Zibelman says 18GW wind and solar in connection queue, but coal is wild card | RenewEconomy

Zibelman says 18GW wind and solar in connection queue, but coal is wild card

Australian Energy Market Operator chief confirms huge amount of wind and solar in pipeline, says biggest challenge for grid is planning around coal generation fleet.


Australian Energy Market Operator CEO Audrey Zibelman has confirmed the huge amount of wind and solar capacity in the pipeline for Australia’s main grid, but the biggest challenge was the future of the existing coal generation fleet and the chances of some early closures.

Zibelman addressed the Future of Energy conference hosted by the ANU in Canberra on Monday, confirming previous estimates that there is some 96GW of new capacity in the pipeline – much of it wind and solar – and 18GW of projects at an “advanced stage of connection.”

However, Zibelman also said – according to people in attendance – that the major challenge facing the market operator and regulators was the future of the coal fleet, and the risk that some ageing coal generators may close earlier than planned, and with less warning than expected.

She cited Yallourn, the ageing brown coal generator in Victoria that is supposed to last until the early 2030s, but which is widely expected to close earlier. She noted Yallourn’s “modified” availability over summer – now at just 50 per cent rather than 85 per cent just a few years back.

This is of critical importance for AEMO, which is facing a long hot summer with concerns about the reliability of the local coal fleet, and some gas generators. One Loy Yang A unit has been out for months and is due back in mid-December, while one unit at the Mortlake gas generator has also been sidelines and is due to return to service this month.

AEMO this week is expected to release its “summer readiness” report, outlining the actions it has taken to keep the lights on this summer.

This will include its reserve trader mechanism – signing up major consumers or emergency generators to either reduced their energy demand or switch on back-up supplies if needed. But AEMO has warned that while the reliability standard may not be broken, there is the prospect of “tail-risk” events when everything goes wrong and some load-shedding, as occurred last January, occurs.

The summer readiness report will be followed by the draft version of the Integrated System Plan, which serves as a 20-year blueprint to manage the expected and inevitable changes in the grid as coal generators retire, to be replaced by wind, solar, various forms of storage and ‘demand side” technologies such as batteries and load management.

Zibelman said that while there is widespread agreement on the nature of the future energy system – that it will be decarbonised, decentralised, and digitised – there is much work to do to successfully execute the transition.

The ISP identifies major transmissions investments that are required to upgrade the ability of states to trade between each other, and the need for more visibility and controls over “behind the meter” technologies such as rooftop solar and batteries, so that they can be managed and contribute to grid reliability rather than the opposite.

The final version of the ISP is not expected to be delivered until June, 2020, but the draft version is likely to be near the top of the agenda at the next scheduled meeting of COAG energy ministers in March.


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  1. Ken Dyer 11 months ago

    AEMO should be upgrading a decentralised transmission network as a priority, because coal is definitely on the way out, sooner rather than later.

  2. Shilo 11 months ago

    The wild card is AEMO!!!!!! and what they actually do, they have been good with speaking for a long time time.

    • CU 11 months ago

      Not AEMC?

      • Shilo 11 months ago

        Someone is the pilot, I am going AEMO

  3. JackD 11 months ago

    OK so there’s a few projects in the queue. Reading an article in Smart Energy last night, its all very well for there to be new generation projects but there’s little if any big & meaty transmission projects (which are sorely needed) in the pipeline.

    Oh people will say what about the projects identified in ISP 1. Ask yourselves this, has a shovel been deployed as yet on any of them?

    Talk is increasing about Australia going to 700 – 800% renewables so that means a lot more transmission will be needed to carry it. ISP 1 is just a drop in the veritable ocean. And ISP 2 won’t be shining a light on that much more.

    Bit like building a new technology type of vehicle and then finding there’s no fuel to power it.

  4. Seriously...? 11 months ago

    ’18GW of projects at an “advanced stage of connection.”’

    What exactly does that mean? 6 months? A year? Two years? I understand that there have been extensive issues and delays with connections, but surely ‘advanced stage’ doesn’t mean more than two years.
    In which case the impact will be massive. That’s about 20% of NEM demand, and doesn’t even include rooftop PV (or any bounce back by hydro). The lack of transparency is ludicrous. Is that about ‘commercial in confidence’ notions? Surely everyone can agree–coal trolls, network operators, RE advocates, gentailers–that transparency and accurate information are paramount?
    3 years notice to shut down a coal plant–but no good info about what capacity is coming online and when. I almost feel sorry for coal operators, because how are they supposed to time that one?

  5. Ian 11 months ago

    18GW in the advanced stage of connection.

    This is a very interesting statement and obviously needs a little more clarification, but let us assume this means, ‘by this time next year another 18GW of grid-scale renewables will be installed and connected to the grid’

    As Chris Drongers points out that is equivalent to 6GW of 24/7 type generation.

    Either the transmission wires will glow white hot or something has to give way. The Energy Minister has stated that coal generators must be kept running and there will be zero tolerance for prolonged outages of these , but Audrey Zibelman says that coal plants may close rapidly. Hans, the energy minister in his Coal Clogs, has only 10 fingers to block the holes in the FF dyke before the whole sea wall ruptures and renewables flood in. Audrey is warning us that this may happen suddenly and catastrophically.

    There will not be enough storage capacity over the next year to handle the peaks and troughs of wind and solar -18GW one minute, zero the next- there will not be enough transmission capacity to shunt this variable electricity from one state to another, and the best we can hope for is contracting some large consumers to shed load when asked to those gas and diesel and hydro to ramp up supply when needed or rely on households to do the demand management for the grid.

    Another article talks about the pumped hydro resources we already have. Tumult 3 @1700MW, Shoalhaven @240MW , Wivenhoe @500MW. Which is about 2.5GW, there is also once through hydro from Tasmania and the rest of the snowy, which, depending on transmission constraints such as the Basslink and the transmission from Snowy north or southwards, may give another 1 or 2GW of flexibility.

    There is, of course the gas generators which tend to take the reserved role with excess coal generation occurring, this could provide another 4 or 5GW at a push

    On the whole, the NEM may not be in such dire straits if 2GW or 3GW of coal generating capacity goes Kaput by this time next year. Hydro and gas will be working overtime , there will be lots of curtailment of solar and some of wind, wholesale prices will probably drop to zero for a proportion of every daytime.

    If Coal loses its grip on the grid, then off peak hot water heating will be reassessed and redeployed to midday

    Gridscale batteries will be deployed by many utility solar and wind farms.

    The AEMO will certainly earn their keep but without too much grid infrastructure upgrades, they should manage fine. However, after the 18GW of this connection-ready RE is assimilated, there will be no wiggle room left on the grid to handle any more, without ramping up new storage transmission etc.

    • Ken Fabian 11 months ago

      We cannot expect large scale investment in storage as long as it is purely a matter of choice; it has to be deemed essential first. We have major participants who are not going to invest in complementary storage until the last moment – who may very well be looking to the AEMC, that does not even include advancing a transition to zero emissions as a consideration, to support them getting a bit more life from their coal and gas plants at the expense of renewables, and avoid making such investments.

      Rather than cause to add storage and/or negotiate equitable demand response arrangements with major energy users, growing levels of wind and solar are used to argue against more wind and solar. We should never lose sight of what a transition to low emissions is for.

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