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The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) has released the latest State of the energy market report, which outlines that the energy network fared better in 2023 than it did the previous year, but warns that previously identified system vulnerabilities still remain. 

The report reveals some improved outcomes in wholesale energy markets with average wholesale electricity prices significantly lower than the record highs seen in 2022. Wholesale gas prices also declined significantly from 2022 but remain high by historical standards. 

Consumers faced similar costs for network services in 2023 compared to 2022 but electricity network consumers faced longer and more frequent unplanned interruptions due largely to major weather events. Consumers on gas pipelines continued to experience very few outages.

Increases in wholesale energy prices were evident in retail prices, with estimated electricity bills rising between nine per cent and 20 per cent in all NEM jurisdictions in 2022-23, impacting households already experiencing broader cost-of-living pressures. 

The impact of renewable generation and household solar continued to grow, with rooftop solar output accounting for nine per cent of total generation in 2022 – 15 per cent more than in 2021 and more than double 2018 figures.

Rooftop solar output further reduced grid demand during the middle of the day across the NEM, with a new record for negative prices set for the fourth consecutive financial year. Negative prices can occur in the wholesale market because generators are able to offer their capacity as low as -$1,000 in order to compete to be dispatched. When enough generators bid this way, it can lead to the market price being set below zero (i.e. generators are effectively paying to operate for a short period). 

AER Chair, Clare Savage, said that while 2023 has not seen the same volatility as the previous year, pressures remain in the energy system as it transitions to net zero emissions.

“Generally we have seen better market outcomes this year, aided by milder winter temperatures, improved generation availability and the impact of government interventions in coal and gas markets along with energy bill subsidies,” Ms Savage said. 

“Work still remains to address energy affordability for consumers, coordinate the entry and exit of generation sources and ensure the timely and least-cost delivery of major transmission projects.

“These projects face challenges including escalating costs, slower than planned progress and the need to address the concerns of the communities that host them. 

“From a consumer affordability perspective it’s vital that effective whole-of-system integration occurs so that everyone can benefit from consumer energy resources such as rooftop solar and small-scale batteries and we avoid unnecessary and expensive grid and generation investment.

“To support this transition to renewables we are making sure our regulatory frameworks are flexible and responsive to the shifting market, and are providing guidance about how we’ll consider emissions reduction as part of the National Energy Objectives in our regulatory decisions.”

Ms Savage also said that the State of the energy market report highlights the importance of the work the regulator is progressing to ensure consumers are better off now and in the future.

“The number of customers in energy debt has been rising across most jurisdictions since mid-2022.

“To address this we are delivering the actions identified in our vulnerability strategy, Towards energy equity, including implementing our Better Bills Guideline, new protections to support consumers impacted by family violence, and enhancing consumers’s experience with the Energy Made Easy comparator website. 

“With consumers front of mind we’re also looking ahead to ‘game changer’ reforms to identify consumers experiencing vulnerability early, get them the support they need to improve outcomes, and better share the costs and risks of vulnerability more equitably across the energy sector.”

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