Don’t melt the grid during heatwaves  

Most of the country is about to be hit by a heatwave. As comforting as it is to blast your air conditioner, it’s absolutely no fun if you (and your neighbors) cause a blackout. While it’s rare to see city-wide power outages in the modern age, it’s not uncommon for individual streets and even whole suburbs to “go dark” at the worst possible times.

Prolonged heatwaves place an incredible strain on the electricity grid, and now experts at the CSIRO are recommending homes and businesses install solar panels as a way of easing the pressures of peak-demand. Dr Glenn Platt, theme leader for local energy systems, claims that although energy conscious consumers are trending towards energy conservation, on especially hot days their restraint is tested.

The gaps between the really big consuming days and the rest of the time is growing and that’s a big problem for how we design and run our electricity system,” he said.

Often times the energy needs exceed the capacity of the grid, the wires, poles and stations that deliver electricity. One solution is to invest more in infrastructure, leading to further increases to energy costs and risks over-investing in a system that is only needed to cover the hottest days of the year.

Creating electricity locally, and during peak solar production times (during the middle of the day, when temperature reaches its peak) combined with energy efficient technologies is the silver bullet to the problem.

Naturally, generating your own electricity when the rest of the block is sweltering is a huge advantage in itself.

Platt’s team at the CSIRO works on developing techniques to integrate varying renewable sources of energy into metropolitan electricity systems and strategies to moderise Australia’s energy grid to enable it to manage peak demand in future. He was instrumental in bringing the CSIRO behind the “Smart Grid, Smart City” initiative that attempts to integrate into the existing electricity network advanced communication, sensing and metering infrastructure. A smart grid could identify and resolve faults, automatically self-heal, manage voltage and identify necessary infrastructure maintenance.