On Saturday, the expected happened, widespread bushfires exposed the vulnerability of the National Electricity Market as their rampage impinged upon transmission to an extent in which rolling blackouts were only narrowly avoided.
At 16:00 hrs on Saturday 4 January, the Australian Energy Market Operator issued a forecast Lack of Reserve 2 (LOR2) market notice for New South Wales (NSW) as a result of bushfire impacting upon transmission powerlines and limiting generation availability.
In effect, the LOR2 notice is a plea to the market. Cut off by the bushfires AEMO can’t rely on limited generation and reserves; it needs a boost in supply from an unimpinged generator or a substantial reduction in demand from an industrial or commercial consumer.
Thankfully, likely due to the NSW interconnector to Queensland that was largely unaffected by the bushfires, serious transmission ramifications were avoided. Nevertheless, it was a close call, and considering it is only January, these calls are likely to keep coming in.
The near-miss in terms of transmission failure is reigniting debate as to whether more locally generated energy, say, by solar PV in community microgrids, is the direction in which Australia’s energy map should take. After all, few doubt that the scale and unprecedented spread of bushfires this season will only get worse as temperatures continue to rise in years to come, is the changing Australian environment necessitating a localised energy future?
In comments made to the Australian Financial Review (AFR), Snowy Hydro chief executive Paul Broad said the disconnection of the NSW-Victoria Interconnector highlighted the need for a more interconnected system for the grid in order to reduce over-reliance on single elements in the grid.
The AFR also reported that AEMO posted another warning early on Monday morning before de-escalating the caution due to easing of the immediate fire threat to the line.
A clearly underfunded and impotent AEMO is calling on NSW consumers to abate their own energy usage to help minimise stress on the system. If the situation continues to worsen, as it well might, whereby AEMO loses all available reserves and the security of the NEM becomes compromised, the body would be forced to rollout controlled load shedding.