Summer power supply is most threatened by outages at fossil fuel plants, as renewables help to shore up the grid

According to the Australian Energy Market Operator, the installation of over 5 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity would increase the resilience of Australia’s major electrical grid this summer, with disruptions from fossil fuel facilities the main threat to supplies. The advent of a La Nia in the Pacific, according to AEMO’s Summer Readiness Plan for 2021-22, lowered the likelihood of high temperatures. “Extremely hot summer days, particularly when combined with high humidity, exert the greatest stress on the power grid,” it stated.

The Bureau of Meteorology announced that Australia has entered summer following the coolest spring since 2016. The bureau predicts damp conditions in the eastern part of the country during the next three months, with under-average daytime temperatures across much of NSW. Despite the rise in renewable power supplies, there is still a risk of inadequate amount during summer peak load periods.

Despite the Covid outages, households have contributed 2.6GW of extrasolar panel capacity in the last year, while solar and wind farms have supplied another 2.2GW. “Continued rapid advancement large-scale as well as distributed renewable technologies has helped enhance the stable outlook for summer 2021-22,” according to Aemo. “However, very high demand combined with low differential renewable energy generation may pose a risk of inadequate supply meeting demand.”

Existing fossil fuel facilities, on the other hand, face their own set of problems. The explosion at Queensland’s Callide C power station, as well as the unavailability of South Australia’s Mintaro power station, resulted in around 700MW less coal- as well as gas-propelled capacity entering this summer than a year ago.

The 1.48GW Yallourn power facility in Victoria is likewise vulnerable if significant rainfall leads the Morwell River to overflow, though Aemo believes the likelihood of this happening is minimal.

“Should such an incident happen, Aemo anticipates a danger of between 150,000 to 500,000 customers in Victoria losing power for up to 8 hours during an intense heat event – equivalent to a one-in-ten-year peak demand incident – at least once this summer,” the company stated. Aemo is also planning an emergency capacity of more than 2GW, nicknamed the dependability and emergency reserve merchant, to help with supply. In New South Wales, that capacity was only used once last summer to prevent load shedding or even blackouts.

Separately, Aemo employees voted to strike for the first time, citing management’s inability to resolve employment issues, including expanding the enterprise contract to encompass more graduate and early-career employees.

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