The Australian Energy Market Operator has named Nino Ficca, the former managing director of Victorian based network company Ausnet, to act as interim chief executive following the departure of current CEO Audrey Zibelman next month.
Ficca is already a board member of AEMO, and will fill the role as the market operator continues its search for a long term replacement for Zibelman, who surprised many with her decision to return to the US after nearly four years in the role to take up a position with X, the Google-owned technology moonshot play.
“The board is well progressed in the search for a new CEO and is delighted that Mr Ficca has agreed to step into the CEO role on an interim basis, pending the appointment and commencement of a new CEO,” AEMO chairman Drew Clarke said in a statement on Friday.
Ficca is an electrical engineer, and was managing director of AusNet Services and its predecessor businesses for 18 years until November last year. He has been also leading what appears to be a family-owned consulting business, Ficca Consulting, for the last year.
“The demands on AEMO will not slow during the CEO transition. Nino’s broad experience in the energy sector will enable him to maintain momentum on the critical initiatives underway until a new CEO is appointed,” Clarke said.
“While the Board is very sorry to see Audrey leave, under Nino’s guidance the important work of AEMO will continue smoothly.”
Under Zibelman’s leadership, AEMO has played a crucial role in the framing of the debate around Australia’s future grid, and it has developed a 20-year blueprint, known as the Integrated System Plan, which maps out various paths to replace the country’s ageing coal fleet with mostly renewables and storage, and up to 94 per cent renewable share in its “step change” scenario.
Ficca’s most recent activity on LinkedIn shows him applauding the recent awarding of the Victorian big battery contract to Neoen, and the advances made by Tilt on its connection issues with the Dundonnell wind farm. Both projects involve Ausnet as a partner in some form.
In an article he wrote last December for an industry magazine after he left Ausnet, Ficca said:
“I’ve loved building on a legacy that helps and supports the growth of society. Some of my greatest experiences include my involvement in the development of Victoria’s 500 kV system, major innovations to substations in the CBD of Melbourne, the State’s first moveable package substations, the renewable revolution and solar roof top surge and soon, the story of storage.”
“Consider the change in the current energy mix. The future adoption of hydrogen and the integration of grid level renewables and storage. If we can get the equation right, Australia is in a wonderful position to prosper from a very stable, predictable and affordable energy mix, from its natural resources, that will benefit consumers, industry and society as a whole for many years ahead.
“Looking to the future energy landscape, networks will become significantly smarter. Automation, robotics and artificial intelligence will fundamentally change how we operate and maintain electricity networks. This will result in better quality of supply and lower costs to consumers. In this context consumers will have more control of their energy, both how they source and use that energy.
“The biggest change we’re seeing today is the introduction of roof top solar, grid scale renewable energy and storage. It is allowing customers to access energy services in a vastly different way. Ultimately smart meter data and functionality will enable consumers to better understand their usage patterns, manage their consumption and reduce their cost with little degradation to their lifestyle.
“But change is needed if we are to reach a new paradigm. More stability and certainty in energy policy will inevitably lead to better outcomes for customers. Investors will certainly welcome this and further investment in all parts of the energy chain should follow.
“We can expect to see the integration of electricity and gas markets at a far more significant level. We’re certainly going to see the electrification of our transport system, which will significantly change our consumption habits. For these reasons, the sector should remain flexible to accommodate any source of generation to provide energy across varying needs of different consumer groups.”