Analysis of Scottish Power Outage

The power outage


In response to the news on bishop hill that MSP Alex Johnstone (Conservative, North East Scotland) was tabling the following question:

‘whether it has undertaken any further investigation into whether an over reliance on wind turbines as a source of electricity played a role in the grid failure on 16 April 2014′. (S4O-03258)

I decided to reveal what I had found in my comments on that blog. However, without the above graph the comments will not make much sense, so I’ve rushed out this post (apologies for the poor quality graph, click for a larger version). But before the graph, let me quickly look at the big picture:

What is the safe level of wind on a grid?


Back around 2000 it was well known that more than about 16-19% wind on a grid would be problematic. After the recent scandal of John Swinney misleading the public, I went to see what the current figure is. Eventually I found a paper, that quoted another paper, that quoted another paper, that eventually led back to a paper written about 1990.

In other words, there has been next to no (published) research on the effect of wind on an electricity network and no one really has any idea how serious the effect will be and at what level we will start to see these effects. This in itself is very worrying.

The analogy I would use is of a car driving down the road. As you drive the car faster and faster, the likelihood of a catastrophic accident increases because the effect of any curve (change in the wind) is all the more greater, and the time to respond is therefore all the smaller. Moreover, wind is displacing conventional backup as it is being made uneconomic – so not only is the destabilising effect of wind increasing, but the ability to stabilise the grid from conventional power is decreasing.

Just as one can make the car safer at higher speeds by getting better equipment – brakes, tyres, etc., but fundamentally, speed = more wind, can be partly offset by more and more money spent on protecting the network, but eventually no matter how much is spent too much instability will close down the grid as surely as too much speed will cause any car to go off the road. We just don’t know what that figure is!

But, in researching the background to this power outage, I became aware that the North of Scotland is now regularly having power outages. This is just what we would expect from a system under pressure. TO use the car analogy – we are already seeing the screeching of wheels and the excessive use of brakes.

The graph

This graph is a plot of the rate of change of power on the grid from various sources as well as the differently scaled change in phase (red dot). The most dominant feature is the massive change in phase which changed dramatically from 8:35-8:40 and then recovered from 8:40 to 8:45. This is like the heartbeat of the electricity network – it’s the single most important measure telling us if the system is under stress. It was clearly under a huge stress at 8:40, there is no obvious “stress” at 8:30 – 8:35.

The other important evidence on this graph is the way the wind curve (light blue) closes matches the rate of change in phase. The two match each other in their peaks and troughs showing that the main cause of changes in phase of the network was due to wind. In other words, wind power was the dominant feature that evening. To go back to the car analogy, it would be like plotting car speed against road curve. If the car is near its speed limit, each bend will cause the speed to decrease. If however the car is well within its speed for the road, it will hardly change the speed around the bends. The electricity network was clearly near its limit and having problems coping with the amount of wind.

What is perhaps most important is that the outage occurred at a time total demand was decreasing, with the result that Hydro (mid blue) was being turned down. So from 8pm till the massive power phase change at 8:35, hydro was being ramped down until (as seen on a graph of total power not change) very little was being produced.  This is important because hydro is very quick to react and so a good proportion of hydro stabilises the grid. Turn off the hydro – and the grid becomes less stable – or as strongly appears to have happened on this night – we get a catastrophic instability!

These show that the right conditions existed for a catastrophic failure. However it does not give the actual cause. But in examining the supposed “relay fault” which we are told occurred at 8:30, it is very interesting that the main evidence of a power cut (a sudden and dramatic change in phase) occurred 8:35-8:40, at least five minutes after the supposed relay fault at 8:30. This is also backed up by a number of anecdotal accounts of lights going out well after 8:30 at around 8:40.

This strongly suggests that if there was a fault at 8:30pm that the actual event causing the power outage did not occur until at least 8:35 but instead showed at 8:40pm as a massive and sharp change in grid frequency. That suggests another event occurred around 5-10minutes after the supposed “relay fault” and so there is 5-10 minutes which has not so far been explained between the “fault” and the power outage.

This time discrepancy needs to be explained because I cannot see how a fault at 8:30 could lead to a sudden massive change in mains frequency at 8:40 unless there were an additional factor of which the large and dominant affect of wind, and the collapse in hydro output (presumably due to a bad forecast and general otherwise oversupply) that night on the whole system is very likely to be the cause.

In other words, even if there was a “relay fault” (which itself seems doubtful as given in the original letter) this was just coincidental was probably found as a result of having to cope with the massive power surge from wind – and is all in all just a very handy excuse.

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One Response to Analysis of Scottish Power Outage

  1. To the Scottish Sceptic

    I haven’t seen the note about Neil Craig’s death before just now. The entire Scotland should mourn. What a loss, indeed!
    I’m full of admiration for and deep consent with everything he wrote.
    Scotland is known for its many outstanding mathematicians (see Wikipedia about the map of European mathematicians, especially northern England and Scotland! Impressive, no random distribution, but in keeping with the eminent book of Arthur Herman: How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2002, 400 pp) and so many other bright and independent, edarly enlightened thinkers such as Adam Smith, James & John Stuart Mill etc. – but still more famous for its strong old ‘grit’, the courage to be – if necessary – just a lonely wolf (here we say ‘a caller in the desert’). If more people were likewise sagaciously alerted, we would be saved from many bluffs & lies, much deceit, collective errors and avoidable fiascoes.

    Could You, please, tell me when You started to write on Internet? Where I can find all Your published work at maybe various addresses?

    My respect for Scotland has been nourished by reading Scottish philosophers and bosstered tremendously by a private guidance through Edinburgh’s World-unique Medical History Museum by a brilliant elderly Surgeon with a name like Adam Smith (sic). He looked like a Twin brother to the US heart transplanter Lillehei (from Norway! reminding me of the factg that the Glasgow region once belonged to the so-called ‘Norse’ ) and he told me that his family came from Scotland to the USA. With his wife I could still talk fluently Norwegian-Swedish…

    I’m totally overwhelmed about the level of Your postings and will not miss ONE! The reason: I am a Swedish physician, epidemiologist, neurophysiologist and book author, focusing on just this phenomenon: flabbergastingly successful, though absurd collective errors. I have written several books on epidemiological and political issues and have had the chance to dissuade Norway from the rather irreversible mistake of joining the EU (Koch MG & Gonzalez JJ: EUphoria – chosing between democracy and bureaucracy / EUforia – om valget mellom demokrati og byråkrati, University Bergen, 1994). I have also written a major book (672 pp) on the brains of men and women, but in German as the Swedes would have tarred and feathered me on Stockholm’s central square for its content, although it only refers to scientific facts from gender science and brain research): ‘Der Veruntreute Sündenfall’, which may be translated into English later on. Just now I am closing a book about the incredible climate hoax: Here in Sweden by some fools, the story’s derailing began around 1850, kulminated 1896, when a Swedish physicists (Nobel laureate) published a mistaken experiment and erroneous calculations, which were swallowed uncritically by a later renowned SDwedish meteorologist who read the article of a Swedish

    The World is on its way into the next ‘quiet sun phase’ (“the solar Niroma minimum”) after the latest (moderate and usual: periodical!) solar warming (no AGW, but an HGW, a heliogenic GW) that by now has turned into an HGC, a Heliogenic Global Cooling). Warming had slowed down and then stopped around 1995 (i,e., 16-23 years ago, depending on the measurement methods) and temperatures are markedly falling now – beware of the impending Winters until 2060! – and the World still discusses a fancied ‘warming’! Incredible. That would need some dozen Neil Craigs, Lord Lawsons, Lord Moncktons, Richard Lindzens, Piers Corbyns, Timothy Balls, Anthony Watts and Lawrence Solomons to get the faked records straight!

    By the way: I really and intensely wish Scotland to become a free nation after many hundred years under Englands domination, so it may slip to participate in all impending shortsighted English decisions steered by naive gullibility and a pompous wishfull and avoiding thinking, that will lead through the EU into a chain of never ending fiascoes – even on Scottish shoulders.

    If You are interested to read some chapters of my coming book I would like to mail You some of them. The book will have more than 30 comprehensive chapters. I’m in persnal contact with several brilliant and stable ‘deniers’ (such as NA Mörner, Ross McKitrick, Fred Goldberg, S Fred Singer, Gösta Walin, Henrik Lundstedt and other Swedish scientists (especially solarists), even in Germany (PIK), Switzerland (CERN, Kasper Kirkby), Denmark (Friis-Christensen, Svensmark), Norway (Pål Brekke), Canada (McKitrick, Tim Ball), Czechia (Waclaw Klaus, Lubos Motl), Australia, Japan, China, and Poland (Jaworovsky). The AGW theory has by now a very short ‘best before’ date – as we say in Sweden. I have had the privilege of meeting some of them – even the originator and 10-yr head of the IPCC, Bert Bolin Before his death, in an early stage of the AGW quest. The facts are apallingly coninuing the road astray – to pure junk science and confusion.

    Can You give me some hints to Your own background? You have made the best analysis of the intransic problems with too zealous environmentalism I have ever read. Although I am one of the first European serious ‘Greens’ and found my nature paradise in a Central Swedish National Park area (with beavers in the own garden), as a school boy and selected student of several sciences (even anthropology, psychology and linguistics) living with´all those truly alarming and thoughful books of Carson, Jung, Ehrlich, Bartley, Gruhl, Grzimek, and the Club of Rome, I have tried to keep to facts and the scientific methods of empirical thought in the Vienna Cicle tradition. That made me to a highly sceptical environmentalist (like Björn Lomborg), and thus I can wholeheartedly agree to all Your centerpieces and vaultstones of conclusions: No environmentalists should close his eyes for the enlightening books of Mikkel Matthiessen: (‘xxx’, ) and Iain Murray: ‘The Really Inconvenient Truth’ (Regnery 2008, 354 pp)

    Yours sincerely Michael Koch, med. dr., regem. physician

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