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Western Power preparing for second heatwave event

Western Power is preparing for record high peak electricity demand in the Perth metro area following a declared heatwave by the Department of Health from this evening, the second heatwave event in four weeks.

Last night the network experienced a record evening peak demand of 4195MW across the South West Interconnected System and it is anticipated that will rise over the coming days as we see consistently high temperatures during the day and continuing into the evening.

During the last two years we have experienced five days of high demand exceeding 4000MW; 4 February 2020, 8 January and 12 December 2021, and 26 December and 27 December 2021. These can be attributed to very warm temperatures over consecutive days.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the average temperature in Perth for the month of January so far is 31.2 degrees Celsius, slightly higher than observed during the same time period in previous years. However, with the forecast temperatures for the rest of this week and changing climate patterns, that is expected to climb.

Western Power Executive Manager for Asset Management Gair Landsborough said the business had put proactive plans in place to manage the increase in demand across Western Power’s network due to forecast heatwave conditions.

“We’ve cancelled planned works where necessary, dependant on the temperatures and number of customers impacted. We’ve also stood up additional customer support staff, network controllers and ensured all available fault and repair crews are on standby.”

As always, community safety is our number one priority and - even in the metro area - we need to be mindful of re-energising around vegetation as our network infrastructure traverses a lot of urban bushland and parks. Work in one area of the network can still cause a spark some distance away. So high fire weather conditions mean we’re restricted in our ability to locate faults and restore power to reduce bushfire risk.

“The record demand over the festive period provided us with vital new data and we’re using it to upgrade our equipment, reconfigure system settings to allow for extra flexibility in areas of unprecedented high demand,” he said. “We have done some of this work, but it will take time to complete.”

“Our infrastructure has built-in controls which protect the network in the event of an overload in demand – for example, a fuse may drop out to protect and ensure vital pieces of infrastructure are not damaged.”

In the event of a heatwave, we encourage people to set their air-conditioner temperature at 24 degrees to avoid overworking their air-conditioner and contributing to the high demand.

If customers are experiencing an outage, please:

  • Leave a light on inside your house so you know when power is restored.
  • Ensure you have sufficient water supplies available, including for pets and livestock.
  • Have an emergency kit ready containing a waterproof torch, first-aid kit, non-perishable food, water, required medication and a radio (battery-powered) with spare batteries.
  • Switch off air conditioners so they are off when power is restored.
  • Minimise opening and closing your fridge or freezer.
  • Consider using ice to keep your perishables cool.
  • Use a fridge thermometer so you know if food is still safe to consume after a power outage.
  • Keep useful phone numbers on hand, such as the SES and your electricity provider.
  • Unplug ‘surge-sensitive’ equipment such as computers and TVs to avoid potential damage.
  • Keep across the news and emergency updates (on your mobile phone or radio).

For more information, prepare for an extended power outage.

Mr Landsborough said Western Power is committed to ensuring the network meets the growing and changing energy demands of the community now and in the future. In the long term, we're planning the modular grid of the future that's leading the way to a cleaner, brighter, and more resilient energy supply for the next generation.

“To ensure we continue to prove a quality service to our customers, we have management plans in place for peak and low demand days, both of which are now occurring more often than in the past due to the rapid uptake of renewables, particularly rooftop solar and a warming changing climate.”

We urge people to stay eight metres away from any fallen power lines or other damage to the network and report it to us on 13 13 51 so that emergency response crews can attend the hazard to make the area safe. Stay up to date by visiting our outage page.

FAQs

To prepare for potential outages we’re standing up additional service centre agents, network controllers, dispatchers and fault and repair crews to respond if needed.

Planned works in the metro area will be reviewed on a daily basis. Those with more than 10 customers impacted will likely be cancelled. Customers subject to smaller planned outages (less than 10 customers) will be contacted, and works will be scheduled if they are happy for them to go ahead.

The record demand over the festive period has provided us with vital new data on the power flow in such a scenario, and we’re using this information to upgrade or re-rate equipment, install new infrastructure and cabling, upgrade transformers, reconfigure system settings and add extra capacity or switching pathways to the network in areas of unprecedented high demand.

We’ve triaged this work based on the areas and infrastructure which were most impacted during the recent outages.

While we don’t anticipate anything resembling the widespread outages experienced last month, we’re throwing everything we can at preparing for potential power disruptions.

The Bureau of Metrology has said that the average temperature in Perth for the month of January so far is 31.2 degrees Celsius, slightly higher than observed during the same time period in previous years. With the forecast temperatures for the rest of this week and changing climate patterns, that average is expected to climb. This is putting additional pressure on the network.

We will have additional crews on standby to meet anticipated demand and have adjusted our roster patterns to ensure as many available crews are on hand to respond to these new peaks in demand.

We’re standing up additional customer support officers, network controllers, dispatchers and fault and repair crews to respond if needed.

Our operational maintenance teams (hazard and fault identification, and repairs and restoration) have increased significantly, and have close to doubled based on normal staffing levels.

This additional staffing includes additional resources on day shift, after hours and on call; primary response, overhead and underground teams; and specialist switching operators for isolating and re-energising the network after faults are repaired.

The Christmas heatwave broke records, particularly because it was a sustained period of hot weather, but also because the metropolitan area experienced very hot minimum temperatures which meant the system could not cool down overnight.

The majority of the festive season outages (about 30,000) were caused by substation and feeder overloads and low-voltage fuse drops. Our infrastructure has built-in controls which protect the network in the event of an overload in demand – for example, a fuse may drop out as a protective measure to ensure a more vital piece of infrastructure is not damaged.

In the long term, we're planning the modular grid of the future that's leading the way to a cleaner, brighter and more resilient energy supply.

A number of projects are under way to facilitate greater levels of low-cost, low-emissions renewable generation overall, while managing the effects on the power system (particularly from rooftop solar panels). These projects will enable us to add more renewables while keeping the power system operational.

Western Power acknowledges the frustration and inconvenience power interruptions caused during the recent hot weather, and appreciates the patience of affected customers while we worked in extreme conditions to restore power as quickly and safely as possible.

During bushfire season, we adjust settings on network devices, which are used to restore power quickly during transient faults (auto-reclosers), to make them more sensitive during the bushfire season. This reduces fire risk but often results in more prolonged interruptions.

Our network infrastructure traverses a lot of urban bushland and parks/reserves in the metropolitan area and during high fire weather conditions we cannot restore power until conditions ease to minimise bushfire risk. We constantly monitor the Fire Danger Index which takes into account not only temperature but wind and humidity. It is a key indicator in measuring the risk associated with switching and turning power back on as we don’t risk turning on the power if there’s a chance network infrastructure could cause a spark that leads to a bushfire.

When the temperature remains high into the evening, it doesn’t give the infrastructure a chance to cool down physically, plus customer demand remains high.

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