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Queensland power supply to face strain as heatwave sends demand to near-record levels

Surging consumption comes despite ‘very sleepy period’ for electricity use, energy expert says

Queensland’s electricity supplies are expected to be strained for a second day in a row as the heatwave roasting much of northern Australia lifts power demand to near-record levels.

The mercury exceeded its forecast maximum for Brisbane of 37C by early afternoon and was recently at 38.3.5C, or eight degrees above the December average, Bureau of Meteorology data showed.

Residents have been cranking up their air-conditioning, sending electricity demand soaring to more than 9800 megawatts on Thursday evening.

According to energy website, Watt Clarity, that peak was only about 300MW shy of Queensland’s all-time peak demand.

The chief executive of energy consultancy Global-Roam, Paul McArdle, said the demand spike was surprising given the absence of most industrial demand at this time of year.

“Remember that this is a very ‘sleepy’ period where there’s not much running in terms of commercial load (other than shopping post-Christmas), and even some industrial loads would be reduced,” McArdle said.

Dr Dylan McConnell, an energy specialist at the University of NSW, said Thursday’s demand was “certainly an outlier by historical standards by quite a margin”.

Power demand was about 1327MW higher than the previous highest day during the Christmas-New Year period, set during on 31 December 2016, he said.

McConnell said one difference between Thursday and today would be a lower power demand in New South Wales. That meant it should be a “safer day from the electricity system perspective, but it’s still pretty incredible” to have demand running so high.Queensland’s energy minister, Mick de Brenni, said the state’s power system “remains secure, and available supply exceeds demand”.

“Queenslanders have a power system with more than adequate supply because they own it, and the Miles government will keep it that way – owned by Queenslanders,” de Brenni said.

“During the ongoing hot conditions across our state, our number one concern is that Queenslanders keep safe – this means staying out of the sun and keeping cool and well hydrated,” he said.

Meanwhile 750 Energex crews had restored power to more than 100,000 customers across the state’s southeast. About 27,400 customers were still have their power switched back on, de Brenni said.

Near the demand peak on Thursday, wholesale spot prices reached almost $15,000 a MW-hour, Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo) data shows. That compared with an average of about $65/MWh in the most recent weekly figures released by the ASX.

According to Aemo’s data, demand on Thursday peaked at 9680MW, making it the 10th highest recorded in Queensland. The highest came in March this year, with demand reaching 10,070MW.

An Aemo spokesperson said Queensland’s demand could reach 9,900MW later on Friday, which would be the fourth-highest on record if reached.

Queensland consumers, though, were fortunate that the increase in power demand wasn’t later in the summer, McArdle said.

“Imagine what would have happened to the demand levels had this same weather pattern hit us late in January or early February 2024 with industry and commercial industrial energy users back at work!?,” he said, adding that the state would surely set a new demand peak if it did.

New South Wales also faced strains on its grid earlier this summer.

A one-day heat spike on 14 December, combined with the Mt Piper coal-fired power station losing half its capacity of about 1400MW due to a fault, prompted the state government to appeal to consumers to reduce their energy usage to avoid blackouts.

Queensland’s energy supplies have also been hindered by the loss of the 66MW Barron Gorge hydro plant near Cairns, as a result of damage from cyclone Jasper and the subsequent deluge.

The heatwave in Queensland extends across much of northern Australia, with conditions expected to be severe in areas near Darwin and elsewhere in coming days, the bureau said.

Temperatures topped 40C in Queensland, NSW, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the bureau data showed.

Towns such as Marble Bar, in Western Australia, may reach 48C on Saturday, according to bureau forecasts.

This would be the second hottest temperature recorded anywhere in Australia in 2023, trailing only the 49.3C recorded on 14 January at Onslow Airport, also in northwest WA.


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