Any Australians tearing their hair out (if they have any left) about their government’s position on climate change have long suspected that its failure to decommission the country’s coal and oil-fired power plants has been the biggest stumbling block to increasing the amount of renewable energy in the country.
Now they have the evidence to support this belief. However, they must also blame themselves for consuming more power.
Since 2006-7, overall generation has increased by only slightly less than the increase in renewables (17,002.10GWh compared to 19,525GWh).
Non-renewable electricity generation has dropped only negligibly (-1.14 per cent) at the same time as renewable generation has almost doubled (92.16 per cent).
In other words, renewables are only being installed at a slightly greater rate than the overall increase in electricity consumption.
And most of the recent increasing consumption is due to mining. And much of that mining is for coal.
But it’s still true that if Aussies saved more power by improving efficiency, less coal and oil would be burnt.
According to the latest energy statistics for Australia, energy use for electricity generation rose by 3 per cent in 2016–17, just as black coal fired generation increased, and overall energy consumption rose by 2 per cent to its highest ever level.
According to Chiradeep Chatterjee, a Power Industry Analyst at GlobalData, Australia’ unused renewable potential is “vast. It aims to generate 23.5 per cent of its energy – equivalent to 33 TWh – from renewable sources by 2020, in accordance with the extended Mandatory Renewable Energy Target.”
However, because coal-fired power plants have not been phased out at the pace originally planned in the energy policy, there is a surplus capacity of generation leading to low wholesale prices.
This has probably led to a slow down in a potentially faster growth of renewable electricity supply. “The government will therefore have to create a policy environment that will expedite the decommissioning of coal-fired power plants, thus setting the way for a smooth development of renewables,” says Chatterjee.
Just 16 per cent of electricity generation came from renewables compared to a whopping 63 per cent from coal in 2016-17.
Coal currently has a share of 37.7 per cent of the total installed electricity supply capacity, followed by gas at 28.7 per cent. Australia’s coal reserves represent around 14 per cent of the world’s black coal resources. Oil is overall the largest primary energy source in Australia, at 37 per cent.