Possible power shortages

At the end of last week there were warnings about possible electricity shortages, and there may be more such warnings through winter.

Transpower operate the national grid which supplies electricity. It issued a warning last Thursday that there may not be enough electricity between 7am and 9am on Friday, and asked households and businesses to conserve electricity. One reason for this problem was that the weather was unusually cold for May, so demand for heating was higher than normal. At the same time, some of the lines companies were doing maintenance on their power plants, which had already been planned as they didn’t expect high demand at this time of year. They needed to do this maintenance before winter really starts. Another reason was that there was less electricity generated by wind than usual. All of these factors combined to create a risk of insufficient electricity supply on Friday morning. Consequently, Transpower asked people to help by turning off heaters and lights in unused rooms, waiting to use appliances such as washing machines, and not charging devices and cars, for two hours.

Fortunately, there were no power cuts on Friday. Transpower thanked households and businesses for reducing their usage. It said New Zealanders saved the equivalent of Hamilton City’s typical electricity use that morning, so it was an amazing response. This was particularly impressive because it was very cold in some places: Christchurch recorded -6.3 degrees, Palmerston North was -3.1 degrees, and even Auckland was only 4 degrees.

However, it is possible that there may be similar warnings in future. Because New Zealand relies on renewable sources such as wind and hydropower, there may be times when there is not enough electricity generated to meet demand in cold weather. In addition, we need more electricity now because people need to charge electric vehicles, and because some companies are building large data centres in New Zealand which use a lot of power.

There has been a problem with a shortage of electricity recently in New Zealand. In 2021, almost 34,000 households lost power on one of the coldest nights of the year, as there was not enough supply for the large increase in demand. Transpower was fined $150,000 for its role in this power cut, because a report found that it did not manage the supply or communicate with power companies appropriately.


warning – a statement that something bad might happen, so that you can be ready for it

shortage – when there is not enough of something

grid – the network of electricity supply wires

household – all the people who live together in a house

conserve – to use as little of something as possible

data centre – a large group of networked computers which store and process large amounts of data