Renewable energy in Australia
Australia produced 378.7 PJ of overall renewable energy (including renewable electricity) in 2018 which accounted for 6.2% of Australia's total energy use (6,146 PJ). Renewable energy grew by an annual average of 3.2% in the ten years between 2007-2017 and by 5.2% between 2016-2017. This contrasts to growth in coal (-1.9%), oil (1.7%) and gas (2.9%) over the same ten year period. It is estimated that Australia produced 48,279 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of renewable electricity in 2018, which accounted for 21.3% of the total amount of electricity generated in Australia.
Similar to many other countries, development of renewable energy in Australia has been encouraged by government energy policy implemented in response to concerns about climate change, energy independence and economic stimulus.
|Renewable fuel type 2018||PJ||Share of renewables (%)|
|Municipal and Industrial waste||2.6||0.7|
|Solar hot water||15.7||4.2|
- 1 Time line of developments in Renewable Energy in Australia
- 2 Hydro power
- 3 Wind power
- 4 Solar photovoltaics
- 5 Heat Pumps
- 6 Solar thermal energy
- 7 Geothermal energy
- 8 Wave power
- 9 Bio-energy
- 10 Government policy
- 11 Academic literature
- 12 Major renewable energy companies operating in Australia
- 13 See also
- 14 References
- 15 Further reading
- 16 External links
Time line of developments in Renewable Energy in Australia
A mandatory renewable energy target is introduced to encourage large-scale renewable energy development.
Several reports have discussed the possibility of Australia setting a renewable energy target of 25% by 2020. Combined with some basic energy efficiency measures, such a target could deliver 15,000 MW new renewable power capacity, $33 billion in new investment, 16,600 new jobs, and 69 million tonnes reduction in electricity sector greenhouse gas emissions.
Greenpeace released a report in 2008 called "Energy [r]evolution: A Sustainable Energy Australia Outlook", detailing how Australia could produce 40% of its energy through renewable energy by 2020 and completely phase out coal-fired power by 2030 without any job losses. David Spratt and Phillip Sutton argue in their book Climate Code Red that Australia (as part of a concerted global effort) needs to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions down to zero as quickly as possible so that carbon dioxide can be drawn down from the atmosphere and greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced to less than 325 ppm CO2-e, which they argue is the upper "safe climate" level at which we can continue developing infinitely. They outline a plan of action which would accomplish this.
Mandatory renewable energy target was increased to 41,000 gigawatt-hours of renewable generation from power stations. This was subsequently reduced to 33,000 gigawatt-hours by the Abbott Government, in a compromise agreed to by the Labor opposition. Alongside this there is the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme, an uncapped scheme to support rooftop solar power and solar hot water and several State schemes providing feed-in tariffs to encourage photovoltaics.
ZCA launch their 'Stationary Energy Plan' showing Australia could entirely transition to renewable energy within a decade by building 12 very large scale solar power plants (3500 MW each), which would provide 60% of electricity used, and 6500 7.5 MW wind turbines, which would supply most of the remaining 40%, along with other changes, according to the "Zero Carbon Australia Stationary Energy Plan", the transition would cost A$370 billion or about $8/household/week over a decade to create a renewable energy infrastructure that will last a minimum of 30 to 40 years.
In 2012, these policies were supplemented by a carbon price and a 10 billion-dollar fund to finance renewable energy projects, although these initiatives were later withdrawn by the Abbott Federal Government.
Of all renewable electrical sources in 2012, hydroelectricity represented 57.8%, wind 26%, bioenergy 8.1%, solar PV 8%, large-scale solar 0.147%, geothermal 0.002% and marine 0.001%; additionally, solar hot water heating was estimated to replace a further 2,422 GWh of electrical generation.
The Australian Federal Government ordered the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to refrain from any new investment in wind power projects, with the explanation that the government prefers the corporation to invest in researching new technologies rather than the "mature" wind turbine sector.
An unprecedented 39 projects, both solar and wind, with a combined capacity of 3,895 MW are either under construction, constructed or will start construction in 2017 having reached financial closure. Capacity addition based on renewable energy sources is expected to increase substantially in 2017 with over 49 projects either under construction, constructed or which have secured funding and will go to construction. As of August 2017, it is estimated that Australia generated enough to power 70% of the country's households. It is further estimated that, once additional wind and solar projects are complete at the end of the year, enough energy will be generated to power 90% of the country's homes.
As at 2018 Hydro power supplied 35.2% of Australia's renewable electricity generation or 7.5% of Australia's total electricity generation which was around 227.8 TWh in 2018 .
The largest hydro power system in Australia is the Snowy Mountains Scheme constructed between 1949 and 1974 consists of 16 major dams and 7 major power stations, and has a total generating capacity of 3,800 MW. The scheme generates on average 4,500 GWh electricity per year. There are currently plans to increase the Snowy Hydro scheme by 50% or 2000 MW dubbed 'Snowy 2.0'.
Hydro Tasmania operates 30 power stations and 15 dams, with a total generating capacity of 2,600 MW, and generates an average of 9,000 GWh of electricity per year. There are also plans to upgrade Tasmania's hydro power system to give it the capability to function as pumped hydro storage under the 'Battery of the Nation' initiative.
As at July 2018, wind power supplied around 33.5% of Australia's renewable electricity or 7.1% of Australia's total electricity, was sourced from wind power . Nine new wind farms were commissioned in 2018 and as at the end of 2018 24 wind farms with a combined capacity of 5.9 GW were either under construction or financial committed nationally .
Wind power in South Australia is the most developed with 5,692 GWh supplied by wind power as at 2018, followed by Victoria with 4528 GWh, New South Wales 3124 GWh, WA 1595 GWh, Tasmania 1093 GWh and QLD with 141 GWh supplied.
The Largest Wind farm in Australia is the Macarthur Wind Farm at Macarthur, Victoria, which opened in 2013 with a capacity of 420 MW. With the top five wind farms in Australia by size as at 2018 being Macarthur, Snowtown 2 (SA) 270 MW, Saphire (NSW) 270 MW, Arrarat (VIC) 240 MW and Collgar (WA) at 206 MW.
Solar power in Australia is a fast growing industry. As of March 2019, Australia's over 2 million solar PV installations had a combined capacity of 12,035 MW of which 4,068 MW were installed in the preceding 12 months. In 2019, 59 solar PV projects with a combined capacity of 2,881 MW were either under construction, constructed or due to start construction having reached financial closure. Solar accounted for 5.2% (or 11.7 TWh) of Australia's total electrical energy production (227.8 TWh) in 2018.
Main article: Heat pump
Heat pumps are an under appreciated form of renewable energy in Australia, they can be considered renewable as they have the ability to take the energy stored in ambient air and either pump it into our out of buildings. The benefit of heat pumps is that they are >100% efficient due to the fact that the heat energy they deliver is less than that required to run the heat pump cycle. The efficiency of heat pumps is denoted by their coefficient of performance or COP, where a cop of 2.0 means the heat pump is 200% efficient. Australia's main population of heat pumps are in the form of reverse cycle air conditioners (of which there are many) however there is not a good understanding of how air conditioners contribute to renewable heating in Australia. The COP for Australian air conditioners ranges from about 3.0 to 5.9 for the Daikin Ururu Sarara (the highest efficiency model available.
The other type of heat pump that is becoming more common is the heat pump hot water unit, as at 2018 an estimated 2.7% of hot water units are heat pumps. They also range in efficiency from a COP of 2.0 to 5.0 for the Sanden heat pump hot water unit.
Better data is required to determine the contribution heat pumps use to Australia's renewable energy mix.
Solar thermal energy
Solar water heating
Australia has developed world leading solar thermal technologies, but with only very low levels of actual use. Domestic solar water heating is the most common solar thermal technology. During the 1950s, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) carried out world leading research into flat plate solar water heaters. A solar water heater manufacturing industry was subsequently established in Australia and a large proportion of the manufactured product was exported. Four of the original companies are still in business and the manufacturing base has now expanded to 24 companies. Despite an excellent solar resource, the penetration of solar water heaters in the Australian domestic market was only about 5% in 2006, with new dwellings accounting for most sales. By 2014, around 14% of Australian households had solar hot water installed It is estimated that by installing a solar hot water system, it could reduce a family's CO2 emissions up to 3 tonnes per year while saving up to 80% of the energy costs for water heating.
While solar water heating saves a significant amount of energy, they are generally omitted from measures of renewable energy production as they do not actually produce electricity. Based on the installed base in Australia as of October 2010, it was calculated that solar hot water units would account for about 7.4% of clean energy production if they were included in the overall figures.
Solar thermal power
The Australian National University (ANU) has worked on dish concentrator systems since the early 1970s and early work lead to the construction of the White Cliffs solar thermal station. In 1994, the first 'Big Dish' 400 m2 solar concentrator was completed on the ANU campus. In 2005, Wizard Power Pty Ltd was established to commercialise the Big Dish technology to deployment. Wizard Power has built and demonstrated the 500m2 commercial Big Dish design in Canberra and the Whyalla SolarOasis will be the first commercial implementation of the technology, using 300 Wizard Power Big Dish solar thermal concentrators to deliver a 40MWe solar thermal power plant. Construction is expected to commence in mid-late 2013.
Research activities at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales have spun off into Solar Heat and Power Pty Ltd (now Ausra), which was building a major project at Liddell Power station in the Hunter Valley. The CSIRO Division of Energy Technology has opened a major solar energy centre in Newcastle that has a tower system purchased from Solar Heat and Power and a prototype trough concentrator array developed in collaboration with the ANU.
Cloncurry, a town in north-west Queensland, has been chosen as the site for an innovative $31 million (including a $7 million government grant) solar thermal power station. The 10 MW solar thermal power station would deliver about 30 million kilowatt hours of electricity a year, enough to power the whole town. Ergon Energy will develop the project which should be running by early 2010.
In August 2008 Worley Parsons, an Australian engineering firm, announced plans to build the world's biggest solar plant in Australia within three years. Backed by nine Australian companies, including miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, they have launched a study into finding possible sites to host the $1 billion plant.
In Australia, geothermal energy is a natural resource which is not utilised as a form of energy. However, there are known and potential locations near the centre of the country in which geothermal activity is detectable. Exploratory geothermal wells have been drilled to test for the presence of high temperature geothermal activity and such high levels were detected. As a result, projects will eventuate in the coming years and more exploration is expected at potential locations.
South Australia has been described as "Australia's hot rock haven" and this emissions free and renewable energy form could provide an estimated 6.8% of Australia's base load power needs by 2030. According to an estimate by the Centre for International Economics, Australia has enough geothermal energy to contribute electricity for 450 years.
There are currently 19 companies Australia-wide spending A$654 million in exploration programmes in 141 areas. In South Australia, which is expected to dominate the sector's growth, 12 companies have already applied for 116 areas and can be expected to invest A$524 million (US$435 M) in their projects by the next six years. Ten projects are expected to achieve successful exploration and heat flows, by 2010, with at least three power generation demonstration projects coming on stream by 2012. A geothermal power plant is generating 80 kW of electricity at Birdsville, in southwest Queensland.
Several projects for harvesting the power of the ocean are under development:
- Oceanlinx is trialling a wave energy system at Port Kembla.
- Carnegie Corp of Western Australia is refining a method of using energy captured from passing waves, CETO to generate high-pressure sea water. This is piped onshore to drive a turbine and to create desalinated water. A series of large buoys is tethered to piston pumps anchored in waters 15 to 50 metres (49 to 164 ft) deep. The rise and fall of passing waves drives the pumps, generating water pressures of up to 1,000 pounds per square inch (psi). The company is looking to have a 100MW demonstration project finished within the next four years.[when?]
- BioPower Systems is developing its bioWAVE system anchored to the seabed that would generate electricity through the movement of buoyant blades as waves pass, in a swaying motion similar to the way sea plants, such as kelp, move. It expects to complete pilot wave and tidal projects off northern Tasmania this year.
Biomass can be used directly for electricity generation, for example by burning sugar cane waste (bagasse) as a fuel for thermal power generation in sugar mills. It can also be used to produce steam for industrial uses, cooking and heating. It can also be converted into a liquid or gaseous biofuel. In 2015 Bagasse accounted for 26.1% (90.2PJ) of Australia's renewable energy consumption, while wood and woodwaste for another 26.9% (92.9PJ). Biomass for energy production was the subject of a federal government report in 2004.
Biofuels produced from food crops have become controversial as food prices increased significantly in mid-2008, leading to increased concerns about food vs fuel. Ethanol fuel in Australia can be produced from sugarcane or grains and there are currently three commercial producers of fuel ethanol in Australia, all on the east coast. Legislation imposes a 10% cap on the concentration of fuel ethanol blends. Blends of 90% unleaded petrol and 10% fuel ethanol are commonly referred to as E10, which is mainly available through service stations operating under the BP, Caltex, Shell, and United brands. In partnership with the Queensland Government, the Canegrowers organisation launched a regional billboard campaign in March 2007 to promote the renewable fuels industry. Over 100 million litres of the new BP Unleaded with renewable ethanol has now been sold to Queensland motorists. Biodiesel produced from oilseed crops or recycled cooking oil may be a better prospect than ethanol, given the nation's heavy reliance on road transport, and the growing popularity of fuel-efficient diesel cars. Australian cities are some of the most car-dependent cities in the world, and legislations involving vehicle pollution within the country are considered relatively lax.
This article needs to be updated.April 2009)(
Renewable energy targets
A key policy encouraging the development of renewable energy in Australia are the mandatory renewable energy targets (MRET) set by both Commonwealth and State governments. In 2001, the Howard Government introduced a 2010 MRET of 9,500 GWh of new renewable energy generation.
An Expanded Renewable Energy Target was passed with broad support by the Australian Parliament on 20 August 2009, to ensure that renewable energy achieves a 20% share of electricity supply in Australia by 2020. To ensure this the Federal Government committed to increasing the 2020 MRET from 9,500 gigawatt-hours to 45,000 gigawatt-hours. The scheme was scheduled to continue until 2030. This target has since been revised with the Gillard Government introducing in January 2011 an expanded target of 45,000 GWh of additional renewable energy between 2001 and 2020.
The MRET was split in 2012 into a small scale renewable energy scheme (SRES) and large scale renewable energy target (LRET) components to ensure that adequate incentive exists for large scale grid connected renewable energy. A number of states have also implemented their own renewable energy targets independent of the Commonwealth. For example, the Victorian Renewable Energy Target Scheme (VRET) mandated an additional 5% of Victoria's "load for renewable generation", although this has since been replaced by the new Australian Government LRET and SRES targets. South Australia achieved its target of 20% of renewable supply by 2014 three years ahead of schedule (i.e. in 2011) and has subsequently established a new target of 33% to be achieved by 2020.
Renewable Energy Certificates Registry
The Renewable Energy Certificates Registry (REC-registry) is an internet based registry system that is required by the Australian Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 (the Act). The REC-registry is dedicated to: maintaining various registers (as set in the Act); and facilitating the creation, registration, transfer and surrender of renewable energy certificates (RECs).
In 2012, the Gillard government implemented a carbon price of $23 per tonne to be paid by 300 liable entities representing the highest business emitters in Australia. The carbon price will increase to $25.40 per tonne by 2014–15, and then will be set by the market from 1 July 2015 onwards. It is expected that in addition to encouraging efficient use of electricity, pricing carbon will encourage investment in cleaner renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power. Treasury modelling has projected that with a carbon price, energy from the renewables sector is likely to reach 40 percent of supply by 2050. Analysis of the first 6 months of operation of the carbon tax have shown that there has been a drop in carbon emissions by the electricity sector. It has been observed that there has been a change in the mix of energy over this period, with less electricity being sourced from coal and more being produced by renewables such as hydro and wind power. The government at the time presented this analysis as an indicator that their policies to promote cleaner energy are working. The carbon pricing legislation was repealed by the Tony Abbott-led Australian Government on 17 July 2014. Since then, carbon emissions from the electricity sector have increased.
Clean Energy Finance Corporation
The Australian Government has announced the creation of the new 10 billion dollar Clean Energy Finance Corporation which will commence business in July 2013. The goal of this intervention is to overcome barriers to the mobilisation of capital by the renewable energy sector. It will make available two billion dollars a year for five years for the financing of renewable energy, energy efficiency and low emissions technologies projects in the latter stages of development. The government has indicated that the fund is expected to be financially self-sufficient producing a positive return on investment comparable to the long term bond rate.
Feed-in tariffs have been enacted on a state by state basis in Australia to encourage investment in renewable energy by providing above commercial rates for electricity generated from sources such as rooftop photovoltaic panels or wind turbines. The schemes in place focus on residential scale infrastructure by having limits that effectively exclude larger scale developments such as wind farms. Feed-in tariffs schemes in Australia started at a premium, but have mechanisms by which the price paid for electricity decreases over time to be equivalent or below the commercial rate. All the schemes now in place in Australia are "net" schemes whereby the householder is only paid for surplus electricity over and above what is actually used. In the past, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory enacted "gross" schemes whereby householders were entitled to be paid for 100% of renewable electricity generated on the premises, however these programs have now expired. In 2008 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to harmonise the various state schemes and developed a set of national principles to apply to new schemes. Leader of the Australian Greens, Christine Milne, has advocated a uniform national "gross" feed-in tariff scheme, however this proposal has not been enacted. Currently each state and territory of Australia offers a different policy with regards to feed in tariffs 
Subsidies to fossil fuel industry
There is dispute about the level of subsidies paid to the fossil fuel industry in Australia. The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) argues that according to the definitions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), fossil fuel production and use is subsidised in Australia by means of direct payments, favourable tax treatment, and other actions. It is suggested these measures act as impediments to investment in renewable energy resources. Analysis by the ACF indicates that these provisions add up to a total annual subsidy of A$7.7 billion, with the most significant component being the Fuel Tax Credits program that rebates diesel fuel excise to many business users. This analysis is disputed by the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) who argue that the ACF's definition of a subsidy differs from that of the OECD and that the fuel tax rebate schemes are in place to ensure that all producers are treated equally from a tax point of view. However, the IPA acknowledges that regardless of perceived issues with the ACF analysis, some level of fossil fuel subsidy is likely in existence.
Ratification of the Kyoto Protocol
Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol in December 2007 under the then newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Evidence suggests Australia will meet its targets required under this protocol. Australia had not ratified the Kyoto Protocol until then, due to concerns over a loss of competitiveness with the US, which also rejects the treaty.
The Australian government has no renewable energy policy beyond the year 2020, raising concerns about environmental sustainability for future generations. The Liberal party's energy minister, Angus Taylor, has also stated that the government will not be replacing the 'Renewable Energy Target' (RET) after 2020.
Main article: 100% renewable energy
Australia has a very high potential for renewable energy. Therefore, the transition to a renewable energy system is gaining momentum in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Among them several studies have examined the feasibility of a transition to a 100% renewable electricity systems, which was found both practicable as well as economically and environmentally beneficial to combat global warming.
Major renewable energy companies operating in Australia
BP has been involved in solar power since 1973 and its subsidiary, BP Solar, is now one of the world's largest solar power companies with production facilities in the United States, Spain, India and Australia. BP Solar is involved in the commercialisation of a long life deep cycle lead acid battery, jointly developed by the CSIRO and Battery Energy, which is ideally suited to the storage of electricity for renewable remote area power systems (RAPS).
Edwards first began manufacturing water heaters in Australia in 1963. Edwards is now an international organisation which is a leader in producing hot water systems for both domestic and commercial purposes using solar technology. Edwards exports to Asia, the Pacific, the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Eurosolar was first formed in 1993, with an aim of providing photovoltaic systems to the masses. It focuses on Solar Power in multiple Australian capitals. They continue to install panels all around Australia.
Hydro Tasmania was set up by the State Government in 1914 (originally named the Hydro-Electric Department, changed to the Hydro-Electric Commission in 1929, and Hydro Tasmania in 1998). Today Hydro Tasmania is Australia's largest generator of renewable energy. They operate thirty hydro-electric stations and one gas power station, and are a joint owner in three wind farms.
Origin Energy is active in the renewable energy arena, and has spent a number of years developing several wind farms in South Australia, a solar cell business using technology invented by a team led by Professor Andrew Blakers at the Australian National University, and geothermal power via a minority shareholding stake in Geodynamics.
Pacific Hydro is an Australian company that specialises in electricity generation using renewable energy. Its focus is on hydroelectricity and wind power. Power stations owned by Pacific Hydro include wind farms: Codrington Wind Farm, Challicum Hills Wind Farm, Portland Wind Project and Hydro power: Eildon Pondage Power Station, Ord River Hydro Power Station and The Drop Hydro.
Snowy Hydro Limited
Snowy Hydro Limited, previously known as the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority, manages the Snowy Mountains Scheme which generates on average around 4500 gigawatt hours of renewable energy each year, which represented around 37% of all renewable energy in the National Electricity Market in 2010. The scheme also diverts water for irrigation from the Snowy River Catchment west to the Murray and Murrumbidgee River systems.
Solahart manufactured its first solar water heater in 1953, and products currently manufactured by Solahart include thermosiphon and split system solar and heat pump water heaters. These are marketed in 90 countries around the world and overseas sales represent 40% of total business. Solahart has a market share of 50% in Australia.
Solar Systems was a leader in high concentration solar photovoltaic applications, and the company built a photovoltaic Mildura Solar concentrator power station, Australia. This project will use innovative concentrator dish technology to power 45,000 homes, providing 270,000 MWh/year for A$420 million. Solar Systems has already completed construction of three concentrator dish power stations in the Northern Territory, at Hermannsburg, Yuendumu, and Lajamanu, which together generate 1,555 MWh/year (260 homes, going by the energy/home ratio above). This represents a saving of 420,000 litres of diesel fuel and 1550 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per year. The total cost of the solar power station was "A$7M, offset by a grant from the Australian and Northern Territory Governments under their Renewable Remote Power Generation Program". The price of diesel in remote areas is high due to added transportation costs: in 2017, retail diesel prices in remote areas of the Northern Territory averaged $1.90 per litre. The 420,000 litres of diesel per year saved by these power stations in the first decade of operation would thus have cost approximately $8,000,000.
Wind Prospect developed the 46 MW Canunda Wind Farm in South Australia, which was commissioned in March 2005. A second South Australian wind farm, Mount Millar Wind Farm, was commissioned in January 2006 and this provides a further 70 MW of generation. More recently, a third wind farm has reached financial close for Wind Prospect in South Australia. This is the 95 MW Hallett Wind Farm which is expected to be fully commissioned late in 2008.
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