High temperatures across the country highlight the
complexity the energy industry faces in managing electricity supply
during times of high consumption.
The recent drama began on 10 February. Residents in NSW and the
ACT were asked to switch off appliances between 3:30pm and 6pm to
avoid rolling blackouts. The Energy Minister told people across NSW
to go to the movies or shops to help save power. The electricity
market operator (the AEMO, the body responsible for managing the
electricity market) predicted demand for electricity would be at
its highest in 6 years.
It turned out to be a damp squib. The AEMO was able to add extra
capacity to the system, so there were no power cuts. But the story
in South Australia earlier that week was more worrying. Power was
switched off to a number of residents to protect the network.
Deliberately turning off power to certain areas to reduce demand,
which protects the whole energy network, is called load shedding.
It's controversial because it can mean cutting off power to
residential customers. Understandably customers don't like
worrying about how long their frozen food is going to last.
The challenge facing the AEMO is balancing supply and demand for
electricity. If demand outstrips supply there is a risk that the
whole energy network could blackout. This is a particular risk in
Australia because of the isolated nature of our network. Flip that
around and too much supply is wasteful – not to mention the
complex economic impact this would have on the market.
Predictably the blame game for the events earlier this month is
in full flow. A few candidates include:
it's simply an outcome of higher demand v. lower
the increase in renewable energy has led to a more
inconsistent, unpredictable power supply – which is more
difficult to manage;
the distribution system has not properly adapted to how
renewables function compared to fossil fuels. As renewables become
a larger part of our energy make up, this becomes more of an issue;
in times of peak demand the AEMO prioritises money saving over
a consistent power supply (controversial!). So it will authorise
load shedding instead of increasing supply, or having supply on
Whatever the causes, it's clear that this will be a
persistent issue in our energy market for some time given that
demand is on the increase.
We do not disclaim anything about this article. We're
quite proud of it really.
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