This continues the rather heavy policy, figures posts I’ve been making recently, to try and make sense of what is happening with the confusions in Australia over energy transition.

General Remarks

This is a quick account of the Ember Global Electricity Review: Australia. (EGER-A)

I sometimes wonder why people report on electricity supply alone when its total energy use and total greenhouse gas emissions that count for climate change. Focusing on electricity supply may give a false optimism, as it ignores other massive sources of emissions, such as petrol burning for transport, concrete manufacture, bad agriculture and so on. We have a lot more emissions problems to solve than electricity supply – and that is before we get to the ecological destruction produced by deforestation, mining, over-fishing and so on.….

However, while Australia is doing fairly well in this account, it is not on track to do as well as it needs to; and when we factor in the other sources of Greenhouse gases, the likelihood is high we will not lower emissions by anything like what we need – especially given the vague and conflicting policies.

Australian Figures

Let’s look at the figures.


Australia’s electricity demand per capita (9.9 MWh, in 2020)… is still three times the world average (3.3 MWh, in 2020) and well ahead of many other G20 countries, such as China (5.3 MWh), Germany (6.6 MWh), and the United Kingdom (4.8 MWh).

(EGER-A: 9)

So Australia has a culture of high electricity usage, which may well make it hard to phase out emissions.

Despite these high levels of consumption, wind and solar have increased from 7% of total electricity supply in 2015 (33TWh) to 17% of total supply in 2020 (63 TWh) (EGER-A: 1, 3).

Renewables were at 2% in 2010 (EGER-A: 5), which makes the growth appear even higher, but it needs to continue at the same rate to be useful.

Coal’s market share has declined by 10%. It is now 54% (135TWh) of total E generation. For the world as a whole, coal now makes up 34% of E generation (EGER-A: 1, 3), so Australia is particularly coal intensive. In the G20 Australia is ranked 5th in terms of its dependence on fossil fuel electricity.

Gas and oil burning accounts for about 20% of Australian electricity generation. This has been more or less steady over the last 5 years (EGER-A: 1).

Renewables make up 25% of total generation in Australia (this figure may include hydro), while renewables and nuclear add up to 39% for the world (EGER-A: 1). Again Australia is high on GHG emitting electricity – Australia has no nuclear power, and is unlikely to get any, any time soon.

This usage points to problems for emissions levels:

Coal generation needs to be completely phased out in Australia by around 2030, in order to put the world on track for 1.5 degrees, according to Climate Analytics.

This is much ahead of the announced coal retirement schedule, which will still leave over 15 GW of coal capacity in the generation-mix by 2030, representing more than 70% of the current capacity.


The Australian department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources estimates coal will remain “the single largest source of electricity by 2030, responsible for over 30% of electricity generation” (EGER-A: 7). These figures are somewhat confusing, but let’s assume coal will generate 30% of electricity as opposed to 54% as now. So while ghg emissions will decline, they will still be significant, by 2030.

[T]here still remains significant uncertainty about whether [State and Territory] targets can incentivise wind and solar uptake to the extent considered essential for putting the world on track for 1.5 degrees.

EGER-A: 5.

Again we face the problem that people either through their own expenditure, Council expenditure, or corporate expenditure, are doing a reasonable job in lowering the emissions of Australia’s electricity generation, but government policy is possibly not helping enough, and is hindering progress by enforcing fossil fuel use, and by subsidising fossil fuel exports through low royalty and low tax regimes.

World Figures

The same Source states that across the world

  • Wind and solar generation rose by 15% (+314 TWh) to produce a tenth of global electricity. So Australia is slightly ahead of average
  • Coal fell by a record 4% (-346 TWh)
  • The only place coal generation increased was in China, rising by 2% in 2020, and falling elsewhere.
  • Coal generation has only fallen 0.8% since 2015, while methane burning (gas) rose 11%.
  • World GHG emissions rose -despite Covid. I’m not sure if this is emissions from electricity or in general, or both.

Dave Jones, the Global Programme Lead of Ember, states:

Progress is nowhere near fast enough. Despite coal’s record drop during the pandemic, it still fell short of what is needed. Coal power needs to collapse by 80% by 2030 to avoid dangerous levels of warming above 1.5 degrees. We need to build enough clean electricity to simultaneously replace coal and electrify the global economy. World leaders have yet to wake up to the enormity of the challenge.

Ember Global Electricity Review 2021

It may, of course, be the case that global leaders do know of the enormity of the challenge, and don’t want to face it, or don’t want to face the possible political fallout, from those who oppose action.

Concluding Remarks

To go back to the original point: electricity supply is just the first step to reducing emissions and repairing ecologies. If we are going to electrify cars for example, we need to generate even more electricity, and that requires even more renewables in a short space of time, if we are going to reduce emissions. The sector needs political help to meet real targets, and that requires action from ordinary citizens…

If you think this is a problem, please do not just trust to business to do it right, but think about telling your local representatives they are not doing enough, and join in protests, or support protestors, whenever possible.


The inevitable endnote….

An email from the International Renewable Energy Agency, tells us more about the state of the world, and but uses different measures, so they are hard to convert for comparison. It states:

the world added more than 260 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy capacity last year [2020], exceeding expansion in 2019 by close to 50 per cent….

More than 80 per cent of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable, with solar and wind accounting for 91 per cent of new renewables. 

This means that 20% of new electricity capacity was not renewable, I need to check whether that was a significant decline, although it does not seem that much of a decline:

Total fossil fuel additions fell to 60 GW in 2020 from 64 GW the previous year.

Most renewables are still hydro, which is vulnerable to changing rainfall, or ice formation…

At the end of 2020, global renewable generation capacity amounted to 2,799 GW with hydropower still accounting for the largest share (1,211 GW) although solar and wind are catching up fast.

The two variable sources of renewables dominated capacity expansion in 2020 with 127 GW and 111 GW of new installations for solar and wind, respectively….

Wind expansion almost doubled in 2020 compared to 2019 (111 GW compared to 58 GW last year). China added 72 GW of new capacity, followed by the United States (14 GW). Ten other countries increased wind capacity by more than 1 GW in 2020. Offshore wind increased to reach around 5% of total wind capacity in 2020….

Total solar capacity has now reached about the same level as wind capacity thanks largely to expansion in Asia (78 GW) in 2020. Major capacity increases in China (49 GW) and Viet Nam (11 GW). Japan also added over 5 GW and India and Republic of Korea both expanded solar capacity by more than 4 GW. The United States added 15 GW