To understand the Finkel Review, we have to first understand the National Electricity Market (or the ‘NEM’). The NEM is the interconnected power system that services Australia’s eastern and south-eastern seaboard. It:
- incorporates around 40,000 kilometres of transmission lines and cables
- supplies about 200 terawatt hours of electricity to businesses and households each year
- supplies around 9 million customers
- has a total electricity generating capacity of 45,000 megawatts.
The transport of electricity from generators to consumers is facilitated through a ‘pool’, or spot market, where the output from all generators is aggregated and scheduled at five-minute intervals to meet demand. The ‘pool’ is a set of procedures managed by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) in line with the National Electricity Law and National Electricity Rules (source: AEMO, 2017: National Electricity Market).
But the NEM is changing, fossil fuel electricity generation is coming out of the system, and renewable energy is coming in. For more information, Four Corners (May 2017) aired an interesting episode called ‘Power Failure’ which outlines the energy system, what’s going on now, and what we could expect to see in the future. Check it out here: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2017/05/08/4663424.htm
The Finkel Review (2017) is Australian chief scientist Alan Finkel’s plan for the future of the National Electricity Market, focussing on the ‘energy trilemma’ – affordability, reliability and sustainability.
This review takes into account the current situation, and the future needs to make sure we have all parts of the energy trilemma. These views were formed after extensive government, industry, business and advocate consultation.
One of the key sections of this report focusses on transitioning the workforces that have traditionally generated electricity for the NEM – the workers in coal- and gas-fired power stations. Take a look at some of the key points from the Review (2017, p. 73) on transitioning workforces, to create a just transition:
“A significant proportion of occupations in the traditional network and electricity supply industry will be affected by emerging technologies and services. As in other economic and technology shifts, traditional jobs will be lost and new jobs will be created. Some jobs may require upskilling, re-training or relocation, or may no longer exist.”
“Given the regional location of many coal-fired generators, the transition of these employees must be well planned. A notice of closure requirement for generators… would facilitate a well-planned transition. New jobs could be created by building large-scale VRE generators in those regions.”
“The skillsets required by a future energy workforce will be influenced by digitalisation and the increased use of ICT at various points in the grid. Attracting and retaining this workforce will pose significant challenges for the energy industry. Recruitment of digitally-enabled specialists with knowledge of the electricity sector is already being reported as difficult, and this has potential to increase over time as the demand for these occupations grow.”
These three key points give us both direction and insight into what the futures of communities with fossil fuel generators can expect – an understanding that their community is going to change, certainty as to when it is going to change and how the community could stay on its feet.
As much as certainty is important, it is important to have some insight into what’s next – improving your ICT skills, gaining a better understanding of renewable energy and how you can install and operate these plants, or what skills your community needs.
Have you started to think about these? What’s next for you?