Market operator says SA blackouts may happen again

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South Australia Blackout
Cars and buses drive in the central business district (CBD) of Adelaide after severe storms and thousands of lightning strikes knocked out power to the entire state of South Australia, September 28, 2016. AAP/David Mariuz/via Reuters

Blackouts in South Australia may just happen again after Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has admitted it could not promise that it would not order load shedding, the kind that left 90,000 properties without power last week. The AEMO has stated in its official report that electricity load shedding in the state has been three times the level ordered.

"I'm certainly not going to be saying we can give guarantees that this won't happen again," Joe Adamo, acting executive general manager of stakeholders and information at AEMO, said. He stressed that the system is complex.

Load shedding takes place when the market operator urges power companies to switch off customers' power supply when the system is at risk. It was the same case that happened on Feb. 8, when a number of properties in South Australia lost power supply. The blackout has lasted for 40 minutes following a day of extreme temperatures when power demand exceeded the supply of power.

The AEMO official clarified that it is the market operator’s last option to order load shedding. "There is never, ever a good time or any time for the lights not to be on whether it is for four minutes or 40 minutes. Loading shedding is the absolute last resort," he explained.

Adamo has cited the heatwave in Victoria and South Australia as a reason why avoiding the order of load shedding is quite challenging. He said Victoria will have even reduced reserves.

But SA Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis believes that the AEMO has to be reformed. Koutsantonis is questioning why residents of South Australia have not received a prior warning. New South Wales residents, on the other hand, got 36 hours notice of load shedding.

He is also wondering about why generation was not turned on in South Australia. "Why is it cheaper to generator electricity thousands, hundreds of kilometres away and transport it hundreds of kilometres rather than turn on generation that is right here in South Australia," Koutsantonis exclaimed.

Danny Price, an energy expert from Frontier Economics, said current technology had not been able to shore up the mounting share of renewable energy in the system. He said it is challenge to face as a result of the Paris Agreement. Under the Paris Agreement, Australians need to be in the electricity sector, net zero emissions. Price said the challenge was given to them by the Coalition Government who signed the aforementioned deal.