AEMO’s Zibelman admits “hiccup” in new solar and wind connections

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AEMO’s Audrey Zibelman concedes there is a “hiccup” in connection of new solar and wind projects to the grid, caused by overwhelming volume, and as the speed of new projects overtakes the ability of the grid to adapt.

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Australian Energy Market Operator CEO Audrey Zibelman has conceded there is a “hiccup” in the connection of new solar and wind projects to the grid, caused by the overwhelming volume of construction, and as the speed of new projects overtakes the ability of the grid to adapt.

Grid connections – and delays and added costs – have emerged as the overwhelming concern for the renewable energy industry, even more so than the fate of the National Energy Guarantee,.

The issue was highlighted in RenewEconomy’s story on Monday, Major wind and solar projects stumble in front of new grid hurdles, which  highlighted significant delays and pricing pressures to many new projects, just the latest in a series of new hurdles to be put in front of developers.

At the Clean Energy Summit in Sydney on Tuesday, an informal poll in a session hosted by chief executive Kane Thornton identified connection issues as the chief concern for more than 80 per cent of those present.

“I definitely think we are in a hiccup phase right now because of the volume and need to work through the processes,” Zibelman said.

She pointed to the sheer scale of connection requests – where once it might be dealing with 20 such requests, it is now dealing with around 300, and many were looking to build in weak parts of the grid.

As RenewEconomy reported on Monday, many projects that had hoped, and had been expected to proceed, are now re-assessing their options because they have been told they need new machinery – such as battery storage or synchronous condensers, or wait for grid upgrades.

Those upgrades could take years, however. Zibelman said the system was now dealing with a new phenomena, where solar projects could go from conception to construction in less than a year, but grid augmentations still take 5 to 7 years.

She also pointed to one of the issues we highlighted in our story on Monday, the skill-set of some of the project developers.

“We have developers who are very sophisticated. And we have developers who when asked for GPS co-ordinates (of their project) they send us a map. They don’t really know what’s going on.”

Still, some in the industry accuse AEMO of over-reach and it and network owners of being too prescriptive in its assessments, of imposing costs to solve system issues that had existed for years, and for making “mistakes” and “retrospective” decisions. i.e. they had been told there were no problems, and then advised there were.

Audrey Zibelman

Zibelman says AEMO is looking forward to working with network owners, regulators and project developers on refining the standards for new connections, and for seeking new solutions.

In the meantime, she said that the newly released Integrated System Plan, which identifies weak areas of the grid and what needs to be done, would be critical to accommodate new development.

She also said the National Energy Guarantee was similarly important, regardless of what the renewable energy industry thought about its emissions targets, which she described as a political issue.

“Once you hit 25-30 of variable renewables, then as a system operator your world changes,” Zibelman said.

That requires a market design that allows and encourages more flexibility, and the ability to ramp.

We have to start making these changes if we are going to accommodate the type of changes that are going on,” Zibelman said,.

“On the one hand we have policy paralysis and people not making decisions, and on the other hand people criticising us because we are moving too fast.

“We have to move fast, because the technology moving fast.”

So fast, said Steven Davy, the CEO of Hydro Tasmania, which is proposing a “battery of the nation” projectthat will exploit the island states pumped hydro and wind energy resources, that the transition to renewables could happen very fast, and before 2040.

“That’s a completely different market paradigm to what we got now.”

AEMO’s ISP envisages the system having 46 per cent renewables by 2030, and between 70 and 80 per cent by 2040.

That assessment has already drawn the predictable rebukes from conservatives in the Coalition government, who accuse Zibleman of being anti-coal, and of having a “pro-renewables” agenda.

Zibelman said it came down to basic economics, and wind and solar were by far the cheapest source of bulk energy, and as the ISP pointed out, once coal generators would retire, the combination of wind and solar and storage would be the cheapest option

“We are seeing this transformation occur faster in Australia than anywhere else,” she said.

And, she noted, the pace of uptake and falling costs of rooftop solar and battery storage presented huge options for the grid, and for consumers.

“This is an industry where for the first time consumers have a real alternative. If they don’t see value they will vote with their feet.”

And by voting with their feet, that means leaving the grid.

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12 Comments
  1. neroden 3 months ago

    Zibelman is a true expert. She knows her stuff backwards and forwards and is very smart. Best of luck to her, and I’m sorry she has to deal with the idiots in the COALition.

  2. Andy Saunders 3 months ago

    As she would know, there’s also considerable potential in demand response, another way of people voting with their feet…

  3. Energy Governator 3 months ago

    “That assessment has already drawn the predictable rebukes from conservatives in the Coalition government, who accuse Zibleman of being anti-coal, and of having a “pro-renewables” agenda.” Audrey Zibelman was selected as the best person for the job through an internationally competitive, merit-based selection process – by a truly technology neutral organisation (AEMO). The same cannot be said of the conservatives of the Coalition government.

    • Paul Surguy 3 months ago

      Love your comment EG

    • MaxG 3 months ago

      Please do not forget that these clowns were voted in by the public; otherwise they would not be there. Full stop!
      Also, the LNP will install their their puppets, and/or defund opposing organisations.

    • Nick Kemp 3 months ago

      “”That assessment has already drawn the predictable rebukes from conservatives in the Coalition government, who accuse Zibleman of being anti-coal, and of having a “pro-renewables” agenda.””

      I wonder, do they think that’s a criticism?

    • Alastair Leith 3 months ago

      Not to mention the energy industry itself has for decades been a bastion of conservative, male, fear of change. So if Zibelman won the job on merit, and I’m sure she did, she totally earned it and wasn’t parachuted in for being “pro-renewables”. The only thing Zibelman seems to be pro is evidence-based decision making and the cost and reliability benefits of wind and solar.

  4. MaxG 3 months ago

    Hiccup?! Really? I call it fubar-ed.

  5. JackD 3 months ago

    We’re very lucky to have Audrey at the helm of the AEMO. Unfortunately, her tenure may be cut-short if our FOSSILs get back in especially so, if they happen to increase their majority, at the next election. Audrey is far too smart for our rearwards looking federal government to properly appreciate.

    But until the average Joe in the street takes sufficient interest in these matters and our concentrated mainstream media are trying ever so earnestly to keep them disengaged, nothing much will change and that risk remains.

  6. Phil 3 months ago

    I’m starting to see a trend here of Dysfunction

    Electricity, NBN, Water and Sewer. Public Transport, Education.

    All seem to have issues with supply, quality, reliability, environmental impact and costs

    I see it as a modern tragedy that many can DIY better outcomes than governments and corporations can.

    Those living in 1960 may well have better essential services than those in 2020

  7. solarguy 3 months ago

    Audrey and the CEC are saying the NEG is no big deal, well I for one beg to differ!

  8. Alastair Leith 3 months ago

    Taking government policy as a given is interesting. It’s a given that governments will change and so will policy directions, so one would think it relevant to AEMO to explore the NEM/WEM system implications of policy options not currently legislated policy. Or at least to explore faster growth, if say NSW and WA got state targets or un-targeted but rapid growth of wind and solar.

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