Blackouts (or power outages) can hit anytime, anywhere. They’re caused by a range of factors, but one of the most well-known and potentially destructive causes of blackouts is extreme weather.
Over the last few months we’ve seen much of the country hit by one of our worst bushfire emergencies on record, which destroyed electrical infrastructure and plunged tens of thousands of homes into darkness.
And this summer, with ageing coal-fired power stations becoming less and less reliable, experts are predicting that up to 1.3 million Victorian households could face blackouts.
So what causes blackouts and how can you beat them?
Why do blackouts often hit in summer?
There are many causes of blackouts, from natural disasters to planned outages for maintenance of infrastructure. However, a common cause is extreme heat. This is because when it’s hot, we tend to use a lot of electricity all at once (think of all the air conditioners that get hiked up on hot days) and at the same time those ageing coal-fired power stations struggle to keep up.
Sudden spikes in energy usage like that can also trigger electricity infrastructure to fail. This is not only true on a large scale, causing power outages across the energy grid, but also on the individual household level. So if the switchboard in your house ever trips, turn all your appliances off at the wall before switching it back on.
Ageing infrastructure is struggling to keep up with demand
With all those air conditioners coming online on hot days and some people relying on electricity for vital life-support equipment, it’s imperative that we can generate enough electricity to supply all these appliances at the same time.
Historically this has been supplied by fossil fuel generators such as coal-fired power plants, however some of these generators are now older than colour TV (which came in 45 years ago!) and are becoming less reliable by the day.
In August for example, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) published a report highlighting “a significant risk of insufficient [energy] supply” in Victoria this summer due to the unplanned outages at AGL’s Loy Yang A coal-fired power plant and Origin Energy’s Mortlake gas plant.
When generators can’t keep up, consumers often pay the price
When there’s strain on the energy grid like this, the industry manages it in one of two ways.
Sometimes AEMO has to direct energy companies to cut supply to parts of the community in what’s known as rolling blackouts. This is done in a coordinated way and aims to avoid more widespread power outages.
To avoid this, sometimes electricity users are paid to reduce their energy usage as part of a demand response program through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA). This helps to balance electricity supply and demand during peak times to stabilise the grid.
Summer also brings extreme weather and natural disasters
From bushfires to tropical cyclones and floods, climate change is making the weather more unpredictable and extreme, and electricity infrastructure is often collateral damage.
These disasters can damage electricity poles and wires causing blackouts, while electricity can sometimes be deliberately disconnected for safety reasons.
However electricity isn’t just disconnected for emergencies. Sometimes there might be planned outages in your area for routine maintenance of the electricity poles and wires. This usually doesn’t last long and your electricity distributor will notify you in advance.
Thinking of getting a generator? Get a solar battery instead
Many people who live in blackout-prone areas have considered getting a backup generator. But if you have solar panels, why not let your solar power do the job instead?
In the event of a blackout, a solar battery system can keep the electricity on in your home using the solar power produced by your panels and stored in your battery. This means you’d be able to choose some lights or appliances to keep on during a power outage. Plus, unlike a generator, a battery can power your home through the night so you don’t have to buy electricity in the evening peak.
It’s important to be aware though that not all batteries have blackout protection capability, so ensure you double check before choosing a battery to go ahead with.
Blackout protection included at no extra cost
The DC Sunny Saver battery package is DC Power Co’s high-quality, affordable solar battery offer that comes with blackout protection included at no extra cost.
Designed to fit you, the modular design means that you can get one, two or three batteries as part of your DC Sunny Saver package to easily tailor your system to suit your needs. With extended warranties and an app for in-home energy management, the DC Sunny Saver is just $5850.