Australia’s energy market is outdated. It doesn’t encourage competition and that’s holding back the transition to renewable energy. Important reforms to modernize the market are on the way, but big energy companies are seeking to use the cover of COVID-19 to prevent the change.
This is bad for consumers, and for climate action. Reform would help create a modern grid designed around clean energy, pushing coal-fired generators to retire earlier. Over time, it would also bring down power costs for households and business.
Renewable energy is the cheapest form of new electricity. It’s far better for the environment than coal and gas, and can deliver reliable supplies when backed by batteries and other energy storage.
Instead of delaying reform, Australia should be advancing it.
What’s this all about?
Regulators and governments recognize the need to modernize the rules governing the National Electricity Market. That market, established in 1998, supplies all Australian jurisdictions except Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Reliable electricity requires that supply and demand be kept in balance. This balance is primarily provided by a system known as the wholesale spot market. Every five minutes, electricity generators bid into the spot market, specifying how much energy they will provide at a certain price.
An entire redesign of the market rules is scheduled for 2025. This should make the market work efficiently and reliably as coal retires and is replaced by renewable energy.
In the meantime, one important rule change is due to start in July next year, known as “5-minute settlement“.
Currently, electricity is sold and sent out from generators in 5-minute blocks. But the actual price paid for this electricity in the wholesale market is averaged every 30 minutes. This means there are six dispatch periods, each with their own price, which are then averaged out when the market is settled.
This strange design has enabled big electricity generators to game the market. One method involves placing high bids in the first interval, then placing low or even negative bids in the remaining five intervals. This ensures that electricity from the big generators is purchased, but that they and all other generators receive an artificially high average price for the whole 30-minute period.
In 2017, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) decided to replace 30-minute settlement with 5-minute settlement.
The commission says the current system was adopted more than 20 years ago due to technological barriers which have since been overcome. It argues moving to 5-minute settlement would better reflect the value to…
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