australian outback heat

Australia’s soaring temperatures cause mass power outages

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Australia’s power grid has suffered a series of outages after record-breaking heat waves and surging use of air conditioners has left power plants struggling to meet demand.

Tens of thousands of Melbourne homes and businesses lost power as air-conditioners combating temperatures of 44C taxed the power supply.

The city on the south coast of Australia was expected to see its hottest day since 7 February 2009 – a day of catastrophic wildfires remembered as Black Saturday.

That day, the temperature soared to 46.4C, with wildfires killing 173 people and razing more than 2,000 homes in Victoria.

To shore up the grid, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) cut power to Alcoa Corp’s Portland aluminium smelter, the biggest consumer in the state of Victoria, for nearly two hours on Thursday evening and on Friday.

Several other businesses also agreed to wind down operations during the period of extraordinary demand.

Wholesale power prices in Victoria hit the market cap of A$14,500 (£7,877) per megawatt-hour (MWh) before midday on Friday, earlier than expected, and were forecast to remain there for the rest of the day, National Electricity Market data showed.

Audrey Zibelman, chief executive of AEMO, which manages the national electricity grid, said three heat-stressed coal-fired generators had failed in Victoria and a fourth was expected to shut down on Friday.

The grid began loading-sharing as temperatures climbed in the early afternoon, with 30,000 households and businesses at a time being switched off for as long as two hours so supply could keep up with demand, she said.

Transmission links from the states of Tasmania, New South Wales and South Australia were transferring power to Victoria at full capacity.

“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.”

Essential services such as hospitals were quarantined.

The Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne invoked its extreme-heat policy on Thursday and closed the main stadium’s roof during a women’s semi-final.

Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Rob Sharpe said he would not be surprised if this month becomes Australia’s hottest January on record with heatwave conditions likely to persist.

In South Australia, 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 on Thursday 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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