17 Little Known Facts About Energy Consumption in Australia

Most of the data and charts in this story are taken from the report 'Energy in Australia 2011' by ABARES (PDF available here).

To save you from reading the full 105 page document, I have summarised the most interesting points right here:

1. Two-thirds of our 'energy resources' are exported

We only consume about one third of the energy resources exploited each year. In fact, Australia is the 9th largest energy exporter in the world.

2. GDP and energy consumption are still in sync

Primary energy consumption and GDP are still directly coupled to each other. In other words, growth in economic output is still directly linked to energy consumption.

Energy Consumption and GDP in Australia 

3. Overall energy intensity is decreasing

On a positive note, while GDP and energy consumption are still linked, overall energy intensity is declining. Over the last 20 years energy intensity has declined by about 20%. The most efficient state is Victoria (thanks to a service industry focus) and the least efficient is Western Australia (thanks to a mining industry focus).

Energy Intensity by State Australia 

4. Renewable energy accounts for just 5% of energy consumption

Renewable energy consumption is growing but still accounts for only 5% of total energy consumption. This 5% includes all forms of renewable energy such as hydro electricity, wind power, biomass and solar photovoltaics (PV).

5. Solar hot water usage has trebled in the last 5 years

Despite the renewable energy share being small, growth is fast. In the last five years solar electricity output has doubled, solar hot water has almost trebled and wind energy production has quadrupled. Hydroelectricity is still, however, the largest share (thanks to large projects such as the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme).

6. Wholesale electricity prices are no secret

Many people don't realise that wholesale electricity prices are openly available for the public to view (see 'electricity data' tab on this website). If you consume enough electricity (read: millions of dollars) it can even become worthwhile to trade on the wholesale market.

The wholesale electricity prices in 2011 were lowest in Queensland (average $36/MWh) and highest in Tasmania (average $59/MWh). To give some meaning to these numbers, residential customers in Australia pay about $200 per MWh.

7. Over 75% of our electricity generation comes from coal

Australian Electricity Generation by Fuel 

8. China already has installed wind power capacity about the same size as our entire electricity network

Total electricity generation capacity in Australia now stands at 51 GW. This is about the same amount of installed wind power capacity already in operation in China. China's wind energy target alone is a massive 1,000 GW by 2050.

Who says we can't be 100% renewable?... and that China is the problem?

9. Our electricity is still quite inexpensive by global standards

Despite the seemingly high prices, our electricity is still cheaper than many countries in the world. I'd still encourage you to questions high electricity bills and seek an appropriate electricity price comparison website.



10. Over the last 30 years electricity prices have gone up by a factor of 5.


11. Australia is a net importer of oil

Despite having large oil resources, Australia is a net importer of crude oil. We only produce about 76% of our needs.

12. Biofuels are still a novelty, but large-scale production is possible

Biofuels currently represent about 1% of Australia's petrol and diesel requirements. The largest producer of bio ethanol is Manildra Group in Nowra who have a production capacity of 300 million litres per year.

13. Our petrol prices are low by global standards as well.


14. The transport sector is the largest end user of energy in Australia (and you, not the trucks and trains, are to blame)

Transportation accounts for 35% of Australia's energy use. 75% of this energy is used up by road transport.

Although it might be easy to blame this fact on trucks and other commercial activity, the reality is that most of road transport's energy consumption is thanks to passenger vehicles.

Road transport fuel consuption by vehicle type 

15. Taking the bus is not much more efficient than driving a car (at current usage rates).

After the above revelation you might commit yourself to taking the bus to work. Buses and trains are more energy efficient at moving us around, but when you consider the average efficiency per passenger kilometre (numbers below), things don't look that great.

The simplest way to make all modes of transport more efficient is to increase their utilisation (ie. more occupants per vehicle when there is unused capacity). Failing that, if you really want to make a difference, you'll need to substitute your car for your feet or a bicycle!


16. We should be using trains for freight

Sending goods on trains is far more energy efficient than our current preference for trucks. Many people have guessed this, but here are the numbers to prove it:


17. Renewable energy can be implemented on a large scale

Contrary to popular belief, renewable energy can be implemented on a large scale. In fact, there are already many plants operating in Australia which have a respectable installed capacity. Here are a few highlights:

  • The largest bagasee power station in Australia it's called Pioneer 2. It's operated by CSR Sugar Mills, with an installed capacity of 63,000 kW.
  • Ergon Energy is operating an 80 kW Gethermal plant in Birdsville.
  • Atlantis Resource Corporation runs a 150 kW ocean power plant in Victoria.
  • There's a biogass plant in Woodlawn, New South Wales with a capacity of 25,000 kW.
  • There is a 2,000 kW solar energy plant attached to the Liddel coal power station in New South Wales.
  • The Snowy Hydro Scheme is enormous and still produces a large amount of green electricity 40 years after it was built.
  • The Waubra Wind Farm in Victoria is the largest in the country of its type. It has a capacity of 192,000 kW and there are a number of others of comparable size in other locations.
  • Visy Pulp & Paper operates a 17,000 kW wood waste plant in Tumut.

- Ryan McCarthy

By Ryan McCarthy |

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