The price of natural gas export continues to increase in the world market, causing many electricity providers in Australia to sell their gas instead of burning it. It has also highlighted the need for the country to continue promoting solar power plants as a more cost-effective and environment-friendly alternative to coal and natural gas.
Recently, Queensland-based electricity firm Stanwell ordered for the restoration of a coal-fired generator after putting it in the shelves two years ago. This was in response to the increase costs of natural gas-fired power plants, and experts are predicting other energy companies will also do the same in the future.
Demand for Natural Gas Export
Australia is one of the leaders of natural gas export the past few decades, supplying the fossil fuel to countries like China and Japan, the largest LNG importers on the planet.
Natural gas export is a top money-making venture in Australia, and manufacturing and petrochemical firms around the world prefer the power source because of its affordability. Likewise, it is cleaner than coal, which is reputed to be the cheapest generator of electricity.
According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the global demand for natural gas will grow to 185 trillion cubic feet in 2040 from the mere 113 trillion cubic feet in 2010. This is mainly on the strength of the expanding use of natural gas in electricity generation and industrial utilization. The EIA believes that the industrial and utilities sectors will account nearly 80 percent of the expected increase in worldwide consumption of natural gas export.
Spiraling Coal Prices
Meanwhile, thermal coal prices have been on the decline, falling by as much as 45 percent to $73 per ton since 2011. Coking coal price which is needed in steel making has also dropped to $120 per ton from around $300 in 2011.
With the falling prices of coal it is not surprising that many energy producers in Australia are opting to revert to coal–fired generators instead of natural gas. To make more money, these companies are selling their natural gas export to other firms abroad while they settle with coal powered generators for their energy needs.
Solar Power Plants
Energy analyst Dr Liam Wagner, from the University of Queensland located in Brisbane, says the danger of returning to coal-fired generators is that burning coal is dangerous to the environment because it emits carbon to the atmosphere. He added that this trend could have serious repercussions on the overall carbon emissions of Australia. He said that this is where the renewable energy policy of Australia should come into play.
Lately, the Australian government has been under fire for its apparent lack of interest in promoting renewable energy in the country, and it’s support of coal and natural gas export. More recently, Solar Reserve chief executive officer Kevin Smith said his company has given up on its plans to generate electricity to the retail market in Australia because of the government’s perceived hostility to renewable energy.
Even with the recent announcement of a solar-thermal power plant in Port Augusta, the solar energy sector in Australia has become restless. With the growing sentiment that it is not gaining enough support from the government, even news like a solar-thermal power plant in the pipeline could not shake off fears that Australia would return to coal-fired generators for its energy production requirements.