Power outages as Australia swelters through record-breaking heatwave

Spectators stand in front of mist fans as they hold handheld fans to cool down at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan 15, 2019.
Spectators stand in front of mist fans as they hold handheld fans to cool down at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Jan 15, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP, REUTERS) – Hundreds of thousands of people sweltering through a brutal heatwave in southern Australia were left without power on Friday (Jan 25), as the grid struggled with surging demand.

The authorities said about 60,000 customers were experiencing blackouts, after it ordered forced outages to reduce the risk of the entire grid failing.

“We have asked for 100 megawatts of involuntary load reduction, we have notified the networks, they’re in process of doing that,” Australian Energy Market Operator chief executive Audrey Zibelman told reporters.

The disruption comes as temperatures in Melbourne soared to 42.8 deg C just after lunch, before a cool change saw the mercury drop 12 degrees in just seven minutes in the city in the early afternoon.

There were reports of up to 100 traffic lights without power in Melbourne, and some shops and cafes were forced to close.

The extreme heat did not deter tennis fans however, who flocked to Melbourne Park for the Australian Open tennis semi-finals – although many made use of mist tunnels and fans to keep cool.

 
 
 

In other parts of Victoria state, the authorities had issued fire warnings, with hundreds of emergency services personnel and dozens of planes and helicopters on standby, as temperatures in some areas were expected to reach up to 47 deg C. 

Australia is reeling from a heatwave that peaked in South Australia on Thursday when the state capital Adelaide topped 47.7 deg C, breaking a record that had stood since 1939.

Meanwhile, the authorities farther south, on the island state of Tasmania, continued to battle bush fires.

The record-breaking heatwave over the past week has sent power prices soaring across south-eastern Australia.

Wholesale power prices in Victoria hit the market cap of A$14,500 (S$13,980) per megawatt hour before midday on Friday, earlier than expected, and were forecast to remain there for the rest of the day, National Electricity Market data showed.