turbines); and
  • Tilt Renewables Limited (ASX: TLT) in relation to the Snowtown 2 Wind Farm (comprising Snowtown Wind Farm Stage 2 North and Snowtown Stage 2 South Wind Farm) – Siemens turbines.
28th February 2020 As noted in this news release, the AER published an update on their Black System Event Compliance Report (which had been published on 14th December 2018 and is linked above).

The AER says “All but one of the recommendations and remedial actions outlined in the Report have now been implemented.”


(E)   From the AEMC

Thanks to Allan’s comment (below) I have started the listing here:

Date Report or Publication from the AEMC
6th January 2017 As Allan noted in his comment (below), the AEMC initiated their “Review of the System Black Event in South Australia on 28 September 2016” (REF EPR0057).

I’ve directly linked the Terms of Reference, provided by the COAG Energy Council.  As Allan has noted the date for the AEMC report is 6 months after the completion of both:
1)  the AEMO’s investigation report (28 March 2017 – above); and
2)  the AER’s compliance report (not released yet, but will be linked above).
This currently means not before September 2017, I think.

As more substantial documentation is provided, I will include below…

11th July 2017 The AEMC published this 4 page update of their progress (which was, itself, a review of other documentation available).
18th April 2019 The AEMC released this “Issues and Approach paper” to facilitate public comment on:

  • the systemic issues arising from the 28 September 2016 South Australian black system event
  • the Commission’s approach to conducting its review into the event as required by COAG Energy Council.
15th August 2019 The AEMC released this Staff Discussion Paper entitled “Mechanisms to enhance resilience in the power system – Review of South Australia Black System Event” as part of the Review of the System Black Event in South Australia on 28 September 2016.
Thu 12th Dec 2019 The AEMC published this Final Report “Mechanisms to enhance resilience in the Power System – Review of the South Australian Black System Event”.

The final report identifies a need to introduce new operational tools for enhancing power system resilience. These operational tools are needed to enhance to manage the risks from ‘indistinct’ events.

The review presents detailed recommendations for changes to NER frameworks for power system security in the following three areas:

  • Implementing a General Power System Risk review (GPSR) process is recommended to effectively identify emerging risks to power system from all sources.
  • Introduction of ‘protected operation’ is recommended as a new operational tool for AEMO to enhance the resilience of the power system to indistinct events that are associated with abnormal conditions.
  • Clarifying the applicability of rule arrangements during a period of market suspension. The review also recommends clarifying the applicability of rule arrangements during a period of market suspension

The final report includes suggested rule change requests to assist stakeholders develop rule change requests to implement the recommendations made in the review.

The review also recommends a future work program investigating further approaches for enhancing power system resilience. The AEMC intend to work closely with AEMO and the Energy Security Board in implementing this future workstream.

Will there be any more? Not sure if there will be any more?

(F)   Miscellaneous Reporting

There’s many pages of commentary (or Mb electronically) that’s been published – when I notice something significant that I want to keep a ready reference to, I’ll add it to the table below:

Date Report or Publication from the AEMC
10th May 2017 Margarida Pimentel (who was at ACIL Allen Consulting at the time) posted some comments in the “Insights” section of the ACIL Allen website.

They were originally attributed to Margarida, but (as at August 2019) have now moved on the website to here and attributed to Paul Hyslop.

They might be useful to some people

9th Oct 2018 I also came across this brief article about “Measures for Managing South Australian Power System Accounting for Lessons Learned from the Recent Blackout Event” on the website of the (international) Energy Systems Integration Group, of which the AEMO is a member.

It’s written by Babak Badrzadeh who was Manager Operational Analysis and Engineering at AEMO at the time of the article.

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.

5 Comments on "Noteworthy analysis of the state-wide blackout across South Australia on 28th September 2016"

  1. Paul

    A couple of items for (D) and (E) above:

    The AER refers to its ongoing review of regulatory compliance related to multiple aspects of the Black System event in its Q4 2016 quarterly compliance report:

    The AEMC has outlined the process for its review – see – however they apparently won’t start until the AER finishes (whenever that may be), and will then take a further 6 months.


  2. Ever since I’ve become addicted to watching AEMO’s NEM Dispatch overview, I’ve come to a few conclusions rightly or wrongly;
    1) SA spot price appears to be consistently higher than a number of States and almost always higher than Qld to a significant extent
    2) the contribution towards meeting the power demand in SA by wind turbines is surprisingly poor given all the political hype. It appears highly variable and unpredictable (unsurprisingly) and at times reaching extraordinarily low levels.
    3) associated with 2) above, there seems to be a high reliance on the interconnectors with Victoria to supply “coal fueled”) power into SA thus challenging the notion that SA thrives on “green” power.
    4) it appears that SA would be in all sorts of trouble if it were not for the ready availability of power from Victoria
    5) it appears that due to the relatively low amount of synchronous generation along with various other generation issues, the Heywood interconnector is subject to unhelpful constraints at some crucial times
    6) power flows to and from Tasmania together with the constraints applied to Basslink don’t seem to make a lot of sense sometimes when considering the value of premium energy stored in Tasmania especially when Tasmania has been experiencing unusually low rainfalls in the past year or so. It seems that the temptation to make some opportunistic profits because of the price differentials between Tasmania and the mainland might be just too much.

    Are my observations reasonable or am I missing some vital clues ?

  3. Re point 2, the contribution of wind is higher in winter than summer, and higher for the newer wind farms such as Hornsdale that has a higher hub height. Hornsdale has averaged a capacity factor of 41% since the start of January, and most new-build wind will be like this. Once there is more large-scale solar in SA, this will partially balance wind output, being higher in summer and under high pressure cells, and lower as lows pass over with their windy conditions.

    Re point 3, now that Hazelwood is closed, Engie’s Pelican Point has been operating at higher capacity factors, leading to much more frequent exports from SA to Vic. This is the most efficient gas power station in SA/Vic. Until about February, most of the load balancing in Vic was from the Snowy. Now it is Mortlake (gas) that seems to be doing some of the load balancing, and some from Newport (gas). The coal generators generally run at close to 100% or not at all (when down for maintenance).

    Re point 5, the Heywood inter-connector seems to have much more than its fair share of problems. For example, last Sunday (9 April), export from SA was limited to ~290 MW from 11:35 until 15:00 on Sunday 9 April during a time of high wind output. This caused SA prices to crash to minus $45/MWh over most of this period. At other times of the day, export from SA was never more than 500 MW, and SA prices held up well. Supposedly the inter-connector has an export capacity of 650 MW via Heywood and 220 MW via Murraylink, totalling 870 MW, under a project that finished in March 2017.

  4. Ian,
    I think you are missing a few things e.g.
    1) SA Spot prices compared to Qld for the last 2 Calendar years and 2017 so far yield the following:
    2017 $108.99 $109.13
    2016 $69.67 $67.44
    2015 $49.58 $51.97
    Which makes me doubt those who spout the economic benefits of coal.
    2) . It appears highly variable and unpredictable because it is variable but predictability is improving according to AEMO at least. In any case there are numerous extended periods when the SE Interconnector flow is SA to Vic but it works as intended generally so we get the benefit of lower prices in both regions and the highly flexible gas fired plant in SA is more than capable of operating counter cyclically with the wind generation.
    3) Reliance on the Interconnector has always been high but not nearly so much since the wind generators were installed and Victoria benefits considerably from SA exports at times of high wind generation. Far from SA not thriving on wind it does, and so does Victoria.
    4) True up to a point but not nearly so much as in the past. The interconnector was initially installed to allow SA to benefit from “opportunity” power purchases from Victoria whenever their price made it economical. Since the NEM start quite a variety of scenarios (draught, plant failure, Basslink OOS etc.) have led to a wide variety of inter-regional power & FCAS provision outcomes.
    5) The Heywood interconnector is subject to a lot of constraints for all sorts of reasons but only some are related to wind generation. Apparently Basslink’s availability and its import to export deadband can have significant impacts. Even deep-in-the-system Victorian transmission line, transformer and SVC availability (I believe) can have significant effects. It is even affected by outages in NSW & Qld but so are other interconnectors, though I suspect that SA’s small size and unique location at the far end of a much larger system has an impact as well.
    6) I would be surprised if Tasmania hadn’t learned the lesson of the Basslink outage which occurred just after they ran their reserves very low. Remember all those diesels they had to import! I think many of them are now in SA for a couple of years but I doubt they will run now the ride-through settings on the windfarms have been corrected.

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