Energy in Australia

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Eraring coal fired power station, Australia's largest power station. CSIRO ScienceImage 9227 Eraring Power Station.jpg
Eraring coal fired power station, Australia's largest power station.

Energy in Australia is the production in Australia of energy and electricity, for consumption or export. Energy policy of Australia describes the politics of Australia as it relates to energy.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

Electricity generation process of generating electrical power

Electricity generation is the process of generating electric power from sources of primary energy. For electric utilities in the electric power industry, it is the first stage in the delivery of electricity to end users, the other stages being transmission, distribution, energy storage and recovery, using the pumped-storage method.

Energy policy of Australia

The energy policy of Australia is subject to the regulatory and fiscal influence of all three levels of government in Australia, although only the State and Federal levels determine policy for primary industries such as coal.


Australia is a net energy exporter, and was the fourth-highest coal producer in the world in 2009.

Historicallyand until recent timesenergy in Australia was sourced largely from coal and natural gas, [1] but due to the increasing effects of global warming and human-induced climate change on the global environment, there has been a shift towards renewable energy such as solar power and wind power both in Australia and abroad. [2] [3] This in turn has led to a decrease in the demand for coal worldwide. [4]

Effects of global warming

The effects of global warming are the environmental and social changes caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases. There is a scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, and that human activities are the primary driver. Many impacts of climate change have already been observed, including glacier retreat, changes in the timing of seasonal events, and changes in agricultural productivity. Anthropogenic forcing has likely contributed to some of the observed changes, including sea level rise, changes in climate extremes, declines in Arctic sea ice extent and glacier retreat.

Climate change Change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns for an extended period

Climate change occurs when changes in Earth's climate system result in new weather patterns that last for at least a few decades, and maybe for millions of years. The climate system is comprised of five interacting parts, the atmosphere (air), hydrosphere (water), cryosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere. The climate system receives nearly all of its energy from the sun, with a relatively tiny amount from earth's interior. The climate system also gives off energy to outer space. The balance of incoming and outgoing energy, and the passage of the energy through the climate system, determines Earth's energy budget. When the incoming energy is greater than the outgoing energy, earth's energy budget is positive and the climate system is warming. If more energy goes out, the energy budget is negative and earth experiences cooling.

Renewable energy energy that is collected from renewable resources

Renewable energy is energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Renewable energy often provides energy in four important areas: electricity generation, air and water heating/cooling, transportation, and rural (off-grid) energy services.


Prim. energy
Change 2004-1011.6%7.8%18.7%29.1%0.9%8.2%
Mtoe = 11.63 TWh, Prim. energy includes energy losses.

2012R = CO2 calculation criteria changed, numbers updated

In 2009, Australia had the highest per capita CO2 emissions in the world. At that time, Maplecroft's CO2 Energy Emissions Index (CEEI) showed that Australia releases 20.58 tons of CO2 per person per year, more than any other country. [5] Since that time, however, emissions have been reduced. From 1990 to 2017, emissions per capita fell by one-third, with most of that drop occurring in the more recent years. Additionally, the emissions intensity of the economy fell by 58.4 percent during the same time period. These are the lowest values in 27 years. [6]

The energy sector in Australia increased its carbon dioxide emissions by 8.2% from 2004 to 2010 on average.



According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global coal production increased 23% from 2005 to 2010 and 4.7% from 2009 to 2010. In Australia, coal production increased 12.9% between 2005 and 2010 and 5.3% between 2009 and 2010. [7]

International Energy Agency intergovernmental organization

The International Energy Agency is a Paris-based autonomous intergovernmental organization established in the framework of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1974 in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. The IEA was initially dedicated to responding to physical disruptions in the supply of oil, as well as serving as an information source on statistics about the international oil market and other energy sectors.

In 2009, Australia was the fourth-highest coal producer in the world, producing 335 megatonnes (Mt) of anthracite (black coal) and 64 Mt of lignite (brown coal). [8] Australia was the biggest anthracite exporter, with 31% of global exports (262 Mt out of 836 Mt total). Lignite is not exported. 78% of its 2009 anthracite production was exported (262 Mt out of 335 Mt total). In this respect, Australia is an exception to most anthracite exporters. Australia's global anthracite export share was 14% of all production (836 Mt out of 5,990 Mt total). [9]

Tonne Metric unit of mass

The tonne, commonly referred to as the metric ton in the United States and Canada, is a non-SI metric unit of mass equal to 1,000 kilograms or one megagram. It is equivalent to approximately 2,204.6 pounds, 1.102 short tons (US) or 0.984 long tons (UK). Although not part of the SI, the tonne is accepted for use with SI units and prefixes by the International Committee for Weights and Measures.

Anthracite A hard, compact variety of coal that has a submetallic luster

Anthracite, often referred to as hard coal, is a hard, compact variety of coal that has a submetallic luster. It has the highest carbon content, the fewest impurities, and the highest energy density of all types of coal and is the highest ranking of coals.

Lignite A soft, brown, combustible, sedimentary rock

Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, is a soft, brown, combustible, sedimentary rock formed from naturally compressed peat. It is considered the lowest rank of coal due to its relatively low heat content. It has a carbon content around 60–70 percent. It is mined all around the world, is used almost exclusively as a fuel for steam-electric power generation, and is the coal which is most harmful to health.

In 2015, Australia was the biggest net exporter of coal, with 33% of global exports (392 Mt out of 1,193 Mt total). It was still the fourth-highest anthracite producer with 6.6% of global production (509 Mt out of 7,709 Mt total). 77% of production was exported (392 Mt out of 509 Mt total). [10] [11]

Newcastle, New South Wales, is the world’s largest coal-export port. The Hunter Valley region in New South Wales is the chief coal region. Most coal mining in Australia is open cut.


Australia's oil production peaked in 2000, after gradually increasing since 1980. [12] Net oil imports rose from 7% of total consumption in 2000 to 39% in 2006. Decreasing domestic oil production is the result of the decline of oil-producing basins and few new fields going online. [12]

Natural gas

Proportion of national total of natural gas reserves, 2008 AustGasReserves2008.png
Proportion of national total of natural gas reserves, 2008
Natural-gas pipeline in Western Australia, 2004 MainLineValve7.jpg
Natural-gas pipeline in Western Australia, 2004

Australia's natural-gas reserves are an estimated 3,921 billion cubic metres (bcm), of which 20% are considered commercially proven (783 bcm). The gas basins with the largest recoverable reserves are the Carnarvon and Browse basins in Western Australia; the Bonaparte Basin in the Northern Territory; the Gippsland and Otway basins in Victoria and the Cooper-Eromanga basin in South Australia and Queensland. In 2014–2015 Australia produced 66 bcm of natural gas, of which approximately 80% was produced in Western Australia and Queensland regions. [13] Australia also produces LNG; LNG exports in 2004 were 7.9 Mt (10.7 bcm), 6% of world LNG trade. [14] Australia also has large deposits of coal seam methane (CSM), most of which are located in the anthracite deposits of Queensland and New South Wales. [14]

On 19 August 2009, Chinese petroleum company PetroChina signed a A$50 billion deal with American multinational petroleum company ExxonMobil to purchase liquefied natural gas from the Gorgon field in Western Australia, [15] [16] the largest contract signed to date between China and Australia. It ensures China a steady supply of LPG fuel for 20 years, forming China's largest supply of relatively clean energy. [17] [18] The agreement was reached despite relations between Australia and China being at their lowest point in years after the Rio Tinto espionage case and the granting of an Australian visa to Rebiya Kadeer. [19]

Oil shale

Australia's oil shale resources are estimated at about 58 billion barrels, or 4,531 million tonnes of shale oil. The deposits are located in the eastern and southern states, with the greatest feasibility in the eastern Queensland deposits. Between 1862 and 1952, Australia mined four million tonnes of oil shale. The mining stopped when government support ceased. Since the 1970s, oil companies have been exploring possible reserves. From 2000 to 2004, the Stuart Oil Shale Project near Gladstone, Queensland produced over 1.5 million barrels of oil. The facility, in operable condition, is on care and maintenance and its operator (Queensland Energy Resources) is conducting research and design studies for the next phase of its oil-shale operations. [20] A campaign by environmentalists opposed to the exploitation of oil-shale reserves may also have been a factor in its closure. [21]


Since 2005, wind power and rooftop solar have led to an increasing share of renewable energy in total electricity generation. [22]

Overview of Energy Supply in the National Electricity Market [22]
2009-1058% (81%)21% (10%)16% (6%)3% (2%)-
2010-1156% (78%)21% (12%)16% (8%)4% (3%)-
2011-1257% (79%)21% (11%)16% (7%)4% (3%)3% (0.9%)
2012-1355% (75%)20% (12%)17% (9%)5.4% (3.4%)5.6% (1.3%)
2013-1453% (74%)21% (12%)16% (9%)6.3% (4.4%)6.4% (2%)
2014-1554% (76%)20% (12%)16% (7%)6.6% (4.9%)8% (2.7%)
2016-1752% (76%)19.5% (8.8%)17% (10%)7.5% (6.1%)9% (3%)
2017-1841% (73%)21.3% (9.5%)14.3% (7.4%)9.1% (6.3%)12% (3.7%)
Registered Capacity (Supply Output)

Due to its large size and the location of its population, Australia lacks a single grid. [23]

Electricity supply

As of 2011, electricity producers in Australia were not building gas-fired power stations, [24] while the four major banks were unwilling to make loans for coal-fired power stations, according to EnergyAustralia (formerly TRUenergy). [25] In 2014, an oversupply of generation was expected to persist until 2024. [26] However, a report published in 2017 by the Australian Energy Market Operator projected that energy supply in 2018 and 2019 is expected to meet demands, with a risk of supply falling short at peak demand times. [27]

From 2003 to 2013 real electric prices for households increased by an average of 72%. Much of this increase in price has been attributed to over-investment in increasing distribution networks and capacity, and environmental policy impacts. Further price increases are predicted to be moderate over the next few years (2017 on) due to changes in the regulation of transmission and distribution networks as well as increased competition in electricity wholesale markets as supply and demand merge. [28]

Renewable energy

Renewable energy has potential in Australia, and the Climate Change Authority is reviewing the 20-percent Renewable Energy Target (RET). The production of 50 megawatts of wind power (power for nearly 21,000 homes annually) creates about 50 construction jobs and five staff positions. [29] [30] In recent years, wind and solar power have been the fastest growing source of energy in Australia [31] .

Energy efficiency

Lower energy use could save A$25 billion, or A$840 per electricity customer, according to EnergyAustralia. [32]

Climate change

Graph of Australian temperature variability. Tmean.aus.0112.2825.png
Graph of Australian temperature variability.

Australian total emissions in 2007 were 396 million tonnes of CO2. That year, the country was among the top polluter nations of the world per capita. Australian per-capita emissions of carbon dioxide in 2007 were 18.8 tons of CO2, compared to the EU average of 7.9 tons. The change in emissions from 1990 to 2007 was +52.5 percent, compared to the EU's -3.3 percent. [33] The per-capita carbon footprint in Australia was rated 12th in the world by PNAS in 2011. [34]

Due to climate change, Australia is expected to experience harsher extreme weather events, mainly bush-fires and floods during summer. [35] Rising sea levels are of particular concern for Australia, because most of the population lives in the coast (around 85%). [36]


Total employment in the electricity-supply industry (thousands of people) since 1984 ABS-6291.0.55.003-LabourForceAustraliaDetailedQuarterly-EmployedPersonsByIndustrySubdivisionSex-EmployedTotal-ElectricitySupply-Persons-A2546153X.svg
Total employment in the electricity-supply industry (thousands of people) since 1984
Adults employed in the electricity, gas, water, and waste services industries as a percentage of the adult population in Australia divided geographically by statistical local area, as of the 2011 census Australian Census 2011 demographic map - Australia by SLA - BCP field 7364 Electricity gas water and waste services Total.svg
Adults employed in the electricity, gas, water, and waste services industries as a percentage of the adult population in Australia divided geographically by statistical local area, as of the 2011 census

When analysing employment data, the Australian Bureau of Statistics classifies the electricity and gas supply industry as part of the Electricity, Gas, Water and Waste Services Division. [37] That division is the smallest industry in Australia in terms of employment. [38]

In November 2017, the number of people employed in electricity supply, which includes electricity generation, transmission and distribution, was 64,200 (47,700 males, 16,600 females). [39] The number of people employed in gas supply was 11,200 (9,000 males, 2,200 females). [39] The total number of persons employed in electricity and gas supply industries was 75,400. [39] This represents about 0.67 per cent of all employed persons in Australia. [lower-alpha 1]

In 2016, the major occupations in this Division were truck drivers (9,900), electricians (7,700), electrical distribution trades workers (5,400), and electrical engineers (4,400). [40] [lower-alpha 1]

Employment in renewable energy activities

In 2015–16, annual direct full-time equivalent employment in renewable energy in Australia was estimated at 11,150. Employment in renewables peaked in 2011–12, probably due to the employment of construction workers to build renewable energy facilities. However, it decreased by 36 per cent in 2014–15, and by a further 16 per cent in 2015–16. The decline is attributed to a decrease in the number of roof-top solar photovoltaic systems being installed on houses. Once construction of renewable energy facilities is completed, and only ongoing maintenance is required, employment falls quite significantly. [41]

For most Australian states and territories the major contributor to employment in renewable energy is solar power. Employment in roof-top solar photovoltaic systems, including solar hot water systems, comprised half of all employment in renewable energy in 2015–16. Employment in large scale solar and wind power is driven primarily by installation activity, rather than ongoing operation and maintenance. [41] .

In Western Australia, 93 per cent of all jobs in renewable energy are in solar power. The proportion of employment in biomass is significantly greater in Queensland (42 per cent), where the sugar industry makes great use of sugar cane to generate electricity for sugar milling and to feed into the grid. Most jobs in Tasmania’s renewable energy industry are in hydropower (87 per cent). [41]

Jobs in the renewable energy industry are forecast to grow substantially by 2030, driven by growth in electricity demand and new renewable energy capacity. [42] :16 Conversely, jobs associated with coal-fired power stations are forecast to decline as those plants age and close. Such job losses would disproportionately affect some regional areas, such as the Latrobe Valley in Victoria, Newcastle and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, Gladstone and Rockhampton in Queensland, and Collie in Western Australia. However, it is expected that the number of jobs created in renewable energy will far exceed the number of jobs lost in coal-based generation. [42] :35

Energy policy of Australia

Finkel Report

In June 2017 Alan Finkel released The Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market (commonly referred to as the Finkel Report), which proposed an approach to increasing energy security and reliability through four outcomes. These would be: increased security, future reliability, rewarding consumers, and lower emissions. The report ultimately recommended a Clean Energy Target (CET) to provide incentives for growth in renewable energies. [43]

The reaction to the report by scientific experts in the field leaned more towards positive. Positive reactions to the Report were due to the national strategy plan that provides a CET for Australia, creating customer incentives, and takes politics out of energy policy to help meet the Paris Agreement. Additionally, the Finkel Report was commended for recognizing the current technologies available and including market forces in its solutions by the Australian Academy of Technology Engineering. [44]

National Energy Guarantee

On 17 October 2017, the Australian Government rejected Finkel's CET proposal, in favour of what it called the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), to reduce power prices and prevent blackouts. The strategy calls on electricity retailers to meet separate reliability and emissions requirements, rather than Dr Finkel’s CET recommendation. Under the plan, retailers will have to provide a minimum amount of baseload power from coal, gas or hydro, while also providing a specified level of low emissions energy. [45] NEG has been criticised as turning away from renewable energy. [46]

See also


  1. 1 2 These figures are rounded to the nearest 100 persons

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