Audrey Zibelman quits AEMO for Alphabet’s X
The Australian Energy Market Operator has lost its chief executive, with Audrey Zibelman quitting the organisation for a leadership role at X, the “moonshot” factory at Google’s parent company Alphabet.
Ms Zibelman, who joined AEMO in March 2017, will depart by the end of 2020 for the new role at X developing clean energy technologies.
“The decision to leave my colleagues here and the many friends I have made both in and out of the industry in Australia was far from easy. However, what I have learned in Australia is how important advanced computing and the application of artificial intelligence and machine learning is to our industry,” Ms Zibelman said.
“The opportunity to support these needs as part of the team at X is for me a compelling opportunity to support the power sector both here and globally as we navigate to greater electrification of our economy and a diverse, decarbonised power system,” she said.
AEMO chairman Drew Clarke said a search for her successor will start immediately.
“The AEMO board is very sorry to see Audrey leave. She has been an outstanding leader through a time of significant change and has made a major contribution to the Australian energy transition. We wish Audrey every success in her new global energy role.”
Ms Zibelman arrived in Australia amid a turbulent period for the national electricity market, in the wake of blackouts in South Australia and political tensions as industry and regulators attempted to secure a passage for the national energy guarantee. She was previously rumoured to be on a shortlist for US Energy -Secretary had Hillary Clinton won the White House.
Her achievements included the 20-year integrated system plan which maps out the shape of the electricity grid and provides signals to the market for a switch from the current coal-dominated grid to renewables. Still, others were critical of AEMO under her leadership accusing the energy operator of becoming too ideological.
Frontier Economics managing director Danny Price, who worked on electricity models including the dumped National Energy Guarantee, said it was time for change at AEMO.
“I think it is time that we have a respected competent Australian engineer running AEMO not someone with an agenda,” Mr Price told The Australian. “Audrey going to Google. I’m buying Apple. Good riddance. The board should follow.”
Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the AEMO chief had been a “strong force” at the energy body.
“She has focused in particular on ensuring there is enough investment in dispatchable generation alongside the record level of investment in renewable,” Mr Taylor said. “This has been an important contribution, as has the shift to the actionable integrated system plan. Audrey will continue in the role until the end of the year and I look forward continuing to work with her to ensure we deliver affordable reliable electricity as we go into summer.”
Ms Zibelman also sits on the federal government’s Energy Security Board, chaired by Kerry Schott.
She told investors last Friday the Morrison government was justified making an interventionist threat in the power sector as it has given investors the chance to respond before making any move of its own in the market.
The AEMO chief said intervention was always a part of running an essential service like the power grid and could trigger investment by laying out a clear vision.