AEMO has published its annual reliability outlook, the 2021 Electricity Statement of Opportunities (ESOO) Report, to help inform the decision-making of market participants, investors and policy-makers and anticipate future energy needs.

This year’s ESOO observes multiple factors accelerating the transition of the National Energy Market (NEM), including residential solar installation, coal plant retirements and growing hydrogen development interest.

AEMO CEO, Daniel Westerman, said that the more positive reliability outlook is due to a combination of newly committed generation, storage and transmission developments.

“No reliability gaps are forecast for the next five years, primarily due to more than 4.4 gigawatts (GW) of new generation and storage capacity, as well as transmission investment and lower peak demand forecasts,” Mr Westerman said.

“Significant renewable energy investments, and well-progressed dispatchable generation projects, including gas plants, pumped hydro and battery storage, will all help replace retiring thermal plants. The new dispatchable capacity will also enable higher penetrations of low-cost solar and wind generation into the market in the coming years.

“Approved investment in existing and new transmission infrastructure, including Project EnergyConnect linking South Australia and New South Wales, will reduce consumer costs by better sharing of energy resources, while also enhancing resilience and security across the NEM.”

A key risk to reliability remains the possible unavailability of Yallourn Power Station in the event of a catastrophic rainfall event. AEMO is working with the Victorian Government on options to mitigate risks to the power system.

In addition to utility scale plants, AEMO forecasts a further 8.9 GW of commercial and residential solar PV to be installed by 2025 in the mainland NEM states. These solar systems alone could supply up to 77 per cent of total electricity demand at times by 2026. 

As a result, minimum operational demand across the NEM mainland is expected to drop to a record low of 4 to 6 GW by 2025, down from 15 GW in 2019.

“Without additional operational tools, AEMO may no longer be able to operate the mainland NEM securely in all periods from 2025 due to a lack of security services when demand from the grid is so low,” Mr Westerman said.

Mr Westerman said these conditions may occur earlier than 2025 under abnormal network conditions, such as network and generation unit outages, possibly associated with bushfires or storms.

“The Energy Security Board has proposed a suite of reforms to deliver essential system services that once approved and implemented, will help address these needs.

“Australia’s energy system is transitioning to a decarbonised and decentralised power system, and AEMO is committed to working collaboratively with market bodies, governments, industry and consumers, who are at the centre of the energy transition.

“By 2025, there will be periods of time when all customer demand could be met by renewable generation. This underscores AEMO’s priority to develop grids that are capable of running at up to 100 per cent instantaneous renewable penetration by 2025 to deliver reliable and affordable energy to consumers. 

“We aim to do this in close collaboration with industry, consumers, market bodies and governments,” Mr Westerman said.

Since the 2020 ESOO, planned generator retirements have been brought forward, including the Yallourn Power Station (2028), one unit of Eraring Power Station (2030) and mothballing of one unit of Torrens Island B Power Station (October 2021). 

In the indicative reliability forecast from 2025-26 to 2030-31, reliability gaps would occur in Victoria from 2028-29 and New South Wales from 2029-30 if no additional dispatchable energy or transmission projects come into the market.

“However, there are well-progressed generation, storage and transmission projects, which, once operational, will maintain reliability as coal plants retire,” Mr Westerman said.

Analysis in the ESOO also highlights the accelerated interest in hydrogen production and electrification, with the potential for consumers and industry, such as transport, switching from other fuels to electricity.

The Australian Energy Council (AEC) has welcomed the optimistic outlook from the AEMO, and says the latest assessment of electricity supply presents a confident picture for Australian energy consumers in the near term, and an exciting picture in the long-term.

AEC Chief Executive, Sarah McNamara, said, “The market operator’s near-term outlook has been progressively more positive about supply and reliability in recent years, and that is good news for the industry and consumers, who will benefit from the stability.” 

Ms McNamara said the 2021 Electricity Statement of Opportunities also illustrates the major transition under way in the electricity market.. 

“More than a quarter of the new dispatchable capacity coming online this summer is forecast to be battery storage capacity. With the accelerating interest in hydrogen and the potential for greater electrification, this is all good news for the evolution of the NEM and emission reductions.

“It’s pleasing to see AEMO’s support for the work of the Energy Security Board, on the management of Distributed Energy Resources, like rooftop solar.”

AEMO’s forecasts provide a range of possible outcomes to 2031, ranging from minimal electrification of existing and new loads, to the connection of almost 81 hours (TWh) of additional electrified consumption. 

Beyond the next decade, the potential growth due to electrification, hydrogen production and associated zero-emissions industry is forecast to be even more significant, with NEM consumption potentially doubling by 2050.

“As the energy transition accelerates, the decarbonisation of other sectors also needs careful planning of their interface with the energy system,” Mr Westerman said. 

“This will require the right incentives, policies, technologies, and importantly building a social licence with consumers who are increasingly central to our energy future.”

Read the full report here.

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