Facing energy crisis, Australia urges 8 million people to turn off lights

In the midst of an energy crisis, Australia’s energy minister has encouraged residents of New South Wales, which contains the country’s largest metropolis Sydney, to turn off their lights.

If individuals “have a choice,” Chris Bowen argues they should not use energy for two hours every evening.

He did say, though, that he was “certain” that blackouts would not be necessary.

It comes following the suspension of Australia’s primary wholesale power market due to a price increase.

Mr Bowen urged residents of New South Wales to use as little energy as possible.

During a televised media conference in Canberra, he remarked, “If you have a choice over when to show certain stuff, don’t air them from 6 to 8 [in the evening].”

Australia is a major supplier of coal and liquefied natural gas, but it has been experiencing a power outage since last month. Coal is still used to create three-quarters of the country’s power. It’s been accused for a long time of not doing enough to reduce emissions by investing in renewables.

Australia has been hit hard by coal supply delays, outages at multiple coal-fired power units, and rising global energy costs in recent weeks.

Some coal mines in New South Wales and Queensland were flooded earlier this year, and output at two mines that feed the market’s largest coal-fired plant in New South Wales has been reduced due to technical concerns.

Due to unplanned outages and scheduled maintenance, almost a quarter of Australia’s coal-fired energy producing capacity is now offline.

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, worldwide coal and gas prices have risen, causing certain electrical companies’ expenses to rise.

Meanwhile, energy demand has risen as a result of the cold spell and the opening up of Australia’s economy following the removal of Covid-19 limitations.

All of this has pushed wholesale electricity prices over the A$300 (£173; $210) per megawatt hour price ceiling imposed by the Australian Energy Market Operator, the market’s regulator (Aemo).

Several generators, however, elected to withhold capacity because the ceiling was below their cost of production.

Aemo took the unusual step of suspending the market on Wednesday, announcing that it would set prices directly and pay generators for the deficit.

Consumers in New South Wales were likewise encouraged to “temporarily decrease their energy use.”

Aemo has not provided a timeframe for when the suspension would be removed. “The price cap will stay in place until cumulative wholesale power prices fall below the cumulative price threshold,” it stated in a statement.

“Aemo, as the national power system operator, will continue to monitor the situation and offer additional information if conditions change,” the statement said.

AGL Energy, Australia’s largest energy generator, said on Thursday that it expects to be able to offer more electricity to companies and consumers in the coming days.

Its coal-fired facility at Bayswater, New South Wales, has three units that have been out of service for some time.

They’re one of numerous scheduled and unforeseen disruptions that contributed to the power outage.

One of the units should be back in service on Thursday, while the other should be back online by Saturday, according to AGL.

Meanwhile, Australia’s new Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, has stated that the problem would be discussed at a conference of state premiers scheduled to begin on Thursday.

For decades, authorities have been aware of the hazards posed by aging generators, according to Lynne Chester, an energy specialist from the University of Sydney.

Prof Chester stated, “The sector’s regulators and policymakers have overlooked the rising capacity limits of aging generating assets, which are fueled by fossil fuels and dominate the sector.”

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