As temperatures soared above 115 degrees Fahrenheit last week in Australia, fossil fuel-based power infrastructure failed in parts of the country, unable to operate in the heat and keep up with demand from air conditioners. Utilities instead relied on renewable energy to bring power back to hundreds of thousands of households.
In Victoria on Thursday and Friday, the Loy Yang and Yallourn coal-fired power plants went offline as demand soared. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) cut off power to approximately 200,000 households and a major aluminum smelter for several hours. In the city of Adelaide, almost 30,000 households lost power after transformers on local power lines overheated, CleanTechnica reported.
“We lost 1,800 MW [megawatts] of power capacity generation in Victoria,” state energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio told reporters on Friday, according to The Guardian. “That is an extraordinary figure to lose. Essentially most of that was a result of failed infrastructure from coal and gas – in particular coal… Wind power came through today, it produced sufficient power generation. Our largest batteries were available last night when we needed them the most.”
Last week’s soaring temperatures are part of a string of record-breaking heat waves that have plagued much of Australia since December, testing the country’s aging power infrastructure and renewing calls from energy officials that the country should more quickly transition to renewable energy sources. A report from the AEMO last year warned that rising summer temperatures would increasingly strain the country’s fragile and aging grid.
According to a recent report from The Australia Institute, a progressive think tank based in Canberra, rooftop solar installations helped curb energy demand during January’s heatwaves by nearly 10 percent in Victoria and South Australia, PV Magazine reported.
“People should be rightly disappointed that the power grid was not up to the stakes today,” D’Ambrosio said. “We have a 20th century energy system for a 21st century climate.”