Australia has been in the midst of a domestic energy crisis for several years. This is the case despite the fact that the country is one of the largest energy exporters in the global market. After record heat waves early this year led to electricity shortages, Australia's power industry and government regulators have been scrambling to plan for this summer's peak demand. All of the conflicting news regarding the crisis has led to anxiety among the public, as well as fears that this summer will bring more trouble for the country's electrical grid.
The reasons for the difficulties are complex, with all sides of the debate directing blame at others while the problems continue unabated. Some have pointed to the ineffectual integration of renewable energy sources, while others cite lack of domestic stockpiling due to high volumes of energy exports. While the stakeholders dither, the uncertainty is creating fluctuations in electricity prices nationwide. The only certainty is that Australian households aren't sitting around waiting for a solution to fall from the sky.
Customers Seek Cheaper Options
As electricity prices have started to increase, Australian homeowners have started to look for ways to save some money. They frequently compare energy rates from multiple providers, looking for a better deal. Choosing an alternative supplier could yield savings in the hundreds of dollars on a yearly basis and provides at least some relief from the volatile market. Although this is a growing trend, it doesn't address the reliability of the electrical grid and won't shield customers from blackouts during periods of high demand.
Reliability is Key
Despite assurances from regulators that the maximum effort has been made to reduce the likelihood of blackouts this summer, households nationwide are hedging their bets. They are increasingly seeking the security of off-grid solutions such as rooftop solar panels. There has been a noticeable spike in installations in several parts of the country, which has led to research indicating that almost one-quarter of all Australian households now have some form of home solar capacity. In this way, they hope to shield themselves from future trouble with the traditional electrical grid.
Steps Towards Stability
Despite the grim overall picture, there are some signs that progress is on the horizon for Australia's uncertain energy future. The most visible project aimed at restoring consumer trust and bringing some much-needed stability to the system is the addition of a Tesla 100MWh battery facility in South Australia. The system has just been activated, and stores enough power to service 30,000 homes in the event of an electricity shortfall.
To address any potential commodity shortages, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated a willingness to divert some natural gas from the export market in order to make sure that domestic power plants are able to run at peak capacity. It is hoped that this would prevent a repeat of certain generation facilities being unable to increase their output during last year's blackouts. As an additional failsafe, the Australian Energy Market Operator also claims to have prepared an additional 1833MW of reserve power sources as part of their plan to meet this summer's demand.
A Still Uncertain Future
As the summer heat begins to build, Australia's power grid will once again be put to the test. This year's performance will go a long way towards determining the future of electricity generation and distribution in the country. If outages are frequent again this season, it's unlikely that the public at large will continue to stand for it. It still remains to be seen if the ongoing energy crisis will have lasting political ramifications, but patience seems to be wearing thin. If this summer breaks heat records like the last one did, it will likely be the government that's left feeling the heat.
Published by Andre Smith