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Renewable Energy in Australia: Stats & Figures

Renewable Energy in Australia

In 2020, for the first time in Australian history, renewable energy accounted for 27.7% of the total energy generated in Australia. This is thanks to state governments' push to usher in renewable energy across the country and help reach Australia's Renewable Energy Target.


What is Renewable Energy?

Renewable energy is energy that is naturally occurring and is constantly replenished on a sustainable timescale. There are many natural sources of renewable energy as well as green energy technologies used to harness the Earth's energy.

Unlike fossil fuel or coal which take millions of years to be created, renewable resources are constantly replenished on a timescale that is sustainable for continued human use.

Naturally occurring renewable energy includes energy from the sun & the earth's internal heat as well as kinetic energy from wind, and water. Certain biomasses, such as rapidly replenishing plants like bamboo, or gas from decaying organisms can also be sources of renewable energy if burned.

Are Green Energy & Renewable Energy the Same?

Green energy, renewable energy and clean energy are not exactly the same, however, they have a lot in common.

RENEWABLE ENERGY: Renewable energy is energy that is constantly being renewed on an efficient human timescale, meaning that we can reuse the same form of energy within the span of a human lifetime as it is replenished.

GREEN ENERGY:Green energy is energy that is derived from natural resources and has less harmful environmental impact than traditional forms of energy. Therefore, most green energy is also renewable energy as it often comes from renewable resources such as wind, water, solar, etc.

CLEAN ENERGY: Clean energy is energy that does not pollute the air. Some forms of clean energy are also very harmful to the environment and are not considered renewable energy. Nuclear energy is a great example of this because it is not a renewable or green energy source, but it is a clean energy source.

Not all renewable energy is green energy!Forests are often cleared and rivers are dammed to make room for hydroelectric power plants. While this practice creates falling water which produces renewable energy, hydroelectric energy is not very green as it harms the environment.

Renewable Energy Sources

The main sources of renewable energy are:

  • Wind
  • Solar
  • Hydropower
  • Geothermal
  • Biomass

Wind energy is the most used and widespread of the renewable energy sources listed above.

Solar energy is the most well-known source of renewable energy listed above, and hydropower is one of the oldest renewable energy sources listed above.

Geothermal energy and biomass are both valid forms of renewable energy but have had less notoriety than solar, hydro and wind.

Click to read more about the different types of renewable energy sources in Australia below:

Wind Energy

Wind energy has always reigned supreme in Australia and is the most widely used renewable energy source in the country.

As of 2020, wind energy accounted for over 35% of the clean energy that is generated in Australia and nearly 10% of the total electricity generated in Australia.

Wind energy works by capturing the kinetic (moving) force of the wind with large wind turbines. The wind spins the turbine which uses the spinning process to transform the wind's kinetic energy into electrical energy to be used as electricity on the power grid.

There are some drawbacks to using wind energy, as some of the most profitable areas for wind farms are quite remote and the noise of the large turbines can disrupt the wildlife in the area.

However, technological advancements are making wind energy cheaper, easier, and less disruptive, and as the cost of green energy technology continues to decrease, wind power is expected to grow in Australia.

Solar Energy

The sun is arguably one of the most abundant and widely available resources on the planet, and Australia is well-suited for solar power. As of the end of 2020, small-scale solar accounted for 23.5% of all renewable energy generated in Australia, behind wind power and narrowly beating out hydro as the #2 renewable energy in the country.

In 2020 alone, 378,451 Australians had solar PV systems installed, which is the highest number since 2012. Today, 1 in 4 Australian households now have solar panels installed on their roofs.

Solar energy works by harnessing sunlight's photons and utilizing a photovoltaic (PV) system to transform that sunlight into energy for our use. Solar energy is quickly becoming the most common source of renewable energy at the small-scale and residential level thanks to technological advances that have made solar panels cheaper.

As the cost of solar PV systems drops, more households and private businesses are able to purchase and install solar panels on their properties. Many energy providers in Australia are also adding incentives for customers to adopt solar panels, such as solar feed-in-tariffs which allow customers to send energy back to the grid.

A solar feed-in tariff (FiT) is an energy buy-back scheme where households with solar panels and a solar battery can send unused energy back into the grid for extra money. The amount of money you can make from a solar Feed-in tarff can vary widely depending on where you live, who your energy provider is, and which electricity plan you’re on.

What can solar energy be used for? Solar energy has a number of different residential uses. In addition to the classic rooftop solar panels, you frequently see on Australian homes, solar thermal energy can be used to heat water for home use and to heat pools.

Hydropower & Hydroelectricity

Hydropower is the 3rd biggest source of renewable energy in Australia. Australia has over 120 hydroelectric power stations, which contribute 23.3% of all renewable energy generation in the National Electricity Market.

Before 2020, hydropower was the second-biggest source of renewable energy in Australia. However, thanks to the increased uptake of small-scale solar PV systems and an overall increase in capacity, solar power has surpassed hydropower which is now the 3rd biggest source of renewable energy in Australia.

Hydropower, which is energy generated from the movement of water, is another popular renewable energy resource. The use of water to generate energy has been around for a long time, with people harnessing its power for boats, grain mills, and even mining. Hydropower is also one of the largest contributors to renewable energy worldwide, contributing to over 16% of the world’s energy production and over half of all renewable energy produced globally.

Unlike solar, hydropower is often done on a larger scale as it requires the use of vast turbines and generators and the movement of large amounts of water. That’s not to say residential and small-scale hydro isn’t a possibility, just that you need a continuous supply of swiftly moving water in order to generate enough energy to offset the cost of the system and it can be hard to find a fast-enough, large-enough, body of moving water on smaller private property.

Snowy Hydro powerplant, the parent company of Red Energy and Lumo Energy, owns Australia's largest hydroelectric station and contributes to over half of all hydropower within Australia. Currently, there are plans to expand Snowy Hydro, with a plan called Snowy 2.0 in an effort to decrease Australia’s dependence on non-renewable energy sources while implementing renewable energy storage and kWh output.

Geothermal Energy

Geothermal energy takes heat from the Earth, in the form of steam or water, which is transformed into electricity.

According to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, while Australia has immense geothermal energy potential it is not the most financially viable renewable energy option due to the significant start-up costs for the geothermal system technology needed, as well as the difficulty in identifying and then extracting the geothermal reservoirs.

As such, Geothermal energy accounts for around 0.001% of Australia's total clean energy consumption.

Bioenergy & Biomass

As of 2020, biomass energy accounted for 1.4% of total energy production and 5% of renewable energy production in Australia.

Bioenergy utilizes living or once-living organisms to create electricity by burning the biomass to create hot gas.

These organisms can be anything, but wood waste, black liquor (a by-product from paper manufacturing), biogas from landfill or sewage methane, energy crops, commercial crop residue, or household garbage or garden prunings, which are the most common. This hot gas is then generated into steam through a boiler, which is run through a steam engine or turbine to create mechanical or electrical energy.

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Renewable Energy in Australia

Australia is well-positioned for the global transition to clean, green, and renewable energy thanks to its ample sunshine, large bodies of moving water, and strong winds.

Australia ranks seventh globally for installed renewable energy capacity. In 2020, Australia had a total installed renewable energy capacity of over 17,600.000 MW.

In the table below you can see where Australia ranks globally for its renewable energy capacity:

Top 10 World Countries by Renewable Energy Power Capacity
Ranking Country Total installed capacity in MegaWatts
1st China 254,354.800 MW
2nd USA 75,571.700 MW
3rd Japan 66,999.949 MW
4th Germany 53,783.000 MW
5th India 39,211.158 MW
6th Italy 21,600.345 MW
7th Australia 17,627.000 MW
8th Vietnam 16,504.490 MW
9th South Korea 14,574.791 MW
10th Spain 14,089.018 MW

Source: International Renewable Energy Agency 2020 Country Ratings

As mentioned before, 27.7% of all the energy generated last year in Australia was renewable energy. In the graph below you can find a breakdown of the energy distribution based on the type of resource thatcreated the renewable energy.

Source: Clean Energy Council 2020 Report

Renewable Energy by State

Despite Australia's strong standing globally for renewable energy capacity, wide-sweeping federal renewable energy policy is still lacking across Australia, and in 2020 states and territories took it upon themselves to implement plans to speed up the transition to renewable energy in Australia.

Tasmania is the renewable energy leader in Australia.

As of 2020, Tasmania produces more energy than it uses with green energy technologies reaching a massive 99.2% of the state. The Tasmanian government has also set a goal of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2040.

South Australia has the goal of reaching 100% renewable energy by 2030 and has made significant strides with clean energy accounting for slightly over 60% of total electricity generation in 2020.

And lastly, New South Wales recently implemented sweeping changes with its Electricity Infrastructure Roadmap, which is the state's plan to create 12 GW of renewable energy transmission capacity and bring itself to the centre stage of Australia's renewable energy transition by attracting $32 billion in new private investment.

In the table below you can see how the rest of the states are doing:

Renewable Energy in Australia by State in 2020
State Renewable Energy Generated (Gwh) Penetration of Renewable Energy
NSW 14312 21%
QLD 10888 16.6%
VIC 13685 27.7%
SA 8523 59.7%
WA 4643 24.2%
TAS 10866 99.2%

Green Energy Providers in Australia

It makes sense to want to support an energy company that supports the environment, but it can be difficult to determine which energy providers are actually green.

When choosing a green energy provider, some important things to consider are:

  • Does the energy provider offer Green Power or another carbon offsetting initiative?
  • Does the energy provider offer a high solar feed-in tariff to entice customers to invest in solar panels?
  • Does the energy provider own renewable energy assets, such as wind, solar, or hydroelectric generation plants?
  • Does the energy provider provide advice or ways to help you reduce your energy consumption?
  • Does the energy provider offer unique ways to support the energy transition, particularly within local communities?
  • What steps has your energy provider taken in recent years to support the energy transition?
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  • Below we cover:
  • Energy Providers that offer Green Power
  • Carbon Neutral Energy Providers
  • Top 5 Green Energy Provoders in Australia

Energy Providers that offer Green Power

Green Power is a government-accredited initiative that enables energy consumers to offset their energy usage. Customers can choose to offset between 10% and 100% of their energy consumption, often at a small additional cost. Some providers that offer Green Power include:

It’s important to understand that Green Power does not mean you yourself are getting your energy from a renewable or green energy source. Rather, after you consume your energy your provider pays into the program on your behalf to support future renewable initiatives.

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Carbon Neutral Energy Providers

Similar to Green Power, energy providers can also choose to carbon offset the energy customers consume by supporting renewable energy development globally. Unlike Green Power, carbon offsetting is often free, without an additional charge to the consumer, but it also means fewer energy providers offer this carbon offsetting. Energy companies that offer carbon-neutral initiatives include:

Top 5 Green Energy Providers & The Green Electricity Guide

Every year GreenPeace puts out its GreenPeace Green Electricity Guide.

The Green Electricity Guide offers a comprehensive ranking of energy providers in Australia based on criteria including:

  • carbon emissions
  • carbon offset
  • support for local energy
  • renewable energy projects
  • etc.

Since the pandemic there has been a hiatus with the publication of the GreenPeace Green Electricity Guide set to be published later in 2022.

However, based on the most recent version from 2018, the top 5 greenest energy providers in Australia are:

Top 5 Greenest Energy Providers in Australia
Rank Retailer Score
1st Powershop 9.7
2nd Diamond Energy 9.1
3rd Energy Locals 7.4
4th Enova Energy 7.4
5th AGL 7.0

Source: GreenPeace 2018 Green Electricity Guide

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