Records fall as wind, hydro match brown coal generation in October

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Record output from wind and hydro in October nearly matches brown coal for first time, as new data highlights how quickly renewables could reduce emissions.

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In October, renewable energy generators supplied 21.7 per cent of all NEM generation, much higher than any previous month in both absolute and relative terms since complete data became available, with record hydro and wind generation.

Wind and hydro were just 63GWh (0.4% of total generation) less than the share of brown coal.

Total demand in the NEM was almost precisely unchanged over the year to October 2016, while demand fell slightly in WA.

Total emissions from electricity generation in the NEM fell by 0.8% in the year to October 2016, taking emissions back to a level last seen in the year to May 2015. Emissions were, however, still 4% higher than in the year to June 2014.

The fall in emissions was the result of a fall in both black and brown coal generation, as well as a continuing fall in gas generation. These changes were driven by increased supply from both hydro and wind generators.

The total share of renewable electricity supply in the NEM increased to 14.7%; its highest share since the mid‐1980s, when electricity demand was less than half the current level.

Total annual wind generation again set new records in both relative and absolute terms. This was the case in all four states with wind generation, as well as in the NEM as a whole, where it supplied 6.4% of total generation.

cedex 1Generation and emissions

Total annual NEM generation was almost exactly unchanged from September to October, in line with total annual demand (Figure 1).

However, the coal share of total generation fell sharply, as renewable generation increased (Figure 2). The total coal share of generation was 75.3%, the lowest share since the year ending June 2015.

cedex 2

The falls in coal generation applied to both black and brown coal; in absolute terms, electricity supplied by black coal generators fell by 0.8% to 53.2% of total NEM supply, while electricity supplied by brown coal generators fell by 0.5% to 22.2% of total NEM supply. Gas generation fell again, and, at 9.8%, supplied less than 10% of NEM electricity for the first time in over six years.

Lower output from all types of fossil fuel generation means lower total emissions. Estimated emissions from NEM generation in the year to October 2016 were lower by 1.3 Mt CO2‐e, equivalent to 0.8%, than one month earlier.

This was the lowest annual level for well over a year. It is reasonable to say that this change demonstrates how quickly and effectively emissions could be reduced by increasing the share of renewable generation.

The driver of falling generation by both coal and gas fuelled power stations was increased renewable generation. In the month of October 2016, renewable generators supplied 21.7% of all generation, much higher than any previous month in both absolute and relative terms, and only just less than the share of brown coal.

For the year ending October in total, renewable generation was 27.3 TWh, equal to 14.7% of NEM generation, a new record for the NEM and the highest level in the NEM states combined since 1982, at which time, of course, it was all hydro.

cedex 3Figure 3 shows that renewable generation supplied just 0.4% of total generation less than brown coal generation in October. This was driven by hydro generation, which was up by nearly 7% compared with one month ago, reaching 8.3% of total NEM supply, which is the highest annual level for two years.

Hydro generation in the month of October was the second highest monthly figure (after July 2012) since Tasmania joined the NEM in 2005.

This time last year, Tasmania was in the throes of a record dry winter and spring, whereas rainfall has been abundant this year On the mainland, rainfall has also been plentiful, so that output from both the NSW and Victorian sides of the Snowy is up, as is output from the other Victorian hydro generators.

For wind generation, the year to October was also a record in both absolute and relative terms, in the NEM as a whole and in all four states with wind generation. Across the NEM, annual wind generation increased by 3.6% over the year to October and wind supplied 6.4% of total NEM generation.

In SA, wind supplied 36% of total electricity consumed (including electricity supplied from Victoria) in the year to October 2016. In the six months since the Northern coal fired power station closed (on 10 May), wind has supplied 42% of total consumption.

Demand

In October, total annual demand for electricity was virtually unchanged in the NEM, with a decrease of 0.07% (Figure 4). Changes were very small in all five states, with very small increases in three and very small decreases in two.

Demand did continue to increase in Queensland, but the increase recorded was the smallest for two years, indicating that the current stage of the electrification of the coal seam gas fields has been largely completed over recent months.

With the commissioning of the second liquefaction train at the Asia Pacific LNG Plant, two trains are operating at each of the three plants.

cedex 4Over the past two years, electricity consumption in Queensland has increased by about 5 TWh, which is consistent with load forecasts for this time made two years ago by both AEMO and Powerlink, the Queensland transmission service provider.

It is unclear at this time whether a further 3 to 4 TWh of annual consumption, forecast by these organisations to emerge over the next two years, will materialise.

In WA demand decreased by 0.3%. This was the first monthly decrease in annual demand since July 2015. It remains to be seen whether electricity demand growth in WA is ending, or whether it will resume again after a few months, as it has done on several occasions over recent years.

Hugh Saddler is energy analyst with Pitt&Sherry. The monthly Cedex report is sponsored by The Australia Institute.

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2 Comments
  1. Ren Stimpy 2 years ago

    I’m looking forward to seeing what effect the 12 new ARENA-sponsored large scale solar projects will have on these charts.

  2. Ray Miller 2 years ago

    Thanks Hugh and the Australia Institute for the report. Error on the first line “21.7?”.
    Some big picture observations.
    The price on carbon minimizes carbon emissions on the NEM in 2014.
    In Queensland you can add 10TWh of high carbon emission generation to supply “low” emission LNG to far away lands in high emission shipping and no one notices.
    Small increases in renewables causes an exponential rise in anti renewable press in the Australian.
    Investment in renewable generation does make a difference over time and now proof of NEM impact.
    The importance of having a long term strategy especially the Renewable Energy Certificates policy the Greens had the foresight to bargain for the GST under the Howard Government, and now the reverse auction process by the ACT Greens.

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