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AEMO hires New York energy reformer as new CEO

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The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has hired Audrey Zibelman, one of the leading players in New York’s ground-breaking “Reforming the Energy Vision” (REV), as its new chief executive.

Audrey ZibelmanThe appointment of Zibelman (pictured right) follows the death last year of her predecessor Matt Zema, and could signal the biggest ever shift in culture and technology of the AEMO, which is responsible for the operation of Australia’s main grids, but which has been criticised in some quarters for its slow response to renewable energy and other new technologies.

The Reform the Energy Vision plan, launched by New York in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, in which thousands of New York State residents were left without power for weeks, is considered to be the most ground-breaking and progressive in the world.

The REV seeks to increase energy security, through a range of measures including smart grid technology, battery storage and distributed generation strategically placed throughout its network.

The New York REV has been a difficult process given its scale and ambition and has drawn some criticism from some participants. However, it has also taken an innovative approach to strengthening electricity networks in light of the new energy paradigm of smart grids, economically competitive distributed generation and battery storage.

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That Zibelman, who headed up the New York REV efforts, will assume leadership at AEMO, could have a significant impact on Australia’s urgently needed electricity market reforms, particularly in the light of the reports by the CSIRO and the energy networks, which mapped out a path to a cheaper and cleaner energy grid, and the work being done by chief scientist Alan Finkel, which has sought to address some of the myth-making about renewable energy created by fossil fuel industry and conservatives.

AEMO Chair Tony Marxsen said that Zibelman has the vision to guide the body and energy industry through the reform process, “as we transition our energy markets and reform power systems planning and management.”

“Audrey’s vast experience in creating and managing new wholesale electricity markets, and transforming existing energy markets and large power systems will further strengthen the work that AEMO has undertaken to support Australia’s energy industry transformation,” said Marxen in a statement.

Before chairing the New York State Public Service Commission (NYPSC), Zibelman founded and commercial energy software provider Viridity Energy, and was an executive on U.S. utility Xcel Energy.

Zibelman will be relocating to Melbourne, and take over as AEMO CEO own March.

In a recent interview with Utility Dive in the US, Zibelman said it “was clear we had to change things,” when she was tapped for the New York job in 201. “I was so excited about the vision the governor had … to take the business opportunity to make things better,” she said.

She also noted how excited she was about reaching a 50 per cent renewable energy target by 2030 – which is now Labor policy at state and federal level, but certainly not supported by the federal Coalition government.

“We’ve certainly have laid the groundwork, and this year we’re really working on the execution,” Zibelman said. “I’m certainly excited about the clean energy standards and our initiative to both get to 50% renewables [by 2030] and address concerns about prematurely retiring nuclear plants.”

She also said: “The more states that take a look at what we’re doing — how do you use more distributed resources better, how do you make it part of the grid — it creates greater market opportunities,” Zibelman said. Opportunities which can reel in more innovators and investors, which can only open the door for more conversations with other states.

“I think the state is taking on extremely ambitious goals,” Zibelman said. “There’s always the opportunity for folks to take one thing that doesn’t work and say then ‘well nothing’s working.’ Anytime you are trying to change an industry and trying to change the status quo, there are people who are threatened.

“So our biggest challenge is to stay focused, be very clear on what [ultimately is] the prize and celebrate the wins and not be afraid to admit when things don’t work.”  

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  • Peter F

    Oh S…. What will the Australian say ” American renewables zealot takes over Ours Energy Industry. The sky will fall. Bring back Tony….”

  • GlennM

    Great article,
    but very hard to read, some proof reading before posting would be appreciated please.

  • riley222

    Congratulations to those who approved Audrey Zibelman for the position. Just what the doctor ordered! Optimism has reared its head again.

  • Don McMillan

    Great Start. Tough gig.

  • howardpatr

    Congratulations to the AEMO and Audrey Zibelman – don’t know the legal mechanism involved but its a fair guess that the RWRNJs in the LNP could not find a way for them to have their boy, Turnbull, veto the appointment.

    By the end of the decade we might well see some very positive steps towards adapting the network to the renewable energy systems of the future.

  • Tomfoolery

    This is the best news of the year so far! Exactly what AEMO needs – a culture change. It looks like she really was a fantastic choice for the job, perfectly suited and couldn’t have come at a better time either. Zibelman will have just enough time to get comfortable before implementing rule changes based on her past experience and the recommendations of the soon to be released Finkel Review. Bravo.

  • Cooma Doug

    The major stumbling blocks are the market rules. It was designed for a dying concept. That concept being, ram the energy onto the grid, needed or not.
    The market rules are to be changed and this CEO comes from a market with much more appropriate incentives than here to shift some market incentives across the meter.

    This is good news in my opinion

    Its YUGE

  • Tim Buckley

    An impressive CV and very interesting, positive appointment. Sounds absolutely just the sort of leadership Australia needs, begging the question of how such an appointment got through the Australian fossil fuel gatekeepers?!

  • Chris Fraser

    I like the sounds of that. Especially micro grids.

  • john

    I am sorry to say this but I do not think the new CEO will be able to overcome the prevailing attitude state by state of federally.
    While the credentials look good get it into the Australia perspective.
    From the top down the message is that anything that is RE is not welcome end of story.
    The present message is that coal is the best for Australia because it is cheap and will deliver low cost power.
    The fact it is just about passed it use by date does not come into the message.
    So good luck with your endeavors, however in the present political climate there will be little change.

    • Tom

      I hope you’re wrong but I doubt it.

      Australia has a track record in bringing in talented individuals from overseas, nobbling and sabotaging them, and then dumping the blame on them. Its in our management culture.

      I hope that Audrey has had a little chat with Gillian Triggs to get half an idea of what she might be in for.

      • riley222

        Tom thats true but things can change, and sometimes quickly. The groundwork laid can lead to meaningful change when the time is right.
        The current situation will change, and when it does a sensible plan will benefit OZ immensely.

        • Tom

          I really hope you’re right. If it goes will it could be absolutely revolutionary.

  • DJR96

    I’m not normally one for advocating the importation of senior managements roles from overseas, but this is an industry that has got itself a bit stuck in a rut and really needs someone from outside Australia to enact a change in thinking, get us out of the rut. And who better than someone instrumental with the NY REV program. Couldn’t do much better really.