AEMO moves to highest level in pandemic response to keep lights on

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As the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 ramps up, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has moved to its fourth and highest level of pandemic response. The measures aim to provide the maximum possible protection and resilience for its critical operations and workforce.

In a statement released on Thursday, AEMO confirmed that Australia’s energy systems and markets are currently operating in a safe and secure state. However, in response to the fast-moving COVID-19 threat, the operator has started applying additional precautions in managing its critical workforce whilst also collaborating with the industry to maintain a reliable and secure energy supply for Australia.

AEMO has now fully activated its pandemic response and business continuity plans, to keep the workforce safe and play our role in containing the global spread of COVID-19, while establishing additional layers of protection for our critical operations across Australia’s energy systems,” AEMO Managing Director and CEO, Audrey Zibelman, said.

To support additional pandemic management actions across the sector, the market operator is working closely with the energy industry including electricity generators, gas facilities, network businesses, and other market participants. As it aims to ensure secure and reliable energy supply is maintained during this challenging period, AEMO is also trying to learn from international experiences.

“In addition to Australian industry discussions, AEMO is in conversation with grid operators across Europe, the Americas and Asia to bring international experiences in the management of the pandemic to benefit the broader Australian power system, as we continue to address the evolving issues in Australia,” Zibelman said.

Internally, AEMO has already suspended travel and participation in events, reduced face to face meetings and introduced social distancing measures, as well as working remotely where feasible.

The energy sector has followed suit and braced itself for unprecedented challenges. In a separate release on Thursday, Energy Networks Australia and the Australian Energy Council said the energy industry had put in place contingency plans to maintain the security of supply to the community in the face of the COVID-19 threat.

“Safety is always our top priority. Energy companies have undertaken a range of measures in response to this pandemic to ensure its workforce, assets and energy supply are protected,” Australian Energy Council Chief Executive Sarah McNamara said. “There continues to be industry-wide consultation on pandemic preparations and necessary responses with AEMO in regular discussions with generators, network and transmission companies and gas companies.”

The industry’s pandemic response measures include ensuring essential supplies and stockpiling of fuel supplies, reviewing any scheduled plant or network outages for maintenance and assessing the need and potential for rescheduling, as well as a host of measures to ensure staff safety such as implementing home office, social distancing and non-contact for shift changes.