Spotlight On: AGL chief operating officer Markus Brokhof

Markus Brokhof, AGL, Wärtsilä
AGL's Markus Brokhof. Image: Murray Harris

We talk to Markus Brokhof, the man at the helm of one of Australia’s largest energy generators, about the company’s priorities for 2021 and managing a diverse portfolio in the energy transition.

At the beginning of 2020, Markus made the move from Switzerland to Australia to begin his role at AGL. He describes it as “an interesting start”, because most of the country went into lockdown shortly after he touched down in Melbourne. His wife and two dogs arrived three months later.

As an appreciator of theatre and contemporary art, Melbourne was an easy location choice, and despite the hardships the city faced in last year, Markus says seeing the resilience and hard work of Australians during this challenging time has been remarkable.

“[It] made me admire that Aussie grid and spirit very quickly,” he says.

Markus has spent more than 27 years working in the energy industry in Germany and Switzerland, with a career that has spanned the generation sector, exploration and production in the oil and gas industry, gas trading and power business, as well as digital energy services.

Image: Murray Harris

As chief operating officer for AGL, Markus leads the operations of 11,400 MW of AGL’s generation fleet including coal, lignite, gas and renewables.

For 2021, Markus says first and foremost AGL’s key priority is keeping the lights on and the gas flowing into millions of Australian households and businesses, while also ensuring its people are safe.

“Right now, our focus is on developing dispatchable forms of energy supply to support renewables when the wind is not blowing or the sun [is not] shining,” Markus says.

He adds that this will continue throughout 2021, as AGL develops its plans for large, grid-scale batteries at Loy Yang A power station in Victoria (200MW), Liddell power station (150MW) and Broken Hill (50MW) in NSW, and Torrens Island (250 MW) in South Australia.  

Related article: AGL announces suppliers for grid-scale battery plans

“We believe grid-scale batteries will play an integral role in achieving the goals and targets set out in our Climate Statement as well as in Australia’s energy transition,” Markus says.

“AGL’s battery projects also provide certainty for our customers, by ensuring customers will continue to have reliable and affordable energy.

“The batteries are connected to the grid itself, so charge from everything that is supplying the grid, whether that is solar, wind, gas or coal.

“We believe batteries are a stepping-stone to modernising Australia’s energy supply, by providing reliability and storage for the energy produced by renewable technologies. As we progress from thermal generation to renewables, batteries will be needed to ensure the transition is seamless.”

AGL sees many opportunities as it looks to a future of meeting customer demand through flexible, low-carbon energy supply.
“Backed by our large customer base and trading expertise, AGL has a big role to play as an enabler of this transformation,” Markus says.

“We will continue to respond through our development of new sources of energy supply to the forces of customer demand, how communities act, and how technology evolves.

“We know Australians are committed to a cleaner energy future and over the next few years the role of industry, regulators and governments is to ensure we have an orderly energy transition.”

Tapping in to consumer appetites for more environmentally friendly options, AGL launched a solar and battery bundle, as well as carbon-neutral home energy offerings, which have received huge customer interest and uptake.

Image: Murray Harris

Since July 2020, more than 25,000 customers have signed up to AGL’s carbon neutral electricity and in November 2020, AGL expanded its carbon neutral offerings to AGL gas products. By FY21, certified carbon neutral will also be an option across its telecommunications services.

“We know our customers share our interest in a creating a cleaner energy future and our carbon-neutral products play an important role in not just supporting our energy transition but creating a more sustainable future for all,” Markus says.

The solar and battery bundle was launched as a way for AGL customers to power their homes with an affordable renewable energy source, plus, it’s also one of AGL’s initiatives to support the growth and expansion of its virtual power plant.

Another innovative trial AGL is undertaking is its Electric Vehicle Subscription Service, last year announcing an $8 million EV trial with the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), becoming the first Australian company to join the EV100–a global EV initiative to make electric vehicles the new normal by 2030.

It’s expected that by 2030, half of all cars sold will be electric–a huge change to our societies. AGL’s EV subscription service allows customers to contribute to a cleaner future, without committing to owning an electric vehicle.

Related article: AGL drives EV subscription into Brisbane

“Electric vehicles will contribute to our target of achieving zero net emissions by 2050, particularly when the electricity used to charge the vehicles is a renewable source,” Markus says.

“I believe the shift to EVs is natural next step for AGL, and personally I am walking the talk, driving an EV around the streets of Melbourne.”

Other key priorities for 2021 is AGL’s proposed LNG import terminal in Victoria, as well as continuing to evolve its offerings in telecommunications.

“Despite the impact of the pandemic and the recession, we expect to continue growing the breadth and scale of our business in FY21 by increasing customer numbers, now at 4.2 million services, and pursuing our multi-product retailer strategy,” Markus says.

“We are investing in our people, our communities and the technology and in doing so driving Australia’s energy transition responsibly.

“… over the next few years the role of industry, regulators and governments is to ensure we have an orderly energy transition.

“We recognise that we are part of a complex market and policy environment. We cannot predict how the energy and political landscape will change between now and 2050 or influence the outcome on our own.

Image: Murray Harris

“We expect lots of changes are likely to occur over the next decade, community expectations may change, new technology could become available, and our customers’ expectations could also shift. We are very supportive of the post NEM 2025 process, as it is important to set up the market for the transition and beyond, particularly in the DER space, where batteries and other smart distributed assets (e.g. EVs) can be used not only for individual customer benefit, but also to address wholesale market peaks, as well as assist networks with stability issues on the grid.

“AGL has led investment in Australia’s energy market, including the building of the only new gas generation on the east coast in the last seven years at Barker Inlet, the investment in a 100 MW efficiency upgrade at our Bayswater power station and the development of other firming and storage technology to support the use of renewables as part of the energy mix.”

Markus adds that there is no one way to transition to a lower emissions future, and while AGL wants to meet its targets such as net zero emissions by 2050, it has to ensure this is done in a way that doesn’t put its people, reliability or affordability at risk.

He says all assets, including its coal-fired power stations play an important role in ensuring this, on the way to the gradual decarbonisation of its portfolio by 2050.

“I believe that Australia’s energy future will be affordable, smart and decentraliseddelivered from renewable sources that are backed by flexible energy storage technologies which come together to power our homes, businesses and vehicles,” Markus says.

“Importantly, it will be low emissions based and I believe Australia and Australians have the smarts and the capacity to achieve this in a way that continues to drive us forward and create new industries and opportunities for the future.”