Australia has resorted to firing up its coal reserves to avoid blackouts, as the electrical grid buckles under increased winter demand and power stations going offline for maintenance and repair.
More than 1,900 megawatts (MW) of capacity have been put back on line since Wednesday, the industry group that represents generators said on Friday, easing power outage risks but increasing the country’s reliance on coal.
Eastern Australia has faced a power crisis since mid-May as about 25% of the market’s 23,000 MW of coal-fired capacity was offline for maintenance or due to unplanned outages.
Flooding earlier this year hit some coal mines in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland, and technical issues have curbed output from mines that supply the market’s biggest coal-fired plant, the Eraring power station owned by Origin Energy.
“We are pleased to note that since Wednesday we have seen the return to service of some 1,900 MW previously under maintenance,” the Australian Energy Council said in a statement.
Switch Off Lights, NSW Told
On Thursday, the NSW state government urged households to switch off lights in the evening to avert blackouts, as the country’s power market remained suspended with more than a quarter of its fossil fuel-fired capacity knocked out.
The country’s energy market operator suspended the electricity spot market on Wednesday in an unprecedented move to secure power supplies, its latest drastic step to tackle an energy crisis that began in May.
Efforts were focused on reviving output from coal-fired generators, Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen said on Thursday.
Coal is Australia’s largest energy resource, according to Geoscience Australia, a government agency. Australia is the fifth largest producer of coal and has the third largest reserves of coal in the world.
The coal industry employs more than 30,000 Australians, mainly in rural areas and remains the country’s second-biggest export, accounting for A$39 billion in 2021. Only Indonesia sells more.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell