Lights stay on as new Queensland peak demand set again

7 March 2019

For the third year in a row, in the same week in February, Queensland once again smashed its record demand for electricity. Demand pushed through the 10,000MW barrier at 4.55 pm on 13 February as families returned home from work and cranked up their air conditioners to cope with scorching temperatures.  

With the time of day rendering solar’s contribution to the margins, Queensland’s electricity network proved to be reliable at that critical time, relying heavily on its dispatchable power stations. Stanwell’s seven coal, gas and hydro power stations throughout the state sent out 3,481MW to help meet the record demand.

Not only were low reserve conditions avoided (where the market operator encourages greater supply or reduces consumer demand), but there was no price volatility in the market, with Queensland’s average price remaining below $150/MWh throughout. 

Stanwell’s Acting CEO Steve Quilter said there were a number of factors which contributed to the reliability of Queensland’s energy supply.

“Queensland has a large portfolio of coal, gas and hydro assets which can be dispatched at any time of day as needed,” Mr Quilter said.

“Unlike recent experiences in Victoria and South Australia, where plant outages were a key factor in the disruption, the Queensland fleet (including Stanwell) was by and large online when it counted, ensuring strong levels of availability.

“We were also able to rely on imports from New South Wales – an outcome which may not have been possible if New South Wales, Victoria or South Australia had experienced a heat wave at the same time.”

Energy has been a hot topic in recent times and the mass blackouts, load shedding and shut downs in other states over recent summers have been well documented. However, even as peak demand records have been broken for three years in a row, the Queensland system has been robust enough to cope.

Mr Quilter said Stanwell put a large focus on balancing the reliability of its plant, with its costs, to ensure its power stations continue to run reliably.

 “Stanwell is owned by the people of Queensland, therefore we have an obligation to manage our costs, while simultaneously ensuring we have invested the right amount in our power stations,” he said.

“Whilst we place heavy emphasis on doing maintenance and major overhauls well-before summer arrives, there is no guarantee that our plant, or indeed other thermal plant within Queensland, will all be available at crucial times. That is why an adequate supply of dispatchable plant is so important from a system security perspective.”

Stanwell regularly participates in industry initiatives to ensure system security during summer or blackout events, such as our recent trip to house load activity at Tarong Power Station.

With the staggering growth in large-scale solar and wind generation expected in Queensland, Stanwell is preparing for the nature of its coal, gas and hydro operations to change.

“We are investing in the flexibility of our plant so that it can reach lower load capacity and then quickly ramp to full supply. This will ensure that value can still be captured as solar and wind generation reach critical mass,” Mr Quilter said.

“Our ability to deliver greater flexibility is a feature of Stanwell’s continued commercial success. This will also ensure that we can support the evolving electricity market in a reliable manner, day in and day out.”

With each year bringing a new peak demand record, and further changes to the market, Stanwell has the people and strategy in place to ensure we contribute to security of electricity supply and support the transition to a lower carbon energy market.