The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has released its 2019 Electricity Statement of Opportunities (ESOO), which forecasts tight electricity supply-demand conditions in several states for the coming summer and highlights the need for short- and longer-term investment in dispatchable resources and transmission.

The ESOO is developed annually to forecast electricity supply reliability in the National Electricity Market (NEM) over a 10-year period and is designed to inform the decision-making processes of market participants, new investors and policy-makers.

For the first time, this ESOO also considered whether there was a sufficient resource need to trigger an obligation on retailers under the Retailer Reliability Obligation (RRO).

The 2019 ESOO forecasts a continued elevated risk of expected unserved energy (USE) over the next 10 years.

Red flag

Compared to last year’s ESOO forecast, AEMO observes greater risks of load shedding due to uncontrollable, but increasingly likely, high impact (‘tail risk’) events such as simultaneous unplanned outages during hot days.

For the immediate summer, findings highlight the impact of major generation outages in Victoria and the need for additional reserve resources and reflect the measured impact of a deterioration of reliability of aging thermal generators.

Beyond 2020, AEMO forecasts only slight improvements in reliability for peak summer periods until new transmission and dispatchable supply and demand resources become available, with the situation to further worsen following the gradual closure of Liddell power station.

The impact of the retirement of one unit at Liddell Power Station in April 2022 begins to tighten the reserve situation in NSW, culminating in an increased USE level in 2023-24 following the closure of the remaining units.

However, as the USE level is forecast within the expected 0.002% across these years, it does not meet the “material reliability gap” threshold that would require AEMO to trigger the RRO in 12 months’ time.

The analysis does, however, highlight that as in Victoria this summer, following the gradual closure of Liddell, a combination of high summer demand and unplanned generator outages will leave the region exposed to significant supply gaps and involuntary load shedding during peak electricity demand, unless mitigating actions are taken in advance. 

“We need to harness all the resources we have in the system,” says AEMO managing director Audrey Zibelman.

AEMO managing director and CEO Audrey Zibelman said the analysis demonstrates the need for urgent action and prudent planning and investment in the sector.

“AEMO has already commenced work with the industry throughout the NEM and is working closely with governments to prepare for this summer by securing additional resources to meet peak summer demands. However, while expected and allowed for under current rules, we are finding this type of reactive action is imposing higher costs on consumers and risks to reliability which are not sustainable over the longer term,” Zibelman said.

“A more measured course is to take a number of deliberate actions that address the challenges of our aging coal fleet and which meet the need for secure and dispatchable supply, whilst also taking advantage of Australia’s natural resources. We need to harness all the resources we have in the system, together with the opportunities that come with the technological advances occurring in the industry to meet current and future energy demands at the lowest cost possible.”

To-do list

AEMO has identified several pragmatic actions that should be taken to avoid consumer exposure to an unreasonable level of risk of involuntary load shedding during peak summer periods. Some of these actions are currently underway, such as AEMO’s Summer Readiness Plan and the planning and commissioning of targeted transmission augmentation, and others require changes to rules and/or additions to AEMO’s authority.

Further actions identified include several changes that will support better outcomes for reliability and affordability. These include:

  • the introduction of a new reliability standard designed to assure that each region has sufficient resources to meet peak demand requirements during 90% of the time (a more typical standard used internationally;
  • the development of new markets for essential services so AEMO can more efficiently pay suppliers for all resources required to maintain the reliability and security of the physical system;
  • the acceleration of critical upgrades and construction of interconnectors and transmission to enable better use of existing and new supply resources, and;
  • the ability to procure and operate a three-year strategic reserve to minimise the need to pay a premium for emergency power.

The development of a more reliable and secure power system does not equate to a more expensive one, Zibelman said.

“At present, AEMO does not have the tools or mechanisms to enable cost-effective access to sufficient resources for all hours of the year, so we are forced to use more emergency actions that impose unnecessary risk and costs on consumers, just at a time where the goal is to pursue more cost-effective outcomes,” she said.

“To achieve our goal, we are working closely with industry, the Commonwealth and state governments to pursue with necessary speed the adoption of changes required to deliver affordable, secure and reliable energy to Australian consumers this year and in the future.”

Download the full 2019 ESOO here