Are our power stations handling the heat?

THESE POWER STATIONS BE TRIPPING: An aerial view of Gladstone Power Station.
THESE POWER STATIONS BE TRIPPING: An aerial view of Gladstone Power Station. Brenda Strong GLA040712VIEW

ANALYSIS from think tank The Australia Institute shows there has been more than 20 temporary failures at coal and gas-fired power stations across the country since December 13 - including at least two recent incidents of unit failure at Gladstone Power Station.

The last incident occurred when Gladstone's Unit 1 tripped during Saturday's 36 degree heat, lowering the plant's output by about 200MW for at least five hours from about midday.

Units can be set up to trip and take themselves offline for a number of reasons, including safety or to avoid damage to the unit during periods of high demand.

The frequency of the failures across the country has energy experts concerned, who say it could to lead to more blackouts if the heat waves continue.

Australia Institute principal adviser Mark Ogge has been tracking the rate of trips and said it was evidence coal and gas plants could not withstand soaring temperatures.

"These plants weren't designed for this and when we have heat waves, where there are huge peaks in demands, they are breaking down," he said.

"The climate is changing and they've become unreliable."

Mr Ogge pointed to data from the Bureau of Meteorology showing the number of extreme heat days had more than doubled since 2007.

He said it was concerning that even the Tallawarra Power Station, in NSW, commissioned in 2009 - was experiencing breakdowns.

Australia Institute deputy director Ebony Bennett said the problem could result in more blackouts if heat waves continued.

"We should be concerned because these plants clearly can't cope," she said.

Gladstone Power Station acting general manager Nigel Warrington said the primary responsibility for managing and maintaining energy system security sat with the Australian Electricity Market Operator (AEMO), the independent grid and market operator.

"The Gladstone Power Station comprises six operating units, providing a level of protection should a trip occur," he told The Observer.

"Power stations face the risk of a unit 'trip' in the normal course of operation, which can occur for a range of reasons at any time during the year."

A Queensland Government spokesperson said the state had more than enough power, and reserves, to keep homes and business powered during the extreme weather.

"We can't control what a Queensland summer may throw at us, but we are as prepared as we can be, with a network of publicly-owned electricity generators and distributors ready," the spokesperson said.

"The Australian Energy Market Operator has forecast that Queensland will have more than 3000 megawatts in reserve over the coming week.

"That's enough to power 600,000 households - that's roughly 28 times the number of households in Gladstone."

This article has been updated to include comments from Gladstone Power station acting general manager Nigel Warrington.

Topics:  australia institute coal power gas power gladstone industry gladstone power station

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