Renewable energy in Australia is “largely undeveloped”

The Australian Department of Resources, Energy & Tourism commissioned Geoscience Australia and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural & Resource Economics (ABARE) to undertake the scientific and economic assessment of both renewable and non-renewable energy resources.

“Australia has a rich diversity of renewable energy resources (wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, wave, tidal, bioenergy) with low greenhouse gas emissions,” it explains. “With the exception of hydro and wind energy (which is growing strongly), many of these resources are largely undeveloped, constrained by the current immaturity of technologies.

“The expected advances in technology by 2030 will allow them to make a growing contribution to Australia's future energy supply,” it adds.

Hydro is largest renewable energy in Australia

The assessment found that renewable energy sources now account for modest proportions of primary energy consumption (5%) and electricity (7%), of which the bulk is from hydro dams with total capacity of 7.8 GW.

Australia’s wind resources are among the best in the world, and wind energy is the fastest-growing energy source with an installed capacity of 1.7 GW, and wind turbines generated 1.5% of Australia’s electricity in 2007-08.

High solar levels over large areas provide some of the best solar resources in the world, yet solar power accounts for only 0.1% of primary energy, mainly in off-grid and residential installations using solar water heating systems.

The assessment reviews the factors that are likely to influence the use of Australia's energy resources to 2030, including the technologies being developed to extract energy more efficiently and cleanly from existing and new energy sources. Australia has abundant resources of coal that underpin exports and low-cost domestic electricity production, one-third of the world's known uranium resources, and substantial gas and coal seam resources.

Wind energy

“Government policies, particularly carbon emissions reduction targets and the Renewable Energy Target (RET), are expected to underpin the future growth of Australia’s wind energy industry,” it explains. “Wind energy is a proven and mature technology with low operating costs.

“The world outlook for electricity generation from wind energy will be strongly influenced by government climate change policies and the demand for low-emission renewable energy at affordable prices,” it adds. In Australia, the share of wind energy in total power generation is projected to increase from 1.5% in 2007-08 to 12.1% in 2029-30.

“Extension and other augmentation of the electricity transmission network may be required to access dispersed (remote) wind energy resources and to integrate the projected increase in wind energy electricity generation,” it notes. “Access to Australia’s onshore wind resources is likely to be sufficient to meet industry development requirements over the outlook period. There are currently no plans to develop higher cost offshore wind resources.”

Solar energy

“Government policies and falling investment costs and risks are projected to be the main factors underpinning future growth in world solar energy use,” it explains in the chapter on solar energy. The annual solar radiation falling on Australia is 58 million petajoules (PJ), which is 10,000 times the country’s annual consumption of energy.

“Solar thermal technologies can also operate in hybrid systems with fossil fuel power plants, and, with appropriate storage, have the potential to provide base load electricity generation,” it continues. “Solar thermal technologies can also potentially provide electricity to remote townships and mining centres where the cost of alternative electricity sources is high.”

“Solar energy is a vast and largely untapped resource. Australia has the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent in the world,” it states. Solar energy use in Australia is projected to increase by 5.9% per year to 24 PJ in 2029-30.

“The outlook for electricity generation from solar energy depends critically on the commercialisation of large-scale solar energy technologies that will reduce investment costs and risks,” it adds. “Government policy settings will continue to be an important factor in the solar energy market outlook.”