Energy tsar targets safe renewables grid


The new boss of the energy market operator has issued a rallying call for Australia to safely use 100 per cent renewable energy in just a few years.

Australian Energy Market Operator chief executive Daniel Westerman also wants to be a peacemaker after years of states and territories arguing with federal government on how to manage the energy transition.

“I want us to be more open, more transparent, more collaborative,” he told business leaders on Wednesday.

Mr Westerman wants to harness the know-how across the industry and government agencies to engineer grids that can safely handle instantaneous renewable energy without failing.

“So, that’s a grid able to manage 100 per cent renewables penetration – at any moment in any day – by 2025,” he said.

“This is unchartered territory for a large, independent grid anywhere in the world.”

Christine Corbett, incoming chief executive of AGL’s clean energy and retail business, said communities are setting their own ambitious targets, accelerating demand and causing change to happen.

“Customers are getting on with it,” she said.

Mr Westerman said solar and wind are driving the price through the floor, and soon millions of motorists will make the switch to electric vehicles, which can be batteries on wheels.

He said it would not be right to drain away zero-cost generation and instead wants to develop the tools to safely manage 100 per cent renewables whenever it happens.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt told ABC radio the idea Australia could run the entire electricity grid on renewables was “complete nonsense”.

“It needs to be backed up, that’s backed up by gas and other means,” Mr Pitt said.

Mr Westerman has no intention for the lights to go out for all Australians, as feared by Mr Pitt.

Current tools developed by federal and state governments could handle 75 per cent, but that wouldn’t be enough in a few years, he warned.

The strain is already being seen in AEMO’s control rooms around the country.

He said control room staff were now intervening almost every day to maintain a secure grid.

Across the east coast, there are already points in time when renewable energy contributes more than half of all electricity supply largely because of surplus solar from homes and businesses.

The new market operator boss said gas would continue to play an important role in the network, including the gas-fired power station at Kurri Kurri that might only be needed two per cent of the time.

Cheap decarbonised electricity also makes the prospect of a hydrogen-powered economy more viable.

Mr Westerman said the interplay of gas, electricity and hydrogen could potentially triple the national electricity market.

Ms Corbett said the first priority must be to support renewables and make them stable.

“Hydrogen is a fuel of the future but it is a long way off.”

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