Tuesday blackout caused by Sembcorp, Senoko power-generating units tripping: EMA

Blocks in the Kembangan area shrouded in darkness, as seen from Windy Heights condominium on Sept 18,  2018.
Blocks in the Kembangan area shrouded in darkness, as seen from Windy Heights condominium on Sept 18, 2018. PHOTO: DANIEL KUM
Several parts of Singapore, such as Sembawang, were hit by a blackout in the wee hours of Sept 18, 2018.
Several parts of Singapore, such as Sembawang, were hit by a blackout in the wee hours of Sept 18, 2018.PHOTO: ST READER
Several parts of Singapore, such as Yishun, were hit by a blackout in the wee hours of Sept 18, 2018.
Several parts of Singapore, such as Yishun, were hit by a blackout in the wee hours of Sept 18, 2018.ST PHOTO: FABIAN KOH
Several parts of Singapore were hit by a blackout in the wee hours of Sept 18, 2018.
Several parts of Singapore were hit by a blackout in the wee hours of Sept 18, 2018.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - The extensive blackout on Tuesday (Sept 18) that affected close to 147,000 customers was caused by the power-generating units of Sembcorp Cogen and Senoko Energy tripping.

The Energy Market Authority (EMA) said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon that it was working with the two power generation companies and their equipment suppliers to establish why the units tripped.

EMA said preliminary findings showed that one of the power-generating units at Sembcorp had tripped first.

A Sembcorp spokesman told The Straits Times that the power-generating unit that tripped and experienced an outage was on Jurong Island.

“We have called in technical specialists from our equipment suppliers and are working with them to investigate the cause of the trip,” the spokesman said, adding that the firm was keeping EMA updated.

The authority said that the stability of the power system requires the electricity supply to constantly meet electricity demand. As Singapore’s power system operator, EMA is responsible for the reliable supply of electricity to consumers.

"When a power-generating unit trips, the other units in operation will increase their electricity supply automatically," EMA explained.

Later, one of the power-generating units owned by Senoko also tripped while it was ramping up additional supply.

The tripping of both power-generating units resulted in insufficient electricity supply to meet demand.

Protection devices in the power system automatically disconnected electricity to about 146,500 consumers to "rebalance the system", the authority said.

 
 
 
 

In order to restore electricity supply, EMA instructed other standby power-generating units to provide additional electricity supply.

These included unaffected units from Senoko and YTL PowerSeraya.

"The restoration of electricity supply was done in a controlled manner to ensure the electricity system remained stable. As electricity generation increased, supply to consumers was progressively restored over 38 minutes," it added.

Tuesday's power disruption happened at 1.18am and electricity supply was restored at 1.56am.

SP said that 19 areas in Singapore were affected: Boon Lay, Choa Chu Kang, Clementi, Jurong, Pandan Loop, Aljunied, Geylang, Tanjong Rhu, Mountbatten, Kembangan, Bedok, East Coast, Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Thomson, Mandai, Admiralty, Sembawang and Woodlands.

Mr Bernard Esselinckx, Senoko Energy's president and chief executive officer, said that the firm was working closely with EMA and the company’s equipment supplier to review the incident.

“We are relieved that we managed to support the restoration of electricity promptly within 38 minutes with our other units... We are fully committed to working together with EMA to ensure the security and reliability of the power system in Singapore,” he said.

Experts ST spoke to said a number of reasons could be behind the power trips, but added that the situation could have been much worse.

Professor Choo Fook Hoong, co-director of the Nanyang Technological University’s Energy Research Institute, said: “Overloading could be possible, but this is less likely given it was the middle of the night... It is difficult to say for now, but faulty equipment or supply problems are two possible causes.”

Mr Teo Chor Kok, a fellow of the Institution of Engineers, Singapore, added that supply, mechanical and overheating issues could have caused the trips.

“The trips protect the generator when such issues arise. While they cannot be completely avoided, they can be mitigated by regular checks and maintenance,” he said.

Mr Teo, who has 38 years of experience in electrical engineering, thought that Tuesday’s outage was handled well.

“It could have potentially led to the collapse of the entire system, had it not been for safeguards put in place by EMA to keep the situation contained,” he said.

There are seven companies which generate power and feed it to the national grid. While SP manages the grid, it does not own these companies.

The seven power generation companies are: PacificLight Power, Tuas Power Generation, Senoko Energy, YTL PowerSeraya, Tuaspring, Keppel Merlimau Cogen and Sembcorp Cogen.

EMA added that investigations are still ongoing and that it will look into additional measures that can be put in place to minimise the recurrence of such incidents.

"We thank the public for their patience and understanding for the inconvenience caused," EMA said.