Sydney braces for blackouts as heat keeps ice cream vendors indoors

 10 Feb 2017 - 11:08

Power being temporarily suspended to avert overload

Sydney braces for blackouts as heat keeps ice cream vendors indoors

By Jonathan Barrett and Sonali Paul | Reuters

MELBOURNE: Australians in Sydney face power outages on Friday as an extreme heatwave moves from the desert interior to the country's most populated city, with demand straining power supplies.

The anticipated outages, as authorities temporarily suspend power to selected areas to prevent overload, come just days after 40,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in the state of South Australia.

Weather forecaster Olenka Duma said a build-up of heat in Australia's interior was being pushed to New South Wales state.

"It was like the windows and doors were closed for a long time, and now a weather front has dragged the hot air here," Duma, an official of the Bureau of Meteorology, told Reuters.

The mercury is set to soar above 40 degrees C (104 degrees F), with New South Wales set to experience its hottest February day on record on Saturday.

Australia's energy market operator said on Thursday power supplies were expected to be tight, with shortfalls anticipated in the late afternoon in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

It was too hot for people to go out, said Ned Qutami, owner of six mobile ice cream bars in Sydney.

"I'm not doing any business today, I'm just sitting in the air-conditioning at home," said Qutami, who runs Sydney Ice Cream & Coffee in the city's beachside eastern suburbs.

"People at the beach are either in the water or heading home. No one is hanging around to eat ice cream."

The intense heat and power outages have sparked debate over the country's energy security, after the market operator told power companies in South Australia on Wednesday to switch off some customers' power supply for a short spell to manage demand.

South Australia depends on wind for more than a third of its power supply, and the wind died down at the same time as people started cranking up air-conditioners.

That was the latest in a string of power disruptions and electricity price spikes to hit the southern state, including a state-wide blackout that forced copper mines, smelters and a steel plant to shut for up to two weeks last September.

The problems have sparked a review of the national electricity market and energy policy on how to cope with rapid  growth of wind and solar power and the closure of coal-fired power plants that have been essential for steady supply.