Renewable resources to transform energy grid

Utilising new energy resources, particularly renewable energy sources, will require a more flexible and decentralised electricity transmission grid, according to Australia’s first comprehensive assessment of its energy resources.

The Australian Energy Resource Assessment, released in March and compiled by ABARE and Geoscience Australia, examines Australia’s identified and potential energy resources ranging from fossil fuels and uranium to renewables.

According to the assessment, significant changes are anticipated in the Australian energy market over the next two decades as a consequence of the expanded Renewable Energy Target (RET) and other government policies. Other factors expected to affect the market include the rate of economic and population growth, energy prices and costs and developments in alternative energy technologies.

Australia’s energy usage in 2030 is expected to differ significantly from that of today under the influence of the 20 per cent RET and other government policies such as the proposed emissions reduction target. In addition, the Government has established the Clean Energy Initiative which includes Carbon Capture and Storage and Solar Flagship Programs, and the Australian Centre for Renewable Energy.

Australia’s primary energy consumption is projected to increase by 1.4 per cent per year to reach around 7715 PJ by 2029-30. The primary fuel mix is expected to change significantly, with the share of coal expected to decline to 23 per cent by 2029-30. In contrast, the share of gas is expected to rise to 33 per cent and wind to 2 per cent. Renewable energy is projected to account for 8 per cent of Australian energy consumption by 2029-30.

Electricity generation is projected to reach 366 TWh in 2029-30, an increase of 1.8 per cent per year. Coal is expected to continue to dominate Australia’s electricity generation (43 per cent of total in 2029-30) but a shift to lower emissions energy sources is expected to result in significant increases in the use of gas (37 per cent) and renewables (19 per cent), particularly wind (12 per cent).

Australia’s long-term energy projections show total energy production nearly doubling due to strong export demand, primary energy consumption rising by 35 per cent, and electricity demand increasing by nearly 50 per cent by 2030. Whilst coal is expected to continue to dominate Australia’s electricity generation, a shift to lower-emissions fuels is expected to result in a significant reduction in coal’s share and increases in gas and renewable energy, particularly wind.

Hydro electric power stations have a combined installed capacity of 7.8 GW and produce about 4.5 per cent of Australia’s total electricity, the largest contribution of any renewable energy.

Wind energy is the fastest-growing energy source with an installed capacity of about 1.7 GW, which produced about 1.5 per cent of Australia’s electricity in 2007-08. These resources are being progressively utilised by an increasing number of large-scale (more than 100 MW) wind farms using large modern wind turbines.

According to the assessment, the energy sector, especially fossil fuels, will continue to play an important role in the Australian economy both in terms of domestic energy supply and increasingly in exports, but “it is clear that the transition to a low carbon economy will require long-term structural adjustment in the Australian energy sector”.