Heat, drought, and bushfires drive summer blackout risks
Dec. 01, 2019
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Heat and bushfires, coupled with the risks of an ageing fleet of baseload power plants, are once again combining to raise the risk of electricity blackouts this summer.
Victoria and South Australia are more likely to experience disruptions to power supply than NSW, which is within the energy market operator’s range of acceptable risk. Tasmania and Queensland have negligible chances of power outages.
“This risk is primarily driven by increased vulnerability to climatic conditions such as extended periods of high temperature, corresponding with low wind or solar availability and unplanned generation outages,” according to the Australian Energy Market Operator’s report, the Energy Adequacy Assessment Projection (EAAP), which forecasts blackouts risk for the next two years.
The Bureau of Meteorology has predicted a more than 80 per cent chance of above median maximum temperatures from December to February.
Prolonged drought and a build up of dry fuel has heightened the risk of bushfires which disrtupt transmission networks and increase pressure on remaining supplies.
AEMO said the risk of blackouts during summer would rise above the network reliability standard for Victoria, and for South Australia due to its network connections to Victoria, if maximum temperatures hit the one-in-10-year range and power consumption goes up as people switch on airconditioners en masse.
However, Grattan Institute energy program director Tony Wood said the overall pictured painted by AEMO was encouraging.
"There is some risk of supply shortfall, which there always is because there's risks in all things. But overall it looks pretty good," Mr Wood said.
"In Victoria AEMO has identified additional reserves that need to be contracted to meet peak demand in extreme circumstances.
"Although there's never a guarantee in anything, like if four coal fired power stations fall over by next January, but that's not what's expected."
In January this year up to 200,000 Victorian households were hit with power outages as Melbourne sweltered under its hottest day in five years, and units failed at the coal fired Yallourn and Loy Yang power stations.
In August, AEMO warned that in a worst-case scenario up to 1.3 million Victorian households could be left without power for four hours if ailing coal and gas plants are not back at full speed by the time of peak summer power demand.
AEMO's EAAP report highlighted the unreliable performance of some brown coal generators in Victoria, and potential delays in returning two of Victoria’s major power stations, Loy Yang and Mortlake, to full service.
Both facilities had experienced months of disruption to supply after mechanical failure, but they have advised AEMO they’ll be at full capacity by early December, ahead of summer peak demand.
AEMO also highlighted a future risk for up to 770,000 NSW homes, which would be left without power during extreme heat days under the 2023-24 scheduled closure of the Liddell coal-fired power plant in the Hunter Valley, unless alternate dispatchable supply comes online.
AEMO said the risk of blackouts in NSW and Victoria should drop slightly in 2020-21 as more renewable energy and battery storage enters the network.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
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