Powerlines with sunset in the background.

Summer heatwaves a reminder to prepare for blackouts

Australian households and businesses are being reminded to brace for the impacts of summer heatwaves, both on their hip pockets and energy supply, as Australia’s energy network prepares for unexpected blackouts.

The Australian Energy Council (AEC) and Energy Networks Australia (ENA) – two industry bodies representative of Australia’s transmission and distribution networks – have reminded Aussies of the added strain summer heatwaves can place on the grid, particularly as a result of increased cooling appliances use.

In a detailed factsheet, the two bodies noted that summer is often the time when the grid experiences its peak demand, which can place it under strain. The addition of an extended heatwave can then further constrain resources, and, on some occasions, result in power failure.

Peak demand is referred to as the maximum amount of electricity a state, region or even street may require at any given point. To meet this demand, networks have been built to hold the required capacity, however the ongoing reliance and spread of air conditioner usage in Australia is said to be causing an increase to this demand.

Alongside this, extreme weather events, such as the extended La Niña weather pattern plaguing the eastern seaboard, have also proven a challenge for keeping supply and demand in check during the summer months.

ENA CEO Andrew Dillon said extreme weather events, whether it be heatwave, storm or flash flooding, made disruptions to electricity supply more likely.

“Networks, operators, regulators, governments, retailers, and emergency services know when heatwaves are coming and plan accordingly,” he said. “As the effects of climate change are felt across the country, extreme weather events are becoming increasingly regular and intense.”

The biggest impacts on the grid are usually experienced during January and February – when heatwaves are most likely to appear concurrently within multiple states. When these heatwaves occur, it is usually the third or fourth consecutive hot day that will trigger the increase in demand, as this is likely when air conditioners will increase their output to negate accumulating heat within buildings, according to the AEC and ENA.

Weekdays, particularly from mid-January onwards, tend to contribute to higher demand as this is when most schools and businesses are back in session.

The increased uptake in rooftop solar panels and home battery systems over the last few years has helped to reduce the growing demand created by cooling appliances during the summer months. However, the ENA and AEC suggest this is also slowly contributing to a shift in peak demand time to one later in the day.

AEC’s Chief Executive Sarah McNamara said operators continued to evolve and change to ensure generation infrastructure remained at its best, but unexpected weather events could still throw the system off course.

“Ongoing maintenance takes place throughout the year to keep the grid and generators in good working order before summer,” she said.

To stay up to date with any details surrounding power outages in the local area, Aussies are encouraged to follow their energy distributor on social media or download its app if it has one.

Compare Cheap Electricity Plans

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3911kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4613kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4011kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

What can I do now to prepare for a blackout?

There are a few things you can do today to avoid an unexpected shock during your next blackout. Some of these include:

  • Writing a list of all the emergency numbers you may need. These could include the local SES, your energy distributor and your power provider.
  • Pack an emergency kit. Here you’ll want to keep things like non-perishable food items, bottled water, a first aid kit, torches, candles, spare batteries and a portable radio. This will help in the event of a prolonged outage.
  • Ensure trimmings are maintained around the yard. This is particularly important if you have larger, potentially overgrown, trees in your yard that could drop branches onto your home or powerlines during a powerful storm or cyclone.
  • Check that you have surge-protected power boards and that your outlets are all safe for use. This will help prevent damage to home appliances, such as your TV, in the event of an electrical storm.

If you have solar energy that you plan to use as a back-up power source then it may also be worth checking that your panel and battery system has the capability to work off-grid. Not all solar batteries are built with back-up power capabilities – meaning it can run without a connection to the grid – or if they do, it could be limited to a certain capacity. This may mean that you’ll only have enough juice to power certain appliances at a time and not the whole house.

In the event of a power outage, the most important thing to remember is to keep calm and remove yourself from potential electrical hazards. Your energy distributor is going to be your best port of call during this time, as this is the company responsible for the network that supplies energy to your home. Most distributors should have an outage map or tracker on their website where you can see updates on the situation. Alternatively, you can also give them a call and see what the expected wait time may be for a fix.

If someone is in physical danger as a result of a fallen powerline, you should contact emergency services immediately.


Image credit: Martin Erdniss/Shutterstock.com

Kelseigh Wrigley
Energy Specialist
Kelseigh Wrigley was a content producer at Canstar Blue for three years until 2024, most recently as an Energy Specialist. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the Queensland University of Technology.

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