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heat wave « Previous | |Next »
February 5, 2009

In Adelaide the plain trees are already shedding their leaves, the bodies of dead possums litter the parklands, and the death toll of human beings is around 75. As in Melbourne, there have been crippling blackouts due to the failure of the $780 million Basslink interconnector cable linking Victoria and Tasmania, which is unable to operate when temperatures in Launceston Tasmania pass 35C.

NEMMCO continues to talk in terms of the national electricity market having sufficient capacity to deliver reliable supply. Politicians explain the disconnect between assurance and reality by talking in terms of the heatwave being one-in-100-year event, rather than this being an indication of southern Australia's future. Yet there have been a series of rolling blackouts over the past years due to supply falling short of increasing demand --hence the frequent load shedding that causes the blackouts during a heatwave.

A warmed up world means hotter conditions in cities, towns and the regions since long hot, dry summers are becoming the norm. Shouldn't we see the blackouts as a timely warning about a rundown energy system with its old industrial technology utilizing fossil fuels? This is an electricity grid that has seen little new investment in the last decade.

Richard Dennis at the Australia Institute puts his finger on the core issue. He says:

we need to think beyond how to fix up the grid to prevent blackouts and start to think about what kind of electricity system we will need in 20 years' time to cope with a much bigger population but also with households using significantly less energy.

There has been no shift to energy efficient building to reduce demand on the central grid, little to foster on-site cogenerational or trigenerational systems, and little in the way of investment in transmission wires.

In SA, as in Victoria, the state government owns very little, since privatization has meant the separation of the people who own the power stations, the people who own the wires, and the people who have contact with customers. The government has little say managing a network that has no built-in drivers to reduce greenhouse emissions. None of the energy companies have shown much interest in shifting to a low carbon energy system.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:35 AM | | Comments (12)


A couple of years ago, probably Nov 2006, I was listening to radio National discuss Peak Load.
Peak Load electricity use used to be at 6pm on a winter's night when people got home from work, cooked tea on an electric stove and turned on their electric heater. Now Peak Load is 6pm on a hot summer afternoon when everyone cranks their air conditioning up high.

There are 2 ways of dealing with peak load
1. create more generating capacity - that aint going to happen
2. get people to cut their electricity use in times of peak load - the current solution is to black out areas or individual houses

There were 2 methods of getting people to cut their electricity demand discussed.

2a. Was an American smart meter that cost $1000 per box, it was trialed in canberra. The customer could see how much electricity they were using and what it would cost. Smart meters are being installed in Victoria and they permit dynamic price setting, so that in peak demand users will pay a $2 surcharge for each kilowatt per hour. Airconditioners will cost $74 to $176 per day to run.

2b. was South Australian technology that cost nothing that remotely turned the air conditioner compressor off for 10 minutes each hour. As the fan kept working people didn't notice it was off.

When the board of directors is interested in maximising profits option 2a is the answer.

Electricity is wasted as it is transmission over high tension power lines. about a third of the power generated in the LaTrobe Valley is lost in transmission to Melbourne, a distance of 200km, and its a logarithmic scale of power loss.

This makes a mockery of NEMCOs appearance of being able to shift power generated in NSW down to Melbourne, a distance of 300km.

Its really important to generate electricity as close as possible to where it is consumed to minimise power lost in transmission.

Thus Australians should be encouraged to install solar panels on their roof to provide part of their domestic consumption and to reduce power generated for loss in transmission.

Although the Chinese owned power generation companies would be quite happy to see Australian solar panel manufacturing close down because when power becomes too expensive consumers will install solar panels irrespective of the price, and they will all be made in China.

I looked at some housing estate ads on TV in SA [accidentally of course] and noticed a couple of things.
All but one of the houses had dark coloured rooves.
All but one of the houses [a different one] had no eaves, or at least nothing significant, nothing like we had in the 'bad old days', when eaves were standard and about 3 feet wide [that's one metre to youngsters].

How standard is this?

fred, the building codes for inner bayside Melbourne insist that new houses do not overlook the private spaces of existing property. This means that windows are set high in the wall, or have fixed covers to stop you looking into the neighbours windows. This concern with privacy reduces inhabitants ability to use cross ventilation to cool their dwelling, increasing reliance on air-con.
In fact if you want to rely on cross ventilation you need to position the building on the block to capture prevailing winds, I don't think you can cram as many seperate buildings into the same space.

Another striking thing about housing estates is the lack of mature trees. Squishing the maximum number of buildings onto the land then limits would-be tree space.

Building design obsessed with privacy from the street so no street-facing windows to catch breeze, and nothing to prevent heat building up from roads and driveways.

there is another option for peak loads in summer----gross feed in tariffs for rooftop solar panels ---as has been put in place by the Germans.

Do you know why there is such a resistance, rather than encouragement, to this sensible option?

you say:

electricity is wasted as it is transmission over high tension power lines. about a third of the power generated in the LaTrobe Valley is lost in transmission to Melbourne, a distance of 200km, and its a logarithmic scale of power loss.This makes a mockery of NEMCOs appearance of being able to shift power generated in NSW down to Melbourne, a distance of 300km.

It makes even less sense to transmit the power from Tasmania to South Australia!

Why cannot we generate power regionally---from solar and wind farms in the Upper Spencer Gulf in South Australia to generate power on the hot north wind scorching summer days?

"no trees" are also the result of caused the demand for views as well as privacy--especially on the coastal strip of Australia.

hopefully the extensive blackouts in Victoria and South Australia means that NEMMCO's smug line on power has been dropped.

Nan, thanks for posting the link to that article by Peter Mares. That's brilliant!!!!

Thanks for the link

I read that the Rudd Government's package has one strand about increasing energy efficiency of households through insulation; and another stand of building new community/public housing with no insulation.