The Australian Energy Market Operator has named a UK-based Australian expert in renewable energy and grid transition as its new chief executive officer, replacing the former CEO Audrey Zibelman who left last December to take up a role with Google’s future technology division known as X.
The new CEO and managing director is Daniel Westerman, currently the chief transformation officer and president of renewable energy at National Grid in the UK. He will take up his new position on May 17.
Westerman was responsible for growing National Grid’s unregulated renewable energy business in the United States, including utility-scale renewables, distributed energy, storage and electric vehicle charging solutions. He previously worked for McKinsey in Australia and before that as a senior engineer with Ford in Melbourne.
His appointment – at least on the face of it – will be welcomed by many concerned that Zibelman’s departure might lead to an organisation less focused on transition and transformation of the grid, and more on maintaining the status quo, as the federal government appears to wish.
AEMO has already mapped out a 20-year blueprint for the transformation of the Australian grid – known as the Integrated System Plan – which goes far beyond the stated federal policies but which recognises the extraordinary technology changes and cost reductions in renewables and storage and smart software.
The next version of the ISP is expected to go even further, modelling a transformation of the grid that factors in a 1.5°C scenario – the Paris climate target – which will map plans for an even faster transition to a zero-carbon grid.
This is in contrast to the federal government’s stated position, where the energy minister Angus Taylor has said repeatedly that there is “too much wind and solar” in the grid and where the Nationals want to build new coal-fired power stations.
“Daniel is a chartered engineer and an experienced business leader with significant breadth in the energy sector,” AEMO said in a statement.
“At National Grid, Daniel has been responsible for engineering, planning and operational control of the electricity transmission network across Great Britain as well as the development of distributed energy systems such as rooftop solar, storage and energy metering. Most recently, he has grown a large-scale renewable energy business and led transformation and change programs across multiple business units and geographies.”
AEMO chairman Drew Clarke said the board was pleased the CEO search process attracted strong interest from high calibre energy leaders both within Australia and globally.
“Daniel was selected from a strong field of leaders in the energy sector, and the Board is confident his experience positions him well to lead AEMO through the next phase of transition in the energy sector,” he said.
“Experience in a commercial setting was highly valued in AEMO’s search, and the Board was pleased to secure a candidate with experience leading major infrastructure projects through the investment cycle.”
Westerman’s expertise in transmission, and his knowledge of distributed energy, will be important as AEMO and other institutions grapple with the competing needs of these technologies in the grid transition, and as the market rules are re-written to focus on a grid dominated by renewable and storage.
AEMO is also facing challenges managing a connection backlog, particularly in Victoria – where it has prime responsibility over the commissioning of new assets, and many have been delayed.
Westerman’s most recent Twitter activity said this: noting how renewable energy can be a “triple win” for the economy, the environment and customers.
Westerman said in the AEMO statement that he was delighted to return to Australia and lead AEMO at a time when electricity and gas systems nationally and globally are undergoing rapid transition.
“I’m looking forward to collaborating with market participants, policy makers and stakeholders across the energy industry to help inform and shape the best outcomes for consumers as the technology mix undergoes a dramatic transformation.
“Australia is leading the world in the adoption of renewable energy systems, and AEMO plays a critical role in maintaining a stable supply of power to the millions of homes and businesses that benefit from the energy these systems provide.
“As our economy recovers from the impacts of the pandemic, the gas markets operated by AEMO will continue to play an important role in both the export and domestic energy sectors.
“AEMO must continue to operate our energy systems today while planning for the challenges of tomorrow, and that will be my focus,” he said.
The current acting CEO Nino Ficca – a former head of Ausnet – will return to his role of non-executive director after Westerman’s arrival.