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Tuesday, 24 May 2016 21:32

Any power outage is disastrous – but some have a 'light side'


Any power outage is disastrous, but some are funnier than others. Hungry eagles, curious cats and a hapless golfer were among the most unusual reasons for power outages last year, while severe weather caused the most significant cuts.

That is according to Eaton Industries, a diversified industrial manufacturer and publisher of the Australian and New Zealand Blackout Tracker Annual Report 2015. (registration required for free report).

A total of 174 outages (the second highest in five years) affected almost one million people across Australia and New Zealand in 2015, with 17,000 minutes — or 12 days — of power lost. The average outage lasted more than 1½ hours (99 minutes).

The report showed Western Australia and New Zealand had four of the top five most unusual causes of blackouts in 2015.

In Western Australia, more than 2000 customers lost power for 15 hours when an eagle dropped a sheep’s head onto a power line in Geraldton.  A Tea Tree Gully golfer (now nicknamed ‘Sparky’) short-circuited two 11,000-volt power cables when his club slipped out of his hands while teeing off and hit the power lines simultaneously, leaving 2000 customers without power for two-and-a-half hours.

Across the Tasman, a cat left 10,000 North Island customers in the dark when it climbed onto an outdoor electrical switchgear in Tauranga, while a dump truck wreaked havoc in Hamilton when it caused an outage, started a fire and forced an evacuation of local businesses following a gas leak after it hit live wires.

A hot air balloon that clipped a power line in Victoria’s Yarra Valley rounded out the top five unusual outages of the year.  

Nothing beats Mother Nature, though, when it comes to the sheer impact of power cuts, with the most significant events resulting from extreme weather conditions.

Gordon Makryllos, ANZ managing director, Eaton, said, “The stories behind some of the power cuts may make for an amusing anecdote after the event, but an outage of any size can have a serious impact on those affected by it."

Read on for more incidents.

The biggest incident followed a severe storm in New South Wales in April that left 200,000 customers without power across a large part of the state, while a powerful cyclone in Queensland downed 1800 power lines and knocked out power to 50,000 properties for three days in February.

Technical faults also caused major outages, including a control room issue in Lismore, NSW that left 66,000 customers without power and an interconnector failure that left 45,000 customers scrambling for torches and candles from Sellicks Beach to the Barossa Valley in South Australia.

A fault on a 132,000-volt power line in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire not only blacked out 40,000 homes and businesses, it led to raw sewage being pumped into Botany Bay.

New Zealand’s North Island took the dubious title of Trans-Tasman outage champion with 61 blackouts – double that of second-placed New South Wales on 31 and nearly three times that of its sister South Island (23).

Queensland experienced 24 power cuts, while other Australian states fared better, with Victoria and WA each recording 13, Tasmania four, South Australia three and Canberra two.  

The Northern Territory was the power continuity champion, with no reported outages.

“Whether they are small localised occurrences or widespread events, power outages disrupt individuals, communities, businesses and the wider economy, from a family with a fridge full of spoiled food to a business that loses customers it can’t serve because of a loss of access to a web server or critical business applications," Makryllos said.

"Any downtime is disastrous. When systems are unavailable, businesses, in particular, suffer an irretrievable loss of productivity, revenue and, potentially, their reputation. Being prepared is key to protecting your power supply and taking steps to minimise any potential downtime should be an integral part of every organisation’s risk management strategy.”

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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