Some very preliminary details of the possible causes of the Argentinian Blackout

The limited public information on the cause of the Argentinian Blackout on Sunday, indicates that their 500kV grid may have been operating insecure due to a long term outage of one 500kV line when the unexpected outage of another 500kV line led to a cascading event resulting in the collapse and shutdown of the entire Argentinian and Paraguay power systems, blacking up to 50 million people for up to 14 hours.

Following is some information found on the internet that may explain what happened, noting that a detailed investigation is underway into the event by the Argentinian authorities that will identify the root causes.

Attached is a map of the Argentinian grid, dated 2004, indicating that new 500kv transmission lines were planned at that time, however it is understood that these grid augmentations were delayed due to a freeze on electricity prices, resulting in a shortage of funds needed for the upgrades.


Argentina’s economy is in a state of crisis. Gerardo Rabinovich, an energy consultant who is vice president of the Argentine Energy Institute says that

“Although it is true that Argentina has solid generation and distribution capacity, transportation clearly needs an upgrade because there are lots of parts of the system that are saturated,”

As illustrated on the map, one 500kv line was already out of service since April. This appears to be a critical line connecting the northern region (which has large hydro-electric power stations), to the main load centre at Buenos Aires

At 7am on Sunday, a 500kv transmission fault appears to have taken out another 500kV line further north – which may have left only a single 500kv line connecting a region with high generation to the rest of the Argentinian 500kV grid.

It appears that a cascading situation or grid instability, appears to have occurred that separated major hydro stations from the power system. There is some mention of over-supply causing generators to trip which could be referring to the complete islanding of a region with lots of generation.

Whilst there is no information on how the incident spread further, the result was the blackout of the entire Argentinian and Paraguay power systems.

Interestingly Argentina is the only other country, besides the Australian NEM, that relies of a market for frequency regulation and allows generators to not participate in the restoration of large frequency deviations.   It remains to be seen whether poor frequency regulation contributed to the ultimate collapse of the entire Argentinian power system in the latter stages of this event..

Please note that the above is based on very limited information or knowledge of the Argentinian power system


Some Information reported on the internet on the event:

Since April, an electricity transmission connection between two power plants in Colonia Elia and Nueva Campana has been out of service. Even with that connection not operating, Argentina’s electrical grid was prepared to withstand another connection being severed from the grid. However, it wasn’t able to.

A second connection went offline on Sunday, effectively destabilizing two power stations and triggering safeguard mechanisms that put them out of action. That sent the whole grid offline and created the blackout. Authorities are investigating how the latter connection was disrupted, with energy officials saying it could take up to 15 days to determine the cause.

Although officials said every possible cause would be considered, “we do not believe that a cyberattack is within the possibilities,” said Mr. Lopetegui, the energy secretary.

“This was an extraordinary event that should not have occurred,” he said, calling Argentina’s electrical grid “robust with excess capacity in both generation and transportation.”

Although it is true that Argentina has solid generation and distribution capacity, “transportation clearly needs an upgrade because there are lots of parts of the system that are saturated,” said Gerardo Rabinovich, an energy consultant who is vice president of the Argentine Energy Institute.

“Generally, though, these things happen not because of a lack of robustness in the system but rather a lack of coordination,” Mr. Rabinovich said. “Failures in lines can happen, but what cannot happen is for this failure to then propagate to the whole system.”

While big questions remain over what caused the blackout, Edesur said a “collapse” in Argentina’s government-operated interconnection system occurred around 7 a.m. local time on Sunday (6 a.m. ET).

Utility distributor Edenor, which controls 20% of the Argentine market, about 3 million customers, said a transmission system at Yacyretá Dam — on the Paraná River near Ayolas, Paraguay — failed “without human intervention,” forcing an automatic shutdown.

Edesur added that the failure began in a transport connection between the dam and the Salto Grande power stations on Argentina’s coast. The shutdown was a protective measure, it said.




About our Guest Author

SimonBartlett Simon Bartlett is an experienced electrical engineer who has six years experience as a professor and forty years’ experience in the power industry in electricity transmission, power systems and generation in Australia, Europe and Canada (including as Chief Operating Officer at Powerlink Queensland).

His experience includes planning, design, construction, system operations, asset management, organisational leadership and board directorship.

Simon is a Board Director of CIGRE Australia, SolarQ, ARCMesh, Visional Technologies, TransConsult Holdings, Energy Network Passport, PEGG Energy Trust

You can find Simon on LinkedIn here.



PS on 28th August 2019 – Andrew Dillon’s article

Some readers might be interested in noting that Andrew Dillon (CEO of the Energy Networks Australia) posted this article here via Energy Magazine with further thoughts on the outage in Argentina and possible lessons for Australia.

2 Comments on "Some very preliminary details of the possible causes of the Argentinian Blackout"

  1. When prices are suppressed in pursuit of political ends (and compensation denied), necessary investment lags, with resulting, adverse reliability risk/consequences. It ultimately catches up and customers suffer.

    • Yes – I have seen it happen in various countries/jurisdictions where I worked – and we never seem to learn. In the book I am (not) writing, the antidote to this kind of ‘populist’ government is a properly educated/informed electorate – but governments around the world measure their education programs’ performance by how much they are spending; not the results.

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