Heat wave leaves thousands of Melbourne homes without power

MELBOURNE: More than 10,000 homes in Australia's second most populous state, Victoria, were stuck without power yesterday as a surge in demand amid scorching heat overloaded the grid, in the latest blow to the nation's stretched power sector.

The outages on distribution networks, which hit more than 50,000 homes on Sunday, came less than a year after Australia's biggest city, Sydney, was hit by blackouts during a heatwave, and 16 months after a state-wide outage in South Australia.

But the latest blackouts were caused by grid failures rather than supply shortages, which had sparked debates over the nation's rush to adopt renewable energy at the expense of coal-fired generation.

Temperatures topped 40 deg C over the weekend in Victoria, driving up power demand as homes cranked up their air-conditioners and pool pumps.

"The prolonged high temperatures and humidity through the weekend... resulted in multiple power outages," a United Energy spokesman said, adding that the main cause was fuse faults at overloaded substations.

The Australian Energy Market Operator, which coordinates energy supply from power stations and has been monitoring supply after last year's failures, said there was ample supply over the weekend, when demand hit a record for a Sunday.

"It was a really good test," said spokesman Stuart Allott, adding that there was more than 1,380MW of spare capacity when demand peaked on Sunday.

The market operator came under pressure last year to beef up power supply after the closure of one of Victoria's biggest power stations, but Australia has weathered a searing summer so far with the help of more gas-fired power and a huge battery installed by Tesla in South Australia.

Grid data in Thomson Reuters Eikon showed that Victoria required electricity imports from neighbouring South Australia and Tasmania to meet its record demand.

Temperatures are set to drop in the coming days, but the next heat wave is expected early next month. - REUTERS