Power outage highlights major problems

It was with great anticipation and excitement when, as a small boy, our family home was connected to the 240 Volt state-wide power grid. The arrival of electricity brought many changes to our daily lives.

The ensuing 50 years saw technological advances, particularly in communications, that resulted in the world being connected in ways we could never have imagined. All the while, our demand for electricity increased, and our reliance on technology meant that every facet of our lives, both at work and at home, required a constant power supply.

During last week’s storm, that supply failed across the entire state of South Australia as a result of a transmission towers being brought down north of Adelaide. This of course disrupted almost all we do until the lines could be repaired and the supply reinstated. For parts of Eyre Peninsula, this took up to three days. We are, quite literally, ‘on the end of the line’.

This most recent event, once again highlighted the centralised nature of our grid, with South Australia now reliant upon an interconnector with Victoria for some base-load power at least. It also demonstrated that we no longer have the option of isolating sections of the grid. The current inability to store renewable energy is also an issue, although with rapidly improving battery technology, this should be overcome in the future.

There will be much discussion about why and how the system failed so spectacularly, but in all of this, we managed to get through. However, I believe the most concerning thing of all was the breakdown of our modern communication systems. The inability to communicate with others through our mobile phone network, internet and in some instances, even our landlines was a significant issue. It also resulted in authorities being unable to put out timely and reliable information, an imperative in an emergency situation. And of course there was no way to access 000 either.

The disruption to our business and industry sectors was also of major concern. With losses predicted, this will be felt not only by businesses effected, but by our entire local economy. We are major contributors to the State’s agriculture and seafood sectors, and the knock-on effect will be significant.

Changes must occur for the sake of South Australia’s economic future. It is imperative that Eyre Peninsula and SA become part of a consolidated truly national grid that has the resilience to manage disruptions in supply. Governments at every level must take up this challenge.

In all of this we must recognise the tremendous work of our Emergency Service personnel, those who volunteered their time, and the efforts of those who worked tirelessly to reconnect Eyre Peninsula to the rest of the world. We thank you.

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  1. Paul Kidney on October 7, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    My understanding Peter, as an electrical contractor, business owner and service provider is this: If Port Augusta power station was kept running even in some down scaled capacity, then the exposures that occurred would have been extremely reduced.
    No argument against renewable energy and storage of such, however, the shear size of our country means that more local power production of sorts as a base is critical (not an option). We as a state have lost this option with the closure if the PA station.
    We were heavily involved as a sub-contractor for Telstra supporting sites with generators, however as you have stated that because of the complexities created by such a mass disruption that even we as essential service providers were extremely limited in our communications, hence hampering the overall restoration process. We are now having to look to satellite technology for our communication devices as the events are likely to increase, not decrease unless there are significant changes to the way power is delivered. Kind regards Paul (Port Lincoln- Truelight Electrical Contracting Services)

  2. Paula Fletcher on October 7, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    The lack of communications was my most major concern and it is one that is being ignored in the non existent debate about renewables, which were not responsible. When power went down on EP barely 3 weeks earlier the same thing happened- no landlines, no mobiles, no access to the triple 0 number. I made complaints to SA Power Networks and Telstra at that time. They all blamed each other. And David Furnell of SA Power Networks found it necessary to remind me several times that SA Power Networks is a private business. So is Telstra (mostly). My question therefore is what part did essential services being privatised part in all of this? Was infrastructure maintained? Why did landlines go? I have known extended power outages before but never lost landlines, so why is that happening now? Is it because services are not being maintained because of cost cutting?
    And now we learn that the Federal Government is looking to privatise our Triple 0 services. Considering the impact privatisation has had on essential services this seems an incredibly short sighted idea.
    I know many people no longer feel safe in your electorate. I include myself in that.

  3. Graham Baker on October 7, 2016 at 7:30 pm

    Thank you Peter for what seems to be a very sensible point of view. I agree with you that an intolerable problem was the break down for about 3 days of the entire phone system. We are fortunate that there were as far as we know, no deaths attributable to this disgraceful experience. I and many others await with interest for ACTION on the challenges we all experienced. This is a vote changer for many South Australians. My best wishes for your achieving a positive outcome on this vital matter
    Graham Baker

  4. Sandra Brice on October 7, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    Peter – I read this article with interest, and although I I found that the lack of electricity a problem and a inconvenience, (we can set our homes up to counteract no electricity- generators, gas appliances and hotwater systems etc) – but unfortunately we cannot control the level of communication systems we may or may not have – and this to me was more alarming and problematic than having no power.

  5. Vivonne Rusden on October 8, 2016 at 8:45 am

    There are alternatives to a loss of power. We can and do cope with regular outages that are getting longer and almost more frequent. than those early days that Peter talks about. Apart from the Grader digging up a cable one year and an intermittent water leak at the Brooker Exchange at another time, I have never known our land line to fail in 40 years . We have not even been told why. An explanation of the cause can make it easier to live with. Our land line was off until Friday 8th October – 9 days. The internet came back on on the first Friday but it is no good for urgent communication and of course without a secondary source of power was still of no use to us for 62 hours. Our visiting children had access to mobile phone service at odd spots on the hills around us. Although I have a mobile phone which I use very sparingly in town because it costs a fortune, it is always switched off here as it is not a convenient source of communication at our home. As I have intimated to Peter before and as he would understand, we rely completely on our landline for everyday communication and especially in an emergency. When it fails for 9 days it is not just inconvenient it is frightening. Our communities are no longer close knit as they were when I grew up. and in this “marvellous” digital age help is getting further and further away. An answer to “Why?” would help.

  6. Lynton Brown on October 8, 2016 at 9:02 am

    All of our stress and pain in our small business, all the stress and anger poured on us by angry customers travelling through while the blackouts crippled our business performance, after 18 years of trying to create a top class tourism business here in Ceduna we were brought to our knees and humiliated by our state government.
    We now live in a third world state, no power for 33 hours, a couple of weeks later no power for 27 hours no landline phones no mobile phones no eftpos.
    All this so Jay Weatherill could bask in the glory of renewable power.

  7. Chris G Stone on October 8, 2016 at 11:26 am

    Hi Peter,
    I agree with most of what you say however I do have some reservations with the national grid. There is another option which needs some research , Small to Medium scale nuclear power reactor (SMR’s). I know this is a very controversial subject but it should not be lightly dismissed as it offers significant advantages for our particular location and needs. The technology is far from the big scary nuclear plant that is fixed in the psyche of the public mind and can, I believe, be sold to the people It is small scale in modular form, it is clean no C O 2, life span of 60 years, does not rely on the grid, cheap base load power, and much more. I am not an expert but I do see this technology as a possible alternative which needs to be studied in depth

  8. Ken Martin on October 8, 2016 at 12:29 pm

    Dear Peter ,

    I concur with your thoughts and thank you for the opportunity to comment.

    Yes, the people on the ground, restoring power and emergency services during the recent power outage performed a great service in difficult circumstances.

    In the aftermath of the costly, dangerous situation that goes to the core of National Security it would be easy to go into a rant (with some justification) as to how our region has been left in a vulnerable situation as a result of Government playing a dangerous game of pandering to popular politics. To be critical of the current mix of energy does not as a consequence make me a hater of renewable energy , to the contrary , I do however wish to see an intelligent balanced transition.

    The other aspect every bit as serious that you eluded too, is that of, all forms of communication being reliant on electricity. I believe all telecommunication exchanges/transmitters in a region as susceptible as ours should have back up power to the extent of total security , irrespective of any power outage . This in my view could be implemented immediately as the first step in the strategy directed at urgent rectification of security of power supply in our region.

    Kind Regards
    Ken Martin

  9. Valda Horne on October 9, 2016 at 8:41 pm

    I still can’t believe that we could not even use a land line to keep in contact with at least older relatives to make sure they were ok. We are going backwards with this high technology. Its a joke. It has bloody well failed us. Cant these idiots see this. Did they loose a relative or friend because 000 could not be reached.

  10. Trish Payne on October 10, 2016 at 12:10 pm

    The whole thing was pretty ordinary to say the least, power and phone outages twice in as many weeks. In our location we rely heavily on landlines due to the fact we don’y have mobile reception, so through the worst of the storm we were isolated. While the power being out for two days was inconvenient, loss of phones was worse. We were out for 10 days and trying to run a small business with no phone is certainly not helpful. I do feel we have regressed to a third world situation in this state. In this day and age with the rates that we pay, licenses we need to operate, phone and power connection fees…one would be fair to expect a little reliability. I consider ourselves to be some of the lucky ones, there are people in worse situations I know, this should not happen. There is no excuses as I see it, just downright lack of maintenance and customer care. We have purchased two generators for backup now, but in this, what is the point of having renewable energy when we have to run petrol or diesel powered engines to provide our own power? I just don’t get it? The whole setup is a whole lot of hogwash as far as I am concerned. There is so much dishonest “spin” buzzing around it is ridiculous – such a pity that most people get sucked in with it and believe what they are told.

  11. Sebastian Tops on October 16, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    The outages proved that quantity (grid supply over massive distances) is a bad philosophy in many respects, and only provides some financial outlays at the beginning.
    Quality should be returned to setting up, designing, and developing new technologies, including communications.
    Local regions should be capable of fully independent infrastructure, in place at any time, 24/7/366.
    Emergency back up systems should be well maintained, and kept up to date.
    The smaller scale (local region) set up could, with a wide range of varying energy systems, provide more flexibility, higher efficiencies (less energy transport distance), and local jobs. It would strengthen communities, also in any other adverse conditions.

    To become resilient, under challenging conditions, one has to be prepared, and locally capable to be independent. Liberalism generally does not belief in a strong (controlling) central system, which can more easily be disrupted, as was noticed again. Liberalism for me includes self-responsibility, self-reliance, continuous improvements, and ingenuity, instead of the collective centralistic idea of any socialistic, following blindly the masses) variation.

    The self-reliance and quality has been lost for decades, as pure financial gain (managers & accountants reign all, since around 1990 due to the growing and massive superannuation & bank shareholder vote influence) became the trend amongst (red) chickens.
    Time to reinvigorate the eagle. Roam, prosper, respect, and be liberated.