Power crisis: Why is Australia facing risk of blackouts?

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Highlights

  • The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) recently issued lack of reserve notices for Queensland and New South Wales.
  • Global factors have contributed to skyrocketing energy prices while triggering an energy price cap.
  • Authorities can trigger the gas supply chain mechanism and divert gas exports toward domestic markets.

Amidst an escalating energy crisis, Aussies are facing yet another challenge in the form of power outages. At a time when the nation’s power crisis is showing no signs of abating, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has issued lack of reserve notices. The notices have been issued for Queensland and New South Wales.

The risk of blackouts has surfaced in the country as the demand for power is expected to be much higher than its supply. Existing supply constraints have prompted the AEMO to flag these concerns specifically for two states. Energy supply has remained constrained in the past few weeks, with power plant outages becoming a recurring phenomenon across the country.

Notably, global factors have played a crucial role in pushing Australia into this precarious state. Meanwhile, Australia’s cold weather has been an added burden on the power grid. As a result, electricity prices have skyrocketed in the country, with inflationary concerns raging in the backdrop.

The AEMO recently encouraged commercial and industrial power customers to reduce their power usage in New South Wales. The power grid is already under immense stress, with high demand across all states. However, a coal-supply crunch and rising commodity prices have increasingly put pressure on electricity supply.

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What did the AEMO say?

Amidst the current situation, the AEMO warned that load shedding could have been used as the last resort to fight a demand-supply imbalance. Queenslanders were informed that they could see load shedding from 5 pm until 8:30 pm on Monday night.

Such expectations stemmed from skyrocketing energy prices, which have triggered an energy price cap. The wholesale price of energy has been limited to AU$300 a megawatt hour as energy prices rose to unprecedented highs on Sunday. Due to an energy price cap, available offers from generators reduced, fuelling speculations of a shortfall in electricity supply.

Despite these concerns, the AEMO invoked its powers under the National Electricity Rules (NER), with efforts to provide sufficient supply to cover the lack of reserve 3 shortfall. The regulator also plans to monitor reserve conditions in Queensland and across the National Energy Market (NEM). Further updates can be expected ahead as conditions change across these regions.

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What is happening to the Australian power supply?

Most of the Australian power grid consists of coal-fired power generation plants. Recent events have created a major shock in the global commodities market, leading to a sharp uptick in their prices. Specifically, the Russia-Ukraine war has affected the supply of essential commodities, including gas.

Australia has some backup gas plants, which now appear to be the nation’s last resort in resolving the energy crisis. However, a global uptick in gas prices has meant that these backup plants are now more expensive to operate.

Additionally, Australia is a large exporter of liquefied natural gas, which means that domestic reserves can potentially satisfy the demand at home. However, these domestic reserves can not be used for self-consumption as they form a central part of the country’s exports.

But Australia has a gas supply trigger that can help prevent domestic gas supply from being solely exported. The Australian Domestic Gas Security Mechanism can be used to keep the gas supply in check.

However, keeping the coal and gas supply in check might not solve the problem in the long term. High energy prices are expected to be a harsh reality for some more time to come. If international pressures persist, power generator breakdowns could continue. In fact, many other states could face similar concerns if these outages are not managed properly. Till then, Aussies need to manage their electricity consumption wisely and avoid unnecessary usage of electric items.

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