'Grid's in good shape': experts optimistic on power summer supply
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'Grid's in good shape': experts optimistic on power summer supply

The energy industry is resting a little easier after a hot start to the summer has passed without incident although experts predict February will be the real test.

The Australian Energy Market Operator said it had prepared for a tough summer, particularly over February, and will lean on major energy users to cut power consumption to free up more electricity if needed.

"The industry, together with AEMO as the market and power system operator, successfully managed operations during its first real test following an extended heatwave across southern Australia. We acknowledge we are only mid-way through summer and continue to monitor all elements of operations closely," an AEMO spokeswoman said.

More heat is on the horizon though with the Bureau of Meteorology saying the south east can expect a three-day, severe heatwave starting on Tuesday with Melbourne set to push through 40 degrees Celsius late in the week, while Sydney will hover around 30 degrees all week.

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While January’s record-breaking heatwaves have put stress on the electricity grid Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood said February was expected to stretch the system's capability to meet demand as people return to work and school from holiday and industry restarts, increasing demand.

"The first half of February is usually the most risky time for the system," he said. "But we are in a better position than last year in terms of what we have running, the grid is in pretty good shape."

A combination of heatwaves and increased energy demand in February will test the grid's capabilities.

A combination of heatwaves and increased energy demand in February will test the grid's capabilities.Credit:Glenn Campbell

Mr Wood said as a result of better planning by the Australian Energy Market Operator for summer, wholesale power prices have also remained steady.

This stability, combined with power companies commitment to the government to lower retail power prices, will not lead to a spike in household power bills.

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"The market is much more comfortable, it is less spooked," he said.

One generator, that preferred to remain anonymous, said, "A lot of the hysteria around the market doesn't come from those in the market."

An unnamed energy analyst said generation had been relatively reliable despite the heat, stabilising wholesale prices.

Origin Energy head of energy supply and operations Greg Jarvis said the market stability is a result of planning.

"We prepare our fleet months in advance for the demands of Australia’s hot summers and we continue to demonstrate that our power stations and the NEM [national energy market] more broadly are reliable and stand up to the test when heatwave conditions hit," he said.

Wholesale power prices, which account for around a third of power bills, still remain near record high levels.

Prices shot up late last year as poor government policies and low Snowy Hydro water levels spooked the market, pushing prices up.

However, they have not spiked again despite the increased demand and stress on the electricity grid caused by prolonged heatwaves across the east coast.

"Much of the risk had already been priced into the market, and these prices are demonstrating that AEMO's planning has worked," EnergyAction chief executive John Huggart said.

"However, I don't think summer is over yet, though."

Despite this preparation, Snowy Hydro, the largest hydro energy generator, has still been hit hard by the drier weather.

Its biggest water storage dam, Lake Eucumbene, is just over a quarter full, sitting at around 27 per cent on Monday.

This time last year, Lake Eucumbene was around 45 per cent full and in 2017 was more than half full.

However, Snowy’s smaller storage dam Lake Jindabyne is roughly at the same level as last year while its Tantangara Reservoir’s water levels are higher than at the same time in 2018.

Despite these lower water levels, Snowy Hydro's chief executive Paul Broad said he was not worried.

"Our 16 water storages across the Snowy Scheme hold vast amounts of water. Lake Eucumbene at 28 per cent may sound low, but there is currently enough water in Eucumbene to fill more than two Sydney Harbours," he said.

Covering energy and policy at Fairfax Media.

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