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Australia’s renewable energy map – off-grid, it’s another story

New data shows just one third of Australia’s new power plants are gas or coal-fired – and nearly all of these are in remote areas.

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The Bureau of Research and Resource Economics this week released an update on Australia’s large scale electricity generation – what has just been built, what is been built, and what’s in the pipeline.

It’s a useful update, but it highlights some surprising trends, and some lost opportunities.

It notes, for instance, that of the 20 large scale plants under construction, all but six are in renewable energy. And of those six gas fired and coal fired plants that are being built, only one – Eraring Energy’s 240MW expansion in NSW – is connected to the National Electricity market (see map at end of article).

The others are located either in WA’s own market, or in off-grid and mini-grid locations around major mining areas – Queensland’s Mt Isa, the Pilbara region in WA, and the Northern Territory.

The irony here is that these developments are mostly high-cost and are in areas that should afford renewables such as wind and solar the best chance of deployment on an economic basis. The fact that it hasn’t is one of the main problems that Greg Bourne is trying to address as chairman of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

You’d think that miners – given their profits – and the high cost of energy in remote locations would be enthusiastic supporters, but it seems they need to have a subsidized example before they embrace the idea.

The fossil fuel component of the new build accounts for just less than one third of the 3,017MW of plant under construction, and about a similar share of the cost.

Of the renewables projects, most are in wind (just one in solar), and half are in Victoria, despite that state’s blustering about renewable energy and it’s dangers on health and amenity.

The Minister for Resources and Energy Martin Ferguson said the data underlined that the transition to a clean energy future is occurring, and that the industry is “responding to our policy signals.”

He noted that a further 133 projects were identified in the report as undergoing feasibility studies or awaiting approval, of which 91 planned to use renewable energy sources – suggesting that the ratio of renewables to fossil fuels is not yet changed, at least on the drawing board.

The BREE report noted that in 2010-11, 68 per cent of electricity generation in Australia was coal-fired, followed by gas (19 per cent) and 12 per cent renewable energy sources (hydro seven per cent and wind two per cent).

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3 Comments
  1. colin 8 years ago

    Once again, the actual numbers for electricity generated are quite different. The 988MW of fossil fuel might produce 4 or 5 terrawatthrs/year, whereas the 2029 mw of renewables might generate 2.5 terrawatthrs/year. We really must move away from simply quoting peak output, because it leaves the renewables industry open to charges of misleading jo(e) public

    • Giles Parkinson 8 years ago

      I suggest you read the data. Coal plants have been averaging 55% capacity in the last year, most wind farms in the mid 40s. Some gas fired leakers as little as 1% – hardly any above 50%. So you’re right, the rated capacity doesn’t mean a lot, but it’s wrong to assume that the coal and gas fired generators produce more in the ratio you are suggesting.

  2. David 8 years ago

    Because of the lack of viable storage, renewables (except geothermal) can only offer fuel reduction for isolated Australian mines. They can’t replace diesel or gas generation entirely. If the mine has access to natural gas (as the ones shown do) then the economics of renewables just don’t make sense.
    It is a different story for grid connected generation.

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