Another hidden cost of intermittent renewables (It’s time to talk about FCAS and roaring price spikes!)

Nobody says much about FCAS in public  — but it’s become a hot topic among Australia’s energy-nerds and electricity traders. It never used to be a big deal, because we got it at very low cost from huge turbines — from coal, hydro, and gas. Suddenly, it is costing a lot more. As I discovered below, in one month FCAS charges in South Australia rose from $25,000 to $26 million. Wow, just wow.

What is FCAS?

FCAS means”Frequency Control Ancillary Service”. With an AC (or alternating current) system, frequency is everything — the rapid push-pull rhythm that is the power. FCAS is a way of keeping the beat close to the heavenly 50Hz hum (or 60Hz in America and Korea). Network managers cry when things stray outside 49.85Hz or 50.15Hz. So controlling the frequency is a very necessary “other service” supplied by traditional generators, but not so much from intermittent renewables.  Large spinning turbines “do” FCAS without a lot of effort. And the cost used to be a tiny fraction of the total electricity bill, but it is rapidly rising in Australia, thanks to the effect of the RET (Renewable Energy Target).

Academia and the ABC finally mention FCAS this week […]

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December 6, 2017 at 11:08AM

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