AEMO reports record-low demand across the NEM


With no sign of Australia’s desire for rootop PV abating, grid electricity demand continues to slump. Just days after South Australia achieved a world first with solar power providing 100% of the state’s energy needs for one hour, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has reported record lows for electricity demandacross the National Electricity Market (NEM).

AEMO said the increasing uptake of rooftop solar (PV) systems coupled with changes in energy use due to shifts in consumer habits and consumer activity during the COVID-19 pandemic had reduced visible electricity demand in multiple states in the third quarter of 2020.

The Quarterly Energy Dynamics (QED) report for Q3 2020 report shows the NEM‑average operational demand decreased by 313 megawatts (MW) or 1.4% when compared to the same period last year.

AEMO managing director and CEO Audrey Zibelman said the decrease was due to increased rooftop PV (218 MW) while reduced underlying demand (-95 MW) had also played a part.

“Electricity demand continues to reflect COVID‑19 impacts with reductions observed in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales,” she said.

“The uptake of residential and commercial solar continues at record pace, which was largely responsible for new minimum operational demand records in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.”

Zibelman is the outgoing head of AEMO, having announced her resignation in late September. She is taking up a new role with Google. Zibelman is widely considered to have been instrumental in reforming the organisation in a period in which Australia’s electricity system is undergoing the world’s fastest energy transition.

Figures provided by industry analysts SunWiz reveal that more PV has been installed in Australia so far this year than in the first nine months of any previous year. Around 3 GW of sub-100 kWp rooftop solar systems is expected to be installed in 2020.

Zibelman said grid-scale solar and wind had accounted for 14% of the generation mix in the quarter, up from 12% last year and had delivered a record 35% of total generation on September 27.

The QED report reveals that in South Australia, distributed PV met 71% of the state’s total underlying demand energy needs on Sept. 13, driving a new daytime minimum demand record of 379 MW. This was 79 MW lower than the previous record from Q4 2019.

A Victorian demand record 3,073 MW was achieved on September 6,144 MW lower than the previous record set during the fourth quarter of 2017, with distributed PV accounting for 31% of underlying demand.

The reduction in underlying demand has also impacted wholesale electricity prices with mainland NEM prices declining almost 50% compared to the same period last year.

“Excluding Tasmania, NEM wholesale electricity prices fell by 45-48% compared to the same quarter last year, dropping to the lowest third-quarter level since 2014,” Zibelman said.

The outlook for continued demand declines is positive heading into the fourth quarter after South Australia achieved a world first for solar power earlier this month.

AEMO has confirmed that between midday and 1pm on October 11 solar power fuelled the entirety of the state’s electricity needs – a first in Australia and for any major jurisdiction globally.

Rooftop solar panels contributed 77% of the total, providing 992 MW, while large-scale solar provided 313 MW.

“Never before has a jurisdiction the size of South Australia been completely run by solar power,” Zibelman said.

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