Robust power grid needed for once-in-a-decade demand

Tuesday, 21 November, 2023

Robust power grid needed for once-in-a-decade demand

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has completed its 2023–24 Summer Readiness Overview, outlining expected weather conditions, energy system preparations and contingencies to maintain electricity reliability in Australia’s main power systems this summer.

AEMO works on an ongoing basis with generation and transmission businesses, federal and state governments, and key agencies to manage risks to the National Electricity Market (NEM) that serves the eastern and south-eastern regions of Australia, and the Western Australian South West Interconnected System (SWIS).

“Our extensive planning with industry, governments and network businesses aims to have enough generation and transmission available year-round to meet consumers’ electricity needs,” said AEMO Executive General Manager Operations Michael Gatt.

“This year’s summer forecast is for hot and dry El Niño conditions, increasing the risk of bushfires and extreme heat, which could see electricity demand reach a 1-in-10-year high across the eastern states and in Western Australia.”

In August, AEMO identified periods when electricity reliability thresholds were at risk in the NEM and SWIS this summer.

“The entire industry has been focusing and continues to focus on managing possible risks for the summer ahead, particularly during high demand periods,” Gatt said.

To mitigate such risks, AEMO is in the process of procuring additional reserves through the Interim Reliability Reserve and Reliability and Emergency Reserve Trader (RERT) mechanisms in the NEM. In Western Australia, it is tendering for reserves through the Supplementary Reserve Capacity mechanism.

Compared to last summer in the NEM, an average 1500 MW of scheduled generation and an extra 2000 MW of generation capacity from new wind and solar projects will be available this summer. In the WEM, nearly 50 MW of extra scheduled generation is expected to be available.

However, an expert from RMIT has cautioned that more measures need to be put into place.

“According to the Australian Energy Market Operator we are in a much better position than last year due to additional wind and solar capacity added to the system,” said Associate Professor Lasantha Meegahapola from the university’s Electrical and Biomedical Engineering department.

“However, the amount of energy produced by these renewable power sources is significantly lower compared to traditional generators, since they can only produce power when there’s wind and sun.

“Relying too much on these generation sources is too risky without a large storage capacity built into the network.”

While having additional wind and solar power should reduce the risk of blackouts in the coming hot summer, blackout risk cannot be ruled out, Meegahapola said.

“The operator needs careful planning to optimally utilise the additional wind and solar generators while coordinating with the energy storage systems.

“As we move towards a low-carbon power grid, the network requires more storage capacity to firm the output of the wind and solar energy generators.

Meegahapola, who conducts research into renewable power generation, power system stability and microgrids, said community or neighbourhood batteries and microgrids should also form part of the mix.

“These solutions would help us construct a more robust power grid that can cope with extreme weather conditions.”

In addition to its collaboration with industry, governments and network businesses to identify and plan for relevant summer risk scenarios, AEMO said it had undertaken extensive briefings and emergency exercises to test contingency plans and communication processes ahead of summer.

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