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Queensland facing potential blackouts following heatwave

Queensland’s energy grid was stretched to the limit on Tuesday after a heatwave and lack of generation capacity forced the market operator to intervene.

The Australian Energy Market Operator asked companies to cut their power use or submit reserve power into the grid as thousands of homes lost power in south-east Queensland as the temperature topped 36 degrees.

Although a second year of La Nina conditions has produced a milder summer, the heatwave across the eastern states and unavailable coal-fired generation units in Queensland contributed to the power shortfall.

AEMO called for market participants to deliver a 54-megawatt shortfall predicted for between 6pm and 7pm Queensland time on Tuesday.

On Monday night AEMO had called for more power reserves, known as a Lack of Reserve Level 3, before cancelling it before midnight. It was then reinstated at 3am on Tuesday.

AEMO later enacted its Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader program to ensure there was not wide-scale blackouts, or load shedding.

Under the RERT scheme, contracted companies are paid to cut their power usage or put in emergency supplies like diesel generators.

Queensland Energy Minister Mick de Brenni said power companies were working to reduce demand, with big industrial users being asked to reduce their use during the peak on Tuesday and Wednesday evening.

He also called on households to turn off devices that weren’t needed.

“While we are working with major electricity users to manage demand, households can also take simple steps to help like turning off devices that are on standby and other appliances where it is safe to do so during the evening peak,” Mr de Brenni said.

“Essential services such as hospitals, transport networks, ports, airports and other key infrastructure will stay online.”

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said Energex may advise people not to use clothes dryers or pool filters when the heatwave peaks over the next few days.

“Think about your family, think about your neighbours and please try and stay as cool as you possibly can,” she said.

Powerlink chief executive Paul Simshauser – who controls the state’s long-distance transmission lines – said reducing electricity consumption in the late afternoon or evening would help take pressure off the grid.

“We’re encouraging electricity customers to reduce their energy consumption where safe to do so over the next two days,” he said.

“By reducing electricity use at home and in your workplace, the community can help ensure that power system security is maintained in Queensland.”

The managing director of energy consultancy Global Roam, Paul McArdle, said regardless of whether there was any load-shedding in Queensland, wholesale electricity prices would spike in Queensland from Tuesday afternoon.

“If this does ensue, it would be a 10-hour-long run of extreme prices that would blow the cumulative price threshold out of the water,” Mr McArdle wrote on his Wattclarity website.

He predicted Queensland’s maximum power demand would peak just short of the record of 10,052 megawatts on February 13, 2019.

He said three coal-fired power units – Callide C4, Callide B2 and Kogan – being offline was having an impact on reserves.

CS Energy chief executive Andrew Bills said any decision to take a generating unit offline during summer was not taken lightly and that it strived to minimise plant downtime.

“Our highest priority is the safety of our people and our plant, and this maintenance could not be deferred,” he said.

Brisbane’s temperature was due to reach 36 degrees on Tuesday, with a slightly milder day on Wednesday.

Working in Queensland’s favour is most people are still working from home and school does not return in full until next week.

A spokesman for AEMO said if it goes ahead in Queensland tonight, it would be the first load-shedding of the summer.

The spokesman said high temperatures and generation unavailability were the main reasons for the LOR3.

AEMO has also issued a Lack of Reserve 2 directive for Wednesday, predicting a 273-megawatt shortfall.

State-owned CS Energy’s C4 unit at Callide Power Station is expected to be out of action for another year after a fire and explosion last year.

The outage of C4 caused a statewide blackout.

They have committed to replacing the C4 unit – whose failure is the subject of an independent inquiry – but said it would take 18 months for Toshiba to manufacture and deliver a new turbine.

Mr de Brenni, a shareholding minister in CS Energy, has also backed the return of Callide power station to full operation, saying coal had a crucial role in the state’s energy mix into the future.

The loss of the full output of the 825-megawatt Callide C power station has contributed to a spike in wholesale electricity prices on the east coast in the last year.

Source: Financial Review