Air conditions are set to force the national power grid into a meltdown during this summer considering that about a third of Australia’s workforce are working from home, experts have said.
According to a new study by Roy Morgan Company, over 4.3 million Aussies in employment are working from home as employers continue taking measures against Covid-19 including social distancing.
However, the current extremely warm weather is bringing about the risk of increased usage of air conditioners in homes, a trend that could cause more brownouts and higher electricity costs.
“Air-conditioning is what drives our maximum demand in Australia,” stated Peter Dobney, the former founding chairman of the Energy Users Association of Australia.
“We can expect higher prices, in fact, I think that’s a certainty.”
A recently published report by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) predicted peak load electricity demand dipping slightly this summer owing to the “economic effects of Covid-19.”
The report also noted that the coronavirus pandemic had “disrupted” social, economic and work cultures and that the “short to medium-term impact on electricity consumption is highly uncertain”.
The previous summer was Australia’s second-hottest with spring temperatures already getting warmer than average in most areas, according to reports from the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).
According to Dr Paul Bannister, a renowned energy efficiency specialist at Delta Q, a consulting services company, the current trend did not augur well for the months ahead.
Blackouts could be triggered when the existing energy infrastructure is overwhelmed by the high demand.
When this happens, energy providers are forced to turn off specific areas covered by the grid, Dr Bannister said.
“And with more people working from home there will be a higher load in the residential areas,” Dr Bannister explained.
“But there won’t be a comparable drop in the commercial load, because most of the buildings are still operating.”
Independent Forecasts Failed To Show A Rise In Risk Of Blackouts
The Australian Energy Council (AEC) spokesperson noted that independent forecasts failed to show a rise in risk of blackouts during this summer. AEC represents 22 energy generators and retailers mandated to supply a greater part of power to the country.
“Regardless of how strong the supply is, load shedding can occur in any power system in very adverse circumstances and involves relatively short rotated interruptions of small groups of customers,” they said.
“Also please note that due to widespread adoption of rooftop solar, the Australian electricity summer peak now occurs at sunset — well after business hours.”
“Thus, AEMO has not anticipated that the working from home arrangements will affect it.”
Various companies including Optus are preferring socially-distanced spaces within their Sydney headquarters, as rosters allows just 50 percent of employees in the office.
Other companies like ANZ sent about 95 percent of their workforce home at the onset of the pandemic and have insinuated that some of their employees may never go back to their Sydney and Melbourne offices.
“It’s very clear there is a risk here, with the air-conditioning running in the home and in the building at the same time,” Dr Bannister said.
“And cooling a house, it’s not as well insulated as a building, and the home may be less energy efficient.”
In recent times, Australian politics have been divisive.
The storm-hit SA experienced a state-wide power outage in 2016 and later a stoush erupted after some politicians blamed the blackouts on renewable energy sources like solar power which they claimed were unreliable.
The power outage inspired the Tesla Founder Elon Musk to build the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery to enable the state to store its electricity.
In the meantime, AGL Energy was forced to turn off its NSW’s Tomago Aluminum Smelter which consumes about 10 percent of the state’s electricity grid for a couple of days in January in an effort to stem blackouts.
Mr Dobney noted there are various ways in which homes could assist in conserving energy such as going without air conditioning for a span of 15 minutes every hour during peak periods.
Several power companies provide services where customers can request them to automatically turn off their air conditioners.
This is known as “load shedding” and some of the well-established corporations are already doing it as a way to lower their electricity bills.
“It would get the demand down by 20 per cent or more in those residential areas,” Mr Dobney said.
“And this idea would mean the grid could keep up with demand.”
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