Where Our Electricity Comes From
The sources of Australia’s energy, how they produce and consume energy has evolved over time as the technology, economy and infrastructure keep developing. Most of our electricity is generated centrally and heavily relies on fossil fuels.
As a matter of fact, about 86 percent of Australia’s power is produced by the traditional energy sources, with 73 percent being produced by coal and 13 percent by natural gas. The remaining 14 percent of the energy mix is generated by renewable energy sources.
Generally, the scenario is the same across the globe as fossil fuels are the main source of energy used for heating, electricity and transportation. Ideally, the world is strongly dependent on dirty energy (gas and coal-fired power generation) since it’s abundant, reliable and the cheapest form of electricity generation. This makes it difficult for renewable alternatives such as solar and wind to effectively compete in financial terms.
Hydropower, which started contributing to Australia’s energy generated mix in the 1950s, is the biggest source of clean energy, contributing around 60 percent of all energy generated by renewables and 7 percent of the overall electricity. Rooftop solar, wind and bioenergy make up the remaining seven percent.
Solar and wind power are referred to as intermittent sources of energy as they purely rely on natural sources and can’t be fully depended on for consistent base load electricity.
However, solar and wind energy sources could contribute more to Australia’s electricity mix if only their power could be stored for times when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining as it should. But energy storage technologies are yet to become a viable commercial solution.
Plans for More Investment in Dirty Energy
Since 2008, Australia’s 4 biggest banks have been pumping billions of dollars into fossil fuel projects including Australia’s largest coal mine in NSW’s Leard State Fore and gas and coal export ports along the Great Barrier Reef.
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These have continuously caused serious harm to the environment and contributed immensely to climate change. Clean energy advocates and grassroots community groups have come to the fore to fight off some of these plans. Previous proposals for dirty energy investment in planned plans have been stopped by proactive grassroots activism.
The Good News: We Don’t Need Fossil Fuels
A combination of efficiency, conservation, solar and wind can meet 100% of all Australian energy needs. This is economically and technically achievable possible by 2030 and longer term.
Clearly, the potential of domestic renewable resources is enormous—more than 80 times the current Australian energy use. Solar alone can provide about 50 times our current electricity use. Wind and hydro can provide 12 times our current use.
Amazingly, Australia boasts the highest average solar radiation per square meter than any other continent in the world. Its solar energy can be used in so many ways. Passive solar can be utilized when new homes and buildings are designed to take advantage of sunlight. The amount of electricity used to heat water can be cut through solar hot water heating.
Solar thermal technologies can also be used to collect sun rays to heat water and produce power. Carbon taxes and government policy like the Renewable Energy Target could possibly make it cost-effective for Australia to use concentrated solar to power energy intensive industries such as cement manufacturing to avoid dirty sources of energy.
Commercial-scale concentrating solar energy facilities is fast becoming economically competitive, and is projected to go down further, making it cheaper than the current residential and commercial electricity rates.
Most people think of solar power in terms of photovoltaic (PV) solar panels, which generate electricity from sunlight. By utilizing rooftops, vacant land and parking lots and abandoned industrial “brownfields” sites, Australia could enhance its supply of current electric demand.
Photovoltaic is still quite costly for most Australians, but solar system costs are continuously dropping rapidly as demand increases.
Who’s the Biggest Beneficiary?
There’s no doubt that Australian’s consume a lot of energy, but it’s worth noting that the manufacturing industry is the largest consumer of both gas and electricity (around 27 percent) with households coming in closely behind, consuming about a quarter of all energy produced in Australia. Transport about 15 percent and mining at 13 percent are some of the other big users.
In the future, government commitment to achieving Renewable Energy Targets and advanced battery technology could make reliable large scale energy more affordable and generally support the use of natural gases as one of the cleaner-burning fuels.
Securing a safe and sustainable energy investment means 80% of the current fossil fuels reserves must stay in the ground—yet some individuals and institutions are unwittingly moving their money into energy reserves and fossil fuel expansion.
It’s no secret that Australia is one of the most carbon-intensive world economies, yet the country is rich in renewable resources. If Australia could invest more in clean energy, then the country could unlock fossil fuels dominance and set itself on a path to a safe, clean and sustainable energy future.