Blistering heat yesterday triggered power outages on Australia’s strained grid as demand for air-conditioning soared and coal-fired generators struggled to meet the surge in consumption.
To shore up the grid, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) cut power to Alcoa’s Portland aluminum smelter, the biggest consumer in Victoria State, for nearly two hours on Thursday evening and yesterday.
The record-breaking heatwave over the past week has sent power prices soaring across the southeast.
Wholesale power prices in Victoria hit the market cap of A$14,500 (US$10,299) per megawatt-hour before midday yesterday, earlier than expected, then dropped to A$300, National Electricity Market data showed.
Supply was tight, with a total of 1,800 megawatts (MW) of generation offline in the country’s east, AEMO CEO Audrey Zibelman told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
AGL Energy’s Loy Yang power plant and EnergyAustralia’s Yallourn, both in Victoria, were among those with units down.
Transmission links from the states of Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia were transferring power to Victoria at full capacity, Zibelman said.
“With all of that, however, we found ourselves short ... for up to the next two hours,” she said. “We may have to do more over the course of the afternoon, as the demand continues to increase.”
The AEMO has ordered cuts of 200MW, which would affect about 60,000 customers in Victoria.
Temperatures in the South Australian capital of Adelaide on Thursday rose to just shy of 50°C, a record high.
Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, was set to hit 44°C yesterday, before a drop of about 15°C expected mid-afternoon.
Victoria Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change Lily D’Ambrosio said that it was clear Australia’s summers were getting longer, hotter and more extreme because of climate change.
“We can see that the problem we’ve got now is that we’ve got a 20th-century system for a 21st-century climate,” she told reporters at a televised briefing.
Australia is a signatory to the 2015 Paris Agreement, under which it has committed to cutting carbon emissions by between 26 percent and 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.
As insurance ahead of this summer, the AEMO lined up 930MW of reserve power, including an agreement to pay Alcoa’s Portland smelter to curb power when supplies are tight.
Last summer, the reserve program cost the market operator A$52 million.
However, the power cut to Alcoa on Thursday came without notice because of unexpectedly high temperatures, causing demand to spike, the AEMO said.
“Alcoa will not be compensated for the curtailment,” Alcoa spokeswoman Jodie Read said.
However, yesterday’s cut to Alcoa would be under the reserve agreement.
In South Australia on Thursday, where power capacity has been beefed up with diesel generators and gas-fired plants over the past two years following a state-wide blackout, 30,000 homes lost power after transformers on local power lines overheated and switched off.
“After days of heat, we were in some uncharted territory yesterday with record heat and record load sustained well into the night,” said Paul Roberts, a spokesman for SA Power Networks, the South Australian local distribution network operator.
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