Inside of a secret room at an undisclosed location in Sydney, half-a-dozen engineers are employed by the AEMO to operate a control room that regulates distribution of power generation to 80% of Australia.
WHAT IS THE AEMO?
The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is responsible for operating Australia’s largest gas and electricity systems, including the National Electricity Market (NEM) – the interconnected power system in Australia’s eastern and south-eastern seaboard.
The group also control the Wholesale Electricity Market (WEM) power system in Western Australia.
Since 1996, the generation, distribution and supply of electricity in eastern and southern Australian states has been amalgamated under the NEM.
The NEM is a wholesale market where energy is bought and sold. Forces of supply and demand affect prices on the NEM and prices fluctuate accordingly. If there is high demand for energy on the wholesale market, prices will likely be driven up, and vice-versa.
In Australia, the process to create electricity begins its journey at one of many power stations where current is generated – known as power generators – which send the power they produce into the grid by selling it on the NEM.
The power produced travels across the country via distributors who own the various power lines and cables, and is purchased by retail companies to sell to individuals or businesses.
Each market uses sophisticated computer systems to send signals to generators instructing them how much energy to produce each five minutes, so production is matched to consumer requirements and the current energy price can be calculated.
This is all controlled and regulated by the AEMO – and it is all done from a secret, central location.
THE ‘BRAIN CENTRE’
The control room for this regulation has been described as the “brain centre” – a high-tech room filled with large computer screens running algorithms and various forms of technical equipment.
At an undisclosed location beneath Sydney, the AEMO operates the secretive room that is responsible for the underlying processes of power generation in Australia.
In this room, the entire NEM is maintained and distributed by a small, select group of people, who are responsible for the location, volume, fluctuation and price of Australia’s electricity.
The Sydney Morning Herald were recently given access to the room, documenting their findings:
“While coal-fired power stations such as AGL’s Liddell plant in the NSW Hunter Valley and Alinta’s Loy Yang B power station in Victoria generate electricity, it is AEMO that chooses when and where to use it and how.
From the moment your alarm goes off in the morning to the time you turn your light off at night, this room controlled by a handful of people supports everything you do. And if they’re doing their job right, you won’t even give them a second thought.
They advise power stations to turn on or off, prepare to power up their generators, or may even choose to kick some generators off the grid if there is too much power, to control the electricity and gas for around 80 per cent of Australia.”
Here is a look inside of the facility via their official channel:
In the control center, a bank of screens display the constantly shifting power demand and output from power stations, as the five workers in the room try to keep the system balanced, supported by artificial intelligence.
The room is twinned with a similar operating centre, hidden away in Brisbane, which works in conjunction with and provides back up for the Sydney centre, while the east coast’s gas transmission is controlled from an equally secretive centre in Melbourne.
It is in this room, the AEMO is able to regulate and manipulate retailers purchasing electricity from the NEM, and also dictate the amount of a particular provider in any area at one time. This results in a fluctuation of prices, changes in area distributions and more.
The AEMO, and their five-person control room, is a relatively new development in the power generation industry in Australia, forming as a supergroup of state-based organisations in 2009.
AEMO once consisted of the following six founding entities:
- National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO)
- Victorian Energy Networks Corporation (VENCorp)
- Electricity Supply industry Planning Council (ESIPC)
- Retail Energy Market Company (REMCO)
- Gas Market Company (GMC)
- Gas Retail Market Operator (GRMO)
Once a divided, state-based approach, the new AEMO is a centralized point to control all access and independence of the power generation market in Australia.
Until recently, each market was separately planned and operated by a range of entities above.
Over recent years, increasing convergence of markets in the form of gas fired electricity generation has “driven the need to establish a single operator that can oversee and integrate convergent infrastructure planning and trading activities across the different type of transmission systems.”
This consolidation of power relating to Australia’s electricity market has left many civil campaigners calling for more transparency in terms of processes, emergency preparation and outside attacks.
This concern is coupled with increasing foreign ownership of existing distribution infrastructure and retail companies in Australia, with only three governments of Australia’s eight states and territories retaining full ownership of all elements of their electricity networks.
This is confirmed on the AEMO website, which states that “NEM infrastructure comprises both state and private assets managed by industry participants.”
Currently, the NEM operates the world’s longest interconnected power systems between Port Douglas and Port Lincoln, with an end-to-end distance of more than 5000 kilometres, and 40,000 circuit kilometres.
Over $11 billion of electricity is traded annually in the NEM to meet the demand of almost 19 million end-use consumers – and this is all regulated and controlled by a handful of people.
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