AEMO: Our advice was pretty straight forward, we need dispatchability | RenewEconomy

AEMO: Our advice was pretty straight forward, we need dispatchability

AEMO says its advice to the government was “pretty clear” and pragmatic: What the system needs is fast, flexible and reliable capacity to meet peak demand.



As the federal Coalition continues to push the case for an ageing, unreliable, and slow moving coal generator to maintain energy security in the 2020s, the Australian Energy Market Operator has underlined its advice to the government last week: it wasn’t a push for more baseload.

“We need flexible capacity that can be switched on and off, and we need to transition to a new generation of Australia’s principal energy market institutions, and the newly-formed Energy Security Board.

“Our advice was fairly pragmatic,” Zibelman said. “We are concerned that on a 45°C day if we lose a generator (which AEMO has said is quite likely) we want reserves in the system to be able to respond.

“In our report we identified the fact that with amount of variability (from solar and wind energy and electricity usage) is changing rapidly, we need resources that can change rapidly.

“That may be different to traditional baseload resources, which do not move a lot.  It doesn’t mean baseload is bad, it’s just that we need a different portfolio. (Baseload) may not be able respond in the time period we need it to respond.”

Sound like Liddell? Not really. The plant owner AGL Energy has made it clear that Liddell is old, increasingly unreliable, expensive to maintain, prone to unexpected outages and can’t be relied upon at times of peak demand, particularly as temperatures rise.

Zibelman’s comments, like the two AEMO reports it released last week, contrast starkly with the Coalition government’s contention that AEMO had insisted  that rapid action was needed, and that that rapid action must mean that Liddell’s life span must be extended.

Zibelman made it absolutely clear that her preference was for fast, flexible technologies, both in supply and demand, and bother in front and behind the meter. Importantly, it had to be technology that the market operator could rely upon.

“The system is changing,” Zibelman said. “That’s not a bad thing. What we need to do is to start saying we have to think about next the generation of technologies, the next generation of markets and how to take advantage of it.”

Earlier, she noted: “The power system works best when we can operate it in accordance with the law of physics. (That means) we need to make sure we have sufficient tools to respond in  a real time system.”

She noted that a focus was needed on system services such as inertia, voltage and frequency, which came as “ancillary services” to thermal generators, but now had to be sought elsewhere. This was not a reason not to evolve, just a reason to focus on how to set a market to encourage these technologies and capacities.

“Our advice was pretty straight forward,” she said: “As system has a higher level of (renewable) penetration, issues like frequency, violate and inertia needs to be addressed – not because it a bad thing, but because it was bundled previously with the big generators ….

“It’s not just having enough of these resources, it’s about having enough of these resources at the time and the place you need them. At all times AEMO needs the ability to turn something on and something off to maintain system balance,” Zibelman said.

She spoke of demand management, one of her favourite topics and preferred mechanisms in the US, but said it had been communicated badly and misunderstood – particularly the idea that the market operator would turn off the lights or the air-conditioning.

“What we are talking bout is being able to use rotating mass, use battery storage, electric vehicles, and create a more integrated system.”

She said it was clear that the Australian market was heading towards 30-40 per cent “distributed generation”, which means mostly solar and storage behind the meter. These technologies can and needed to be harnessed to ensure that they contribute to grid security.

Asked specifically about Liddell, Zibelman said choosing that as a preference would require an analysis  to determine its level of dispatchability and its flexibility, and its ability to deal with reliability concerns.

“What do we want to do is to make sure we are riding the technology innovation curve in the right way…. it all has to fit. We’re thinking about what do we need, what do we have, and then what are the right mechanisms to get the best outcomes that are economically sound.”


Key players in the Energy Security Board: Kerry Schott (chair); Clare Savage (deputy chair), Audrey Zibelman (AEMO), Paula Conboy (AER). Not pictured John Pierce (AEMC).

The event in Melbourne also heard, for the first time, from Kerry Schott, the newly appointed chair of the Energy Security Board, whose job is nominally to guide government policy on these matters, but who appear to have been completely ignored by the Coalition government over the last week.

Schott, a former chair of network company Transgrid, said that because electricity was an essential service, it was extremely political, particularly when the lights go out.

She noted that prices had been rising to “very high levels” for consumers, due to a range of reasons including the lack of certainty around emissions policies.

“We have seen decades of excess capacity, but that now finished. We are in a new realm,” Schott said.

But she added that the penetration of wind and solar would continue to increase – “despite what the politicians may decide” and that by the mid 2030s, when ageing coal plants retire, coal will provide just 24 per cent of supply rather than 70 per cent. “That transition is one that needs to be managed very carefully.”


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  1. trackdaze 3 years ago

    Liddell fits that bill to a T.

    Example being in February on the hottest day of the year (so far) a big chunk switched off. More problematic was it couldn’t turn back on.

    And we have our 1 kiwi/betroot head illegitimate majority govt reckoning its good for australia to rely on it in 2022?

  2. Alastair Leith 3 years ago

    “The power system works best when we can operate it in accordance with the law of physics. (That means) we need to make sure we have sufficient tools to respond in a real time system.”

    Two questions, which law of physics is Audrey referring to? And please provide examples of the (electricity grid) system not running “in accordance with the law[s perhaps it was a misquote] of physics”.

    • wholisticguy 3 years ago

      I’m guessing it was a go at the recent decrees by the law of politics that more coal is what we need to ensure grid stability.

      I take her point to be that we need to use sound scientific principles when making decisions about the operation of the grid.

    • wholisticguy 3 years ago

      I also just remembered the quote from Malcolm Turnbull about how the laws of Australia overrule the laws of mathematics. It could have been a quick jab at that idiocy and a warning shot not to try the same logic with the power grid.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        Was kidding, realy. But thanks for informing me. I’ve tuned out to Turnbull. Same a sense Abbott but should know better. If he said that it was spoken like a silk purse barrister I imagine.

        • Guy Stewart 3 years ago

          The exact quote from the press release, still published on the official website of the Australian Prime Minister, Malcom Turnbull:

          “PRIME MINISTER:
          The laws of Australia prevail in Australia, I can assure you of that. The laws of mathematics are very commendable but the only law that applies in Australia is the law of Australia.”

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            We have a silver-tongued Trump of our own. Downunder takes on a new twist.

    • Tom 3 years ago

      Answer 1: Thermodynamics. Convection, conduction, radiation, & evaporation. ie, it takes bloody hours to turn a coal-fired steamer on and get it going. Same with some gas turbines that are not on standby.

      Answer 2: Example: Assuming you’ve got reserve power capacity but when a large generator suddenly fails you find that the laws of thermodynamics are not on your side as your reserve capacity can only be gradually turned on. Eg, South Australia last September.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        Thanks, Tom. I humbly submit that the Laws of Physics as currently understood have never been broken on the NEM in all it’s history. 😉

    • Mike Shackleton 3 years ago

      Electrons also need to obey the laws of physics. Current, charge, potential/voltage all are principles explained by physics.

      • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

        I guess i needed to have typed that first comment in irony font 🙂

  3. wayne 3 years ago

    TIMING. Snowy will not be online till 2023 after which time we will have more reliable base load. What we need between now and then is the existing systems to remain working, GAS be maintained for domestic reserves and not closed down anything simply because post 2013 AGL will lose some market manipulation ability post Snowy. These are mega corporations manipulating us and the market for own gain. We saw that in SA and they are they now scrambling with whatever saves their political bacon. Labor are playing a no win game for Australia but do not care as the worse it gets the better their chances of election and policy implimentation without checks and balances. So we are being SCREWED by the LEFT and Unions and Screwed by the right MultiNational Corporations like AGL who find left ideal bed fellows to further their profits. Go after them Mr Prime Minister. This is a National policy failure or successive Governments.

    • wholisticguy 3 years ago

      AEMO and others have been very clear that the grid does not need any more base load generation. It needs dispatchable power.

      A large part of the predicament is large base load generators, which when they fail, fail hard.

      A more diverse generation fleet made up of opportunistic generation, supported by dispatchable generators and large scale responsive demand management will be the most robust, flexible and affordable way going forward.

      • wayne 3 years ago

        Fairheaded Gobblygoop that misleads leftist greenies into a lather of BS…. This is how SA failed last summer. They lost syncronicity of baseload and dispatchable power that would be available had turned itself off. It is SIMPLE. Good reliable base load supplimented with weather dependent renewables and more importantly a National grid that is well regulated and not subjeced to state by state and Company by company abuses. We are talking about covering a build gap between 2018 and 2023 by maintaining existing stations until then. SA turned theirs off before time and are now scampering to build new Gas powered stations supplimented with an assortment of other pilots. Fortunately the Federal Government see that and are acting responsibly. Get Snowy up by 2023 and maintain what we have in teh mean time.

        • wholisticguy 3 years ago

          If only ‘good reliable base load’ was a thing that existed. What actually happens is that our current base load generators fail, often when it is needed most, when it’s hot. The answer isn’t more large base load, it’s millions more smaller generators that are unlikely to cause a major deficiency when they shut down unexpectedly.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            By George I think you’ve got it old chap!

          • wayne 3 years ago

            What a load of Clap trap. The facts are we have had reliable base load for 50 plus years and the only thing that has changed is ppl have frigged with it without proper consistent planning. Bring on Snowy and then plan reduction in old power stations while invesing SENSIBLY in alternatives like pumped Hydro, Solar storage, batteries and possibly nuclear. Then allow Rooftop solar, Wind and such to suppliment. What you are talking about is basically going back to diesel or gas power stations in every town in a grid that was designed for centralised supply. The only thing that might be saving SA is the closure of large Industry like Holden and Ship building and the multiple disruptions were not simply attributable to weather events….it was closing Port Augusta Power station and the rail and town of Leigh Creek plus not managing gas generation in the city. INCOMPETENCE. Good reliable base load exists in Tasmania, New Zealand the snowy scheme then Yallorn, Loy Yang and other stations that do not fail on hot days. Hazlewod was reliable if old. We sould maintain what we have until we have simething better not cobble together things on the fly per South Australia. And stop playing politics and invest in good engineering and construction instead of arm Chair green speculation and theorising.

          • Guy Stewart 3 years ago

            Ahh the Good old days, when electricity was cheap and government owned.

            When it was treated like essential public service infrastructure and not a highly profitable privatised commodity with a naturally inherited monopoly.

            If it isn’t heat threatening to shut down Loy Yang, it’s industrial disputes. If it isn’t a Tornado interrupting massive distributions, it’s dry weather and not enough in the dam catchments.

            The point is that too few massive generators are points of failure. They all have their weaknesses and if the grid depends on them, it is inherently fragile, and more easily manipulated.

            We seem to mostly agree, though.

            Shut down uneconomic and subsidised energy intensive industries to reduce demand, transition to alternatives like distributed pumped hydro, utility and behind the meter battery storage, experiment with solar thermal. Reverse auctions for wind, and remove the barriers to increased rooftop PV.

          • wayne 3 years ago

            Pretty much. I wish cheap Thorium micro generators were a reality…and or decent local storage and I could ditch the connection to providers all together.

          • Craig Allen 3 years ago

            Cheap Thorium reactors!
            I wish we could power the country with unicorn dung biofuel, but that is just as unlikely.

          • wayne 3 years ago

            Yeh one can hope. Australia has so mch Thorium ….more than Bull Shit possibly. But therein the point. Thorium less worst nuclear option. Reportedly, China and Russia are (and North Korea are working on) building micro (convenional) Reactors on sleds for domestic and industrial deployment, not unlike diesel generators but without the fuel needs. Scary thought in a way but an option.

          • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

            So what happened in NSW last summer when temperatures headed north of 40º C and an entire coal plant dropped off?

        • wholisticguy 3 years ago

          This isn’t my personal opinion that I made up chatting to my green buddies, it was from reading the reports by AEMO.

          As for what happened in South Australia last summer, it was Tornados. Settings have been adjusted so the grid is more resilient in the future, they also suggest more auxiliary grid services to stabilise the grid quickly in fluctuations, more sophisticated demand control before blackout and more renewables. None of the recommendations were for more, larger, baseload generators.

        • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

          Wayne studies in the USA on their largest grid show that wind power fitted with frequency response technology (synthetic inertia and primary response) makes a grid MORE resilient that the existing, mostly fossil they have at the moment. The study I read also pointed out that inertia on the grid has been falling over the last decade anyhow even without much wind penetration. Can link you to the studies if you want to read them.

  4. Peter F 3 years ago

    If battery and gas installations proceed as expected and Solar reserve is built Liddell will be redundant by 2020

  5. Ken Fabian 3 years ago

    I think existing hydro should be encouraged to shift as much as possible from continuous output to being dedicated backup to intermittent supply, ultimately that from growth in wind and solar but covering any shortfalls in the market . Whilst pumped storage might be nice, higher power output but over shorter periods without it may require only simpler upgrades – less than 2.0. Existing capacity can almost certainly be used more effectively than it currently is.

    • Rod 3 years ago

      Agreed. I’m not sure if anyone has done some work on it. 5GW continuous? But how many hours per year could it provide in an average rainfall year.
      I’m pretty sure they are mainly using it for arbitrage ATM which would be similar to peaking use requirements.

    • Mike Shackleton 3 years ago

      The interconnect between Tasmania and the mainland needs to be upsized so that more wind can be installed. There are periods of the year where the dams are full to spill and if you don’t run the hydro turbines, the water just runs through the spillways and the energy is lost. So if you have full dams and good wind the Tassie network would have to curtail production. At least if there was more capacity on Basslink the energy could be exported. Outside of those times, hydro can be turned off during periods of high wind production and the dams get an opportunity to recharge.

  6. Patrick Comerford 3 years ago

    All these buerocratic regulators and there head honchos don’t realize that they are dealing with a particular breed of conservative in Australia. The Aussie conservative has shown that they can be more than a match for any American right wing nut job.
    If you so much as leave the slightest gap in a report or statement they will drive a tank through it. Facts or the truth mean nothing to them so they had better get up to speed pretty quickly and adapt to the reality on the ground. When dealing with Australian conservatives you have got to go for the jugular or be prepared to drive a stake through their heart. They are in it to win at any cost.

    • Rod 3 years ago

      I’d like to see someone, media, AEMO come out and clarify the issue.
      “If Liddell closes and if no extra generation is built and if we have no demand management in place you stand a .000001 chance of load shedding”

    • Alastair Leith 3 years ago

      You need to realise that the conservative FF owning gentailers and the network operators 50% own AEMO (the other half by your fun loving Govts), and same interests are clearing pulling the strings at the AEMC given their intransigence over the 5 min bid/30 min settle dispute. Not sure what AER are up to.

  7. Lorraine Bates 3 years ago

    You need an editor!

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