But the recent heat wave meant more than just a few uncomfortable summer nights, it also triggered strategic power outages for the states of Victoria and South Australia. This article explores how the heat wave led the Australian Energy Market Operator to implement ‘load shedding’ and some of the actions we can all take to help minimize the risk of these events happening in the future.
A heat wave isn’t just your typical summer weather – it is defined as 3 or more days in a row when both daytime and night-time temperatures are unusually high—in relation to the local long-term climate and the recent past.
January 2019 broke records on a few fronts. According to the Bureau of Meteorology, it was the warmest January on record in terms of the mean, maximum and minimum temperatures. Not only that, January was also the hottest month ever recorded in Australia.
This comes after a similarly record-breaking 2018, with Australia’s warmest December barely a month ago.
When the temperature gets close to or over 40 degrees, most of us are not far from an air-conditioner or fan. While these technologies help us get through the heat wave in relative comfort, we often forget the impact of their heavy use on the next power bill.
Nine News reported that during the height of the heat wave, Victorians and South Australians spent just over $1.1 billion within a 48 hours period. With the pool pump on, the aircon full blast and all the appliances plugged in, it’s no surprise your energy bills can skyrocket in warmer conditions.
But energy-sucking appliances aren’t just wreaking havoc with your budget – they also have a major effect on the grid.
As the temperature rises, so does the amount of pressure on the electricity infrastructure – in other words, the electricity grid is under ‘stress’. To help relieve the pressure and avoid widespread (uncontrolled) blackouts, energy operators sometimes implement strategic power cuts. This is known as ‘load shedding’.
Load shedding is a common term used in IT circles when referring to the process of limiting users upon a web server. The ‘limiter’ blocks some users rather than overloading and crashing the system for all users.
During the recent Melbourne heatwave for example, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) did just that. It implemented a load shedding strategy to avoid risking power loss to all users. As a result, a total of 200,000 Victorian homes went without power at the height of the heat wave.
Many Australians were significantly impacted, with shops forced to close their doors while families sweltered in the heat. Small business owners were also at risk of losing thousands of dollars due to unpowered fridges and heat stricken staff members. VicTraffic reported that a sizeable number of traffic lights across the state had ceased working due to the power issues.
“The market operator had to make the decision to minimise the impact of [the failures]…The market operator did what their job is, and decided there was an actual gap in energy supply to meet that continually rising demand.”
- Energy Minister Lily D'Ambrosio
If you’re not completely off the grid with a solar and a home storage system (and not many of us are!), blackouts can be a serious inconvenience.
Even though forecasts predict that extreme weather events could be here to stay, most of us still take our access to electricity for granted. The good news is that there are many ways we can take action to start taking control of our energy use and spend – helping to minimize our impact on our wallets, the environment and the grid:
Start with some small changes
Most of us could be smarter with the way that we use electricity by making a few simple changes. Here is an article we put together with a few simple hints.
Invest in solar
With electricity prices rising and the cost of installing solar PV continuing to drop, more and more Aussies are turning to solar as a solution. As of December 2018, 21.6% of Australian homes have solar PV, the highest rate for residential rooftop solar in the world.
At carbonTRACK, we working toward a future where blackouts are a thing of past. Our technology connects energy users and energy providers, creating a smart energy ecosystem where energy supply and demand can be better managed.
At the building level, energy users can see and control how much energy they use and produce and decide how to best manage any excess solar energy generated.
At the network or grid levels, carbonTRACK can predict demand, foresee peak load events and take action to reduce grid stress before blackouts happen. This might be in the form of displacing non-critical loads or increasing supply from the excess solar power available on the network of smart homes and buildings.
By empowering energy generators, energy distributors, energy consumers to all connect, we’re helping to shape a new global energy future. Here’s how: