Role of renewables in powering Australia: How green is Aussie energy mix?

May 11, 2022 05:27 PM AEST | By Nitish Kumar
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  • Renewables accounted for 24% of the total electricity generation in 2020 in Australia.
  • Coal continues to be the primary source of electricity generation in the country.
  • Australia has more than 100 renewable energy projects under construction phase or gearing up to enter construction.

Australia relies heavily on fossil fuels for its energy needs. The data from the Australian Energy Statistics for 2021 highlighted that Australians consumed 6,014 PJ of energy during FY 2019-20. Coal continues to dominate the energy mix and is responsible for nearly 54% of all the electricity generated in the country.

Renewable energy, which is gradually picking up pace in the country, contributed nearly 24% to the total electricity production in 2020.  

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Australia’s Energy Mix

In 2019–20, fossil fuels contributed nearly 93% to Australia's primary energy mix. Crude oil, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and refined products accounted for the largest share of energy consumption, at nearly 37%.

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During the reported period, coal was the second most consumed fuel, accounting for 28% of total energy use. However, the period saw a 5% decline in coal use, primarily due to lower electricity production using brown and black coal. The decline in coal usage paved way for renewables and natural gas.

Natural gas contributed 27% to the total energy consumption. Gas usage rose by 4%, supported by additional LNG plants becoming operational.

Source: Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

How are renewables faring in Aussie energy mix?

Biomass, hydro, wind, and solar energy are the most common sources of renewable energy. 

Renewable energy contributed nearly 7% of Australia's energy consumption in 2019-20. During the period, renewable energy consumption grew by 5%, on the back of high growth in solar and wind power. The amount of renewable energy used to generate electricity grew by 12%.

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Wind and solar power were responsible for 40% of all renewable consumption in 2019-20. Solar Photovoltaic (PV), in a decade, grew from negligible levels to 76 PJ in 2019-20, registering a growth of 42% during the year. Wind energy capacity grew by 15% during the year.

Rising share of renewables in electricity generation

The energy consumption data shows that the transport sector is the biggest consumer of energy in Australia. The table below depicts the share of energy consumption from various sectors.

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Source: Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

The above data indicates that energy consumed to produce electricity has been declining, reflecting that the share of renewables, including solar, wind and others is rising. This is because if wind generation, for example, rises by 1,000 GWh, then energy consumption would increase by 3.6 PJ, but if coal-fired generation rises by the same amount, then energy consumption would increase by 10 PJ. This is measured by the amount of coal consumed to produce 1000 GWh of electricity.

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Industry estimates indicate that at present, nearly 105 renewable energy generation projects are either already in the construction phase or are about to enter construction. These projects would cost around AU$17 billion and would add approximately 11,000MW of new renewable energy.


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