The Western Power network was overwhelmed during WA power outages, the review notes

Western Australia’s electricity grid was unable to meet demand during the wildly hot Christmas period last year, leading to power outages affecting more than 100,000 people, an independent review has found.

The power outages came amid record temperatures, including the warmest Christmas day ever, and four days in a row above 40 degrees Celsius.

The review, which was presented in the WA Parliament today, was conducted by Australian Energy Market Commissioner Michelle Shepherd.

She found that about 26,000 customers were without power for more than 12 hours, and 40,000 were without power more than once.

A small fire truck and 2 firefighters seen through an orange smoke haze.
The review also found fire conditions hampered Western Power’s ability to restore power. (Delivered: DFES / Evan Collis)

“The audit concluded that the main reason for the interruptions was that parts of the distribution network did not have the technical capacity to supply electricity to meet the unprecedented demand experienced at the time,” Ms Shepherd wrote.

“In addition, many of the outages were significantly prolonged due to the fire conditions, which limited the Western Power’s ability to safely restore power until conditions eased.

“While the extreme heat wave that led to the outbreaks is historically rare, the Bureau of Meteorology advised that similar conditions are likely to occur more frequently in the future due to the effects of climate change.”

Equipment overload caused power outages

The investigation identified that the disruptions were not due to insufficient production or major asset failures than usual, but due to equipment overload.

“Customer demand from the web, especially in residential areas, was at very high levels in Christmas 2021 [period]driven by persistently high temperatures over the long weekend break, “the report reads.

Measures taken by the Western Power to reduce the risk of fire, however, turned out to have contributed to several interruptions that lasted longer.

Angled close-up of high voltage power lines and steel towers looking up at a blue sky in Brisbane.
The study found that the system failed when it was overloaded, not due to insufficient power production. (ABC News: Chris Gillette)

Help was also limited in what it could do to spread the load across the network due to greater demand.

“A few backup generators were also installed but had a small impact,” the report noted.

“Another reason for repeated interruptions affecting a small number of customers included fault switching, where one part of the network is turned off to allow another part to be turned on.

“These interruptions are generally of shorter duration.”

Western Power is preparing for future outages

Energy Secretary Bill Johnston said he had asked Western Power for a timeline for when the report’s six recommendations would be implemented.

“The recommendations in the report include improving the West’s planning and forecasts, approach to fire risk management and operational response to extreme events,” he told parliament.

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