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Electricity generation in Australia, Part 2: NT, TAS and WA

The second in a series of posts looking at electricity generation in Australia. Part 2 profiles electricity generation in the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia.

This is the second part of a series looking at electricity generation in Australia. Part one is here.

Electricity generation in Australia varies significantly by state – from the coal-reliant eastern states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, to gas-reliant Western Australia and the Northern Territory, to the renewable energy powerhouses of Tasmania and South Australia.

This post will look at electricity generation in the Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia and assess how it has changed over the last five years.

Northern Territory:

Table 1. Proportion of electricity generation by fuel source: NT

Northern
Territory
201520182019Change from 2015 to 2019
Natural gas79.3%63.2%57.6%-21.7%
Oil products19%33.4%38.4%19.4%
Small-scale
solar PV
1.2%2.5%3.1%1.9%
Large-scale
solar PV
0.3%0.8%0.8%0.5%
Biomass0.3%0.2%0.2%-0.1%
Total
renewable
1.7%3.5%4.1%2.4%
Change in
total
generation
from
2015 to
2019
48.7%

The Northern Territory’s primary electricity sources are gas (58%) and oil products (38%), supplying around 96% of the territory’s electricity.

The most striking thing about the NT is how much electricity generation has increased in the last four years – total electricity supply has increased by almost 50%. This is a far larger increase than any other Australian state. I do not know enough about NT to provide an explanation for this, though I speculate it may have something to do with the huge new liquefied natural gas processing facilities constructed in recent years.

The make-up of NT’s generation has changed significantly over the last five years but not in a way that is beneficial for the climate: a 22% fall in the proportion of gas has been cancelled out by a 20% increase in oil products. Small and large scale solar has increased by a bit over 2%. The transition to renewables has proceeded at an extremely slow pace in the NT, totalling 4.1% in 2019 compared to 1.7% in 2015.

But the territory government has not been idle, providing funding for new large-scale solar farms and big batteries while advancing electricity market reforms that should facilitate a further increase in solar generation in the future. As such, the NT should see a significant increase in renewable energy generation in 2020 and 2021, albeit remaining at a low level overall (the Territory government claims the NT will reach 16% renewable energy by the end of this year – if that eventuates, it would be a four-fold increase on 2019).

Tasmania:

Table 2. Proportion of electricity generation by fuel source: TAS

Tasmania201520182019Change from 2015 to 2019
Hydro87%84.2%81.1%-5.9%
Wind10.2%9%11.2%1%
Natural gas1.1%5.2%5.6%4.5%
Small-scale
solar PV
1.1%1.2%1.6%0.5%
Biomass0.3%0.2%0.3%
Oil products0.3%0.2%0.2%-0.1%
Large-scale
solar PV
0%0%0%
Total
renewable
98.6%94.7%94.2%-4.4%
Change in
total
generation
from 2015
to 2019
10.4%

Tasmania is the renewable capital of Australia, with the vast majority of its electricity from hydro power stations. 81% of Tasmania’s electricity was from hydro in 2019, while wind provided 11%. Renewables in total supplied 94% of the state’s electricity. 

Tasmania’s hydro output varies depending on water storage levels: higher water storage generally means more hydro generation and vice versa. Lower rainfall in recent years is a likely explanation for the 6% decline in hydro since 2015. This has driven a fall in the proportion of Tasmania’s energy generation from renewable energy, from 99% in 2015 to 94% in 2019. But with two new wind farms joining the grid this year, this trend should begin to reverse. Solar provides just 1.6% of the state’s electricity – unsurprising considering Tasmania’s southern latitude. 

Tasmania has just one gas power station, which has increased gas’ share of generation from 1% to 6% since 2015 at the expense of hydro. Closing this power station will be vital if the state is to reach its target of 100% renewable electricity by 2022.

The state’s total electricity generation has increased by 10% since 2015, with the state exporting more electricity to Victoria.

Western Australia:

Table 3. Proportion of electricity generation by fuel source: WA

Western
Australia
201520182019Change from 2015 to 2019
Natural gas54.9%61.5%61.3%6.4%
Black coal28%24.8%23.2%-4.8%
Oil products10.2%5.6%5.5%-4.7%
Wind4.1%3.9%5.1%1%
Small-scale
solar PV
1.8%3.2%3.9%2.1%
Hydro0.6%0.5%0.5%-0.1%
Biomass0.4%0.4%0.3%-0.1%
Large-scale
solar PV
0.1%0.2%0.2%0.1%
Total
renewable
6.9%8.1%10%3.1%
Change
in total generation
from 2015
to 2019
11.5%

Like the NT, Western Australia is primarily a gas-powered state, getting 61% of its electricity from gas. Black coal provides 23% of the state’s electricity and oil products provide 6%. 10% of WA’s electricity is from renewable energy, the vast majority from wind and solar.

The main change over the last five years has been in the proportions of the different fossil fuels. Gas has increased by over 6% while oil products has declined by 5% and is now at almost half the level of 2015 (10% to 6%). Meanwhile, black coal has declined by 5%, partly due to the closure of Muja AB, partly due to increased gas generation and partly because solar has continued to chip away at coal’s market share.

Overall electricity generation has increased by 12% across the state since 2015 due to higher demand.

Western Australia looms as an interesting state in the energy transition over the next few years. After years of stagnation, 2019 provided the first evidence that the state is finally picking up speed, with renewable energy generation increasing by almost 2% – for comparison, it increased by just 1.2% in the previous three years combined. The state government is delivering a whole host of reforms to the electricity market that should significantly increase WA’s attractiveness to renewable energy developers and improve access to the electricity grid.

Like South Australia, Western Australia is at the forefront of the minimum demand challenge, with increasing rooftop solar generation cutting grid demand to lower and lower levels during the middle of the day, throwing up a host of technical challenges.

Data on electricity generation used in this post was calculated from the Federal Government’s Australian Energy Statistics – Table O, released in May 2020.

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