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.
The 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.
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.”