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Electricity generation in Australia, Part 3: SA and QLD

The third in a series of posts looking at electricity generation in Australia. Part 3 profiles electricity generation in South Australia and Queensland.

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

This post will provide an overview of electricity generation in South Australia and Queensland over the last five years.

South Australia:

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

South Australia201520182019Change from 2015 to 2019
Natural gas38%47.9%48.9%10.9%
Wind32.6%40.4%36.9%4.3%
Small-scale
solar PV
6.6%9%10%3.4%
Large-scale
solar PV
0%1.1%2.7%2.7%
Oil products1.2%1%0.9%-0.3%
Biomass0.7%0.6%0.6%-0.1%
Hydro0%0%0%
Brown coal20.9%-20.9%
Total 
renewable
39.9%51.2%50.2%10.3%
Change in 
total 
generation
from 2015 
to 2019
19.1%

South Australia has probably had the most significant electricity transformation of any state over the last five years. 

Today, South Australia gets the majority of its electricity from renewables, with wind providing 37% of the state’s electricity generation and solar providing 13% (including 10% rooftop solar). Gas provides 49%.

In 2015, 21% of South Australia’s electricity was from brown coal. In 2016, the state’s last coal power station shut down, taking out a fifth of the state’s electricity supply. The gap has been filled more or less equally by both gas and renewables (which have increased by 11% and 10% respectively).

Overall electricity generation has increased by 19% in the last five years. To understand why, we have to consider the effects of the Hazelwood coal power station closure in Victoria. Hazelwood’s closure in 2017 transformed the import/export relationship between Victoria and South Australia. Previously, Victoria’s cheap coal power stations had provided substantial electricity exports to South Australia. South Australia’s gas power stations were more expensive to run so didn’t turn on as often.

But after Hazelwood’s closure, Victoria suddenly had a lot less electricity to send to South Australia and, at times, Victoria now relies upon South Australia to export it electricity. Consequently, many of South Australia’s more expensive gas generators were up and running significantly more often. As well as pushing up electricity prices, this drove the 19% increase in South Australia’s electricity generation.

South Australia continues to be a world leader in wind and solar but the next stage of the state’s transition will require a significant expansion in storage capacity and the construction of a new transmission line connecting South Australia to New South Wales. This interconnector is scheduled to be up and running in 2023.

It will also require a resolution to the state’s system security issues. With wind and solar providing much of the state’s electricity supply at certain times of the day, the electricity grid operator (AEMO) has placed constraints on wind generation and directs gas generators to stay online when they would rather be switched off. This is a temporary stop-gap measure, which should be resolved in the first half of 2021 (see pages 5 and 6 here for details). Once resolved, this should enable South Australia’s renewable energy generation to reach new heights.

Queensland:

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

Queensland201520182019Change from 2015 to 2019
Black coal68.9%74.8%70.5%1.6%
Natural gas23.4%14.8%14.9%-8.5%
Small-scale
solar PV
2.9%4.3%5.2%2.3%
Large-scale
solar PV
0%1.2%3.6%3.6%
Biomass2.4%1.9%1.9%-0.5%
Oil products1.6%1.5%1.5%-0.1%
Hydro0.8%1.2%1.5%0.7%
Wind0.1%0.4%1%0.9%
Geothermal0%
Total
renewable
6.1%8.9%13.2%7.1%
Change in 
total 
generation
from 2015 
to 2019
5.4%

Queensland primarily relies on coal for its electricity. Black coal supplied 71% of the state’s electricity in 2019, while gas provided 15%. 13% of the state’s electricity is renewable, with solar providing 9% and biomass, hydro and wind providing less than 2% each.

Queensland’s energy transition has really only just begun; renewables increased by just 2.8% in the three years to 2018, but increased by 4.3% in 2019 alone – the biggest increase of any state that year. Another substantial increase in renewable energy generation is likely in 2020.

Another notable trend in Queensland is the significant decline in gas generation since 2015. Since 2015, gas has fallen from 23% to 15% of the state’s supply. At the same time, Queensland’s total electricity generation has gone up by 5% and coal generation has increased by 1.6%.

I suspect this fall in gas generation is due to the start of liquefied natural gas exports in Queensland. The start of the LNG industry in Queensland has had a similar effect to pulling a plug out of a full bath; the vast majority of the east coast’s gas production is now shipped overseas, driving up prices and reducing supply in Australia. It is probable that gas suppliers simply decided that they could get a higher price selling their gas offshore than they could get selling gas to Queensland’s gas power stations.

Queensland has excellent renewable energy resources and it is great to see one of Australia’s largest wind farms now undergoing commissioning while another truly massive wind farm will begin construction next year. These projects will significantly increase the state’s wind generation, which is currently at a pitifully low level of 1%.

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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