The alarming news that Ballarat was poised to be kicked off the power grid last summer when NSW use peaked in a heatwave has led to some interesting developments. Given regional cities know they were in the firing line, despite the Victorian governments protestations, the proposal makes the issue around supply even more critical.
The significant difference for Victoria this year is the closure of the aging Hazelwood coal generator, an extinction of bygone technology that looks increasingly like a pattern for our future. The view that NSW’s heatwave power shortage last year was exacerbated by the meltdown of another a coal fire power station further adds to a sense a power future cannot be “business as usual”, where innovation and alternatives are the key to securing supply.
But for 2017/18 the concern now is how to get through a summer when air conditioning use causes the massive spikes in the system. The problem is record breaking heat temperatures are increasingly common under climate change conditions, with the likelihood increasing. 2016 was the world’s hottest on record and Australia broke 12 times as many hot records as cold ones in the first 15 years of this century.
What this means for the average householder is a costly reversion to artificial cooling which, on a nationwide scale, sends our power grid into meltdown, in turn undermining security and further imperiling health, business and emergency services. The dual solution proposed, at least as a stop gap for these extreme events, includes targeted attempts to reduce power through planned industrial scale downs and the pursuit of strategic reserves in power sources and back-up batteries to fill peak gaps.
We have a right to know about the work being done on these contingencies. Less alarmingly, is the prospect these small and temporary steps show a bigger shift in thinking and diversification of power sources while also promising a world of potential for Ballarat. The wind opportunities in western Victoria alone represent enormous potential to fill the state’s 25 percent renewables target by 2020. With the aid of advancing battery technology, such as demonstrated in Buninyong and soon in Warrenheip, such advances could provide a regional economic boom alongside security of supply. It will be an interesting summer on how Victoria handles these extremes but it also signals a epochal transition to alternatives in which Ballarat can play a pivotal part.