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Why the world’s biggest coal exporter is asking 8 million residents to save energy by turning off their power for 2 hours a day

June 16, 2022, 12:01 PM UTC

Eight million people in Australia have been urged to switch off their power for two hours a day to prevent blackouts as the country grapples with a major energy crisis.

Speaking during a press conference in Canberra on Thursday, the country’s climate change and energy minister, Chris Bowen, called on people living in the Australian state of New South Wales to conserve electricity for two hours every evening.

“If you have a choice about when to run certain items, don’t run them from 6 to 8 [p.m.],” he said.

He added that the New South Wales power grid would be “under significant pressure” at this time of day, but that he was “confident” blackouts could be avoided.

New South Wales, home to the city of Sydney, is Australia’s most populous state, with a population of just over 8 million people.

Bowen’s comments come amid an energy crisis that has rocked Australia in recent weeks.

Australia—the world’s biggest exporter of coal—has experienced a power supply crunch caused by a multitude of factors, including aging and out-of-service coal-fired power stations, technical issues at major domestic coal mines, and cold winter weather pushing up demand for heating.

Almost 65% of Australian energy is generated from coal.

On Wednesday, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) suspended the country’s wholesale electricity market, known as the National Electricity Market (NEM), saying it had “become impossible to continue operating the spot market while ensuring a secure and reliable supply of electricity for consumers.”

The NEM, which covers all of Australia except Western Australia and the Northern Territory, supplies around 9 million customers.

As trading occurs, the NEM sends signals to energy generators, instructing them how much energy to produce every five minutes.

The system is designed to meet electricity consumption in the most cost-effective way by instantaneously matching supply to demand.

Bowen told reporters at Thursday’s media briefing that the government would not extend the life of existing coal-fired plants or fix the out-of-service plants as a short-term fix to the problem, doubling down on the government’s position that investing in renewables was a better solution.

He later told Australian broadcaster ABC that he didn’t envisage AEMO’s intervention in the market having to be in place for the duration of Australia’s winter, adding that “it will be reviewed on a day-to-day basis.”

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