Can the power grid survive another heatwave?

On Sunday, became the hottest place on earth, stretching the east coast’s energy grid as it attempted to supply the increased demand.

However, Saturday was the first real test of the National Electricity Market’s reliability in 2018 after its failures in the summer of 2016-17, and whether the n Energy Market Operator’s new summer power plans are strong enough to prevent massive blackouts as the grid comes under pressure during heatwaves.

Late last year, AEMO announced it was adding almost 2000 megawatts of additional power for the summer ahead, which it said would more than replace the 1600 megawatts taken offline after Victoria’s Hazelwood brown coal-fired power station closed in March.

These additional megawatts were called upon over the weekend as all states in the NEM saw high temperatures, with South reaching an average high of 46.7 degrees Celsius, Victoria seeing up to 45.2 degrees Celsius, and NSW and Queensland hitting 46.1 and 45.4 degrees respectively, while Tasmania saw an unusual high of 35.8 degrees, increasing energy demand across the entire grid.

Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood told Fairfax Media the grid performed well, and AEMO had learnt the lessons of last summer.

“They’ve learnt from the experience of not being prepared,” Mr Wood said.

However, this was helped by the fact the heatwave event occurred over a weekend in early January as opposed to later in the year, or during the business week when most heavy industries are operating at scale.

This was echoed by Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg.

“Fortunately it was on a weekend, so it wasn’t business as usual activities for the commercial and industrial sectors,” Mr Frydenberg told 2GB on Monday.

Looking forward, he said the skills of AEMO would be tested.

A spokesman for AEMO said the NEM performed as planned, despite the heatwaves.

“We’re happy to say that the NEM performed very well over the weekend with no lack of reserve conditions occurring across any of the states,” he said.

As such, it did not require any major power users, such as smelters, to reduce their energy consumption.

Renewable energy also played a role in supporting the NEM’s reliability, with wind, solar, and hydro providing up to 41 per cent of Victoria’s energy, meeting 36 per cent of that state’s peak demand.

None of the states reached their respective record peak operational demand levels, although NSW’ grid was stretched on Sunday, with a number of small blackouts occurring as it sweltered in the hottest day in 80 years. It drew on power from other states to reach a total operational demand level of 12,319 megawatts.

An Ausgrid spokeswoman said many of these outages “were caused by significant loading due to heavy air conditioning use by residents, some outages were also caused by underground cable faults”.

A spokeswoman for Endeavour Energy, which distributes power to the western Sydney suburb of Penrith, whose temperature reached 47.3 degrees on Sunday, said it experienced no major issues, providing a positive forecast for future heatwave events.

“We had no major heat-related problems in zone sub-stations yesterday,” she said.

“Our summertime preparedness plan also includes steps to configure the network on very hot days to prevent overloading. This provides extra capacity normally used for network security, to help meet extra customer demand for power; and agreements with large customers to curtail load if and when necessary.

“We didn’t need to use of any of these requests yesterday as our load of 3399 megawatts fell short of the previous record of just over 4000 megawatts, set on 30 January last year as temperatures hovered around 43 degrees across western Sydney.”

While the energy distribution network was stable, electricity prices spiked.

The NSW power spot price leapt to $146.69 a megawatt hour at 5pm on Sunday, 50 per cent above the state’s average 2018 first-quarter electricity futures price of $97.50 a megawatt hour.

Mr Wood said the two differing days – one of hot weather across the NEM and extreme heat across a single state – provided an opportunity to see how the NEM could perform under stress, particularly ahead of the historically high demand period of February.

“The real test is still yet to come.”

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