Clean energy beats coal: hydro, wind and solar produce more electricity than brown coal for first time ever

Brown coal generation trails renewables for first time UM data shows.

Renewables supplied more energy to the Australian grid than brown coal over the 2018-19 financial year new data shows.

The University of Melbourne’s College of Climate and Energy claims it’s the first time ever that renewable energy sources have beaten brown coal in supplying electricity.

The clean energy mix was a combination of hydroelectricity, wind and utility-scale solar power, data reveals. Yet customers will have to wait a while for price relief as wholesale energy prices also rose in 2018.

Brown coal output continues to slide

Brown coal generation fell by 13 per cent (1,248 gigawatt hours) in the second quarter of 2019 compared with the same period last year. That’s the lowest level of generation since 1993.

New data shows renewable production exceeding brown coal.

Renewables broke records in 2018-19, generating more energy than brown coal. Chart: University of Melbourne

Black coal remains the largest power source in the National Energy Market. Yet even black coal generation stayed flat during the period, figures show.

Meanwhile, wholesale power prices rose between March and June this year. They reached an average of $91.62 against $85.52 in the second quarter of 2018.

However, Green Energy Markets (GEM) Director Tristan Edis told the Australian Financial Review incoming renewable supply is equal to around two Hazelwood power stations. Hazelwood, a decommissioned brown coal fueled station which closed in 2017, produced 1,600 MW. Wholesale price falls will then take around 12 months to reach consumers.

States fall short in renewable targets

Despite renewable growth, NSW, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia will fall short of their 2030 renewable investment targets.

This week’s GEM Renewable Energy Index report shows NSW needs to do the most work. The state must add at least 5,000 MW of clean energy by 2030 to meet its target of net zero emissions from the power sector by 2050.

Victoria, Australia’s brown coal capital, also needs to add 2,000 MW of green energy projects to reach its goal of 50 per cent renewables by 2030.

Hydro generation has also struggled over the last 12 months. According to University of Melbourne energy researcher Dylan McConnell, hydroelectric power plants have produced less energy because of drought conditions.

Utility and domestic: Solar panels boom

Large-scale and commercial solar power continues to boom across Australia as traditional sources such as brown coal falter. Clean Energy Council figures show the renewable projects sector reached a record-breaking $20 billion in 2018.

At the end of last year, 14.6 GW of new wind and solar energy projects were under way across the nation.

Renewable jobs are also growing nationwide, with jobs in the solar sector growing fastest.

According to the Australia Bureau of Statistics, construction activity in utility-scale and rooftop solar installations now makes up 94 per cent of the increase in clean energy industry employment.

Australia now has rooftop solar panels on more than two million homes. Meanwhile, more households are considering home batteries as global battery prices fall and electric vehicles become more popular.