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Electricity in Australia

Wholesale electricity in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory is supplied via the National Electricity Market (NEM). This system is connected by individual transmission grids in each state and interconnectors between those grids.

According to the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC), there are more than 300 registered generators in the NEM including coal, gas and renewable energy sources.[1] Approximately 63% of Australia’s electricity generation come from coal generators, with Victoria, NSW and Queensland relying on coal generation more heavily.[2]

Renewable energy has been growing as a source of electricity in recent years, with wind now providing one-third of total renewable energy generation and one-third of total generation in South Australia.[3] The introduction of these technologies is vital to meet Australia’s obligations under the Paris Climate Change Agreement and show how innovative Australian companies and workers are.

Both the Coalition and Labor have committed to cutting Australia’s emissions by 5% on 2005 levels by 2020. The Coalition’s goal is to cut by 26–28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. Labor wants to cut emissions by 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 and achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The Coalition has promised more than 20 per cent of electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020. Labor is aiming for 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.[4]

However, according to research undertaken by the Australian Parliamentary Library, national household prices for electricity increased 72% between 2003 and 2013.[5] A major factor behind these price rises has been the intermittent nature of renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar.[6] South Australia, a state with a majority of its electricity being sourced from wind and solar, experienced severe price increases which has partly been attributed to the state’s “hurried pursuit of renewable energy.”[7] Combined with the retirement of coal fired power stations in Victoria and South Australia, the Australian Energy Market Commission predicts that Australia’s could pay an extra $78 per year for electricity.[8]

[1] Australian Energy Market Commission Website, Generation, link[2] Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Australian Energy Update 2016, pg 3, link[3] Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, Australian Energy Update 2016, pg 3, link[4] Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Australia’s 2030 climate change target, link[5] Parliament of Australia, Energy prices – the story behind rising costs, link[6] Australian Energy market Commission, 2016 Residential Electricity Price Trends, pg 17, link[7] Luke Griffiths and Jade Gailberger, Adelaide Advertiser, “Explaining why South Australia has very high electricity costs”, link[8] Jeff Rolfe, Daily Telegraph, “Demise of coal-fired power sparks electricity price hike”, link.

Electricity, State by State

The Paris Agreement

This historic and global agreement on climate was reached under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris on the 12th of December 2015. Carbon emission targets were agreed to with global objective of holding average temperature increases to less than 2°C.  Australia has agreed to a target which reduces national emissions by 26-28% below our 2005 levels by 2030, which builds on our 2020 target of reducing emissions by 5% below 2000 levels.

As recently as late January, the Federal Government reiterated its support for the Paris Agreement. This assurance came in the face of increasing speculation that the United States will walk away from its commitment to the Paris Agreement.

You can learn more about Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement by visiting the Federal Department of Environment and Energy at: 

Next Generation Coal

A high efficiency, low emissions coal fired power plant in Japan.

Clean coal technology can come in one of two formats – carbon capture and storage (CCS) and high efficiency, low emission (HELE) coal fired power stations.

CCS is the process of capturing carbon emissions from burning coal. This involves taking the exhaust from a coal-fired power plant and filtering it through a liquid solvent that absorbs the CO2. The solvent is then heated to extremely high temperatures, turning it into a gas which is then compressed and sent it away for storage underground. There are functioning CCS plants in the US, Canada and India.

HELE power plants use high quality black coal and employ technologies that allow the plant to burn less coal for the same amount of electricity. In Australia, the CSIRO has been working on different types of HELE power station technologies. The Australian Federal Government is on the record saying HELE coal fired power plants produce half of the emissions of traditional plants. Furthermore, the Japanese government is in the process of building up to 45 new coal fired power stations using HELE technology. Japan has ratified the Paris Climate Agreement and committed to a 26 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. There are also functioning HELE plants in the US, China and India.

On 1 February 2016, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that, ‘There are new coal-fired power stations being built around the world, many of them of that very advanced type that have much lower emissions, because they operate at much higher temperatures. Many of them would have emissions levels that are half, if not less, than the emissions from some of our oldest power stations. So, yes, the answer is, coal will have a role to play for many decades into the future.’

International CCS:

Both Canada and the United States have operational CCS facilities:

Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project, Houston, Texas

Petra Nova is the world’s largest post-combustion CO2 capture system in operation.
The capture facility captures at least 90 per cent (or approximately 1.4 megatonnes per annum) of CO2 from a 240 megawatt (MW) flue gas slipstream of the 610 MW (net) pulverized coal-fired generating unit. The project proponents initially contemplated a smaller-scale proposal at the Parish plant, capturing approximately 375,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum from a 60 MW flue gas slipstream, but the project was subsequently expanded to its current form.
The captured CO2 is transported via a new 132 km long underground pipeline to the West Ranch oil field, located near the city of Vanderbilt in Jackson County, Texas. The pipeline route includes mostly rural and sparsely developed agricultural lands.
More Information: Global CCS Institute, “Petra Nova Carbon Capture Project”, updated 11 January 2017, link
Boundary Dam Carbon Capture and Storage Project, Saskatchewan, Canada
Boundary Dam is the largest of the coal–fired facilities in the province of Saskatchewan owned by the provincial electric utility, SaskPower. The plant has a net generating capacity of around 670 MW. Capture technologies implemented at the plant reduce CO2 emissions by 90 per cent, capturing 1.4 megatonnes of CO2 per annum. CO2 captured from the plant is stored in saline aquifers and transported via a pipeline to oil fields.
More Information: Global CCS Institute, “Boundary Dam Carbon Capture and Storage Project”, updated 2 February 2017, link​
International HELE: 

Worldwide, there are 1,105 supercritical and ultra-supercritical coal fired power plants in operation, with a further 1,231 planned or under construction. The following countries have operational supercritical and ultra-supercritical plants:

– Germany
– India
– South Korea
– Japan
– Poland
– Indonesia
– the Czech Republic
– the Netherlands
– Slovenia
– the US
– South Africa
– China

​More Information: Minerals Council of Australia, “New Generation Coal Technology”, 1 February 2017, pg 5, link

About the Australian Power Project

The Australian Power Project is a leading advocacy group calling for a balanced and sustainable approach to achieving a clean energy future. It is crucial that Australia embraces a national energy policy that sets out a clear pathway to meeting our commitments to the Paris Agreement, while promoting economic prosperity, growth in employment and allowing Australia to leverage our resource advantage as one of the world’s largest coal exporters.

With clean coal technology advancing at a rapid rate to the point where up to 90% of carbon emissions can be captured from modern coal-fired power plants, the time is right for Australia to embrace a middle ground approach to clean energy.  Australia needs an energy policy that eschews self-serving ideology for the right mix of renewables and clean coal. This is the first step to a national energy framework that supports affordable, reliable and clean electricity.

Nathan Vass - Australian Power Project

About Nathan Vass

Nathan Vass is the former Head of Corporate Communications/Investor Relations Officer at AGL Energy, Australia’s largest owner of renewable energy assets. Nathan has also worked for Australia’s third largest iron ore company Fortescue Metals where he developed a robust understanding of Australia’s primary industries.   He has further worked in senior roles within the NSW State Development and Serco Immigration Services who manage Australia’s onshore detention, as well as the Tourism & Transport Forum Australia (TTF).

Nathan began his career as a journalist, where he spent 15 years writing for both the Sunday Telegraph and the Sydney Morning Herald. He studied at the University of Queensland, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Journalism.

Nathan has been published in The Australian, The Herald-Sun, The Newcastle Herald, The Townsville Bulletin among others regarding the urgent need for an energy mix that include fossil fuels and renewables where the objective is affordability, reliability and reducing carbon emissions.

Contact Nathan Vass