Pandemic Response Impact on Electricity Emissions Minimal: National Energy Emissions Audit


While the COVID-19 pandemic response has led to massively reduced emissions by the transport sector, new research shows the same cannot be said for the electricity sector—which has only seen a slight decrease in emissions over the past month—confirming the need for strong structural and legislative reforms to reduce emissions in the electricity sector.

The Australia Institute Climate & Energy Program has released their latest National Energy Emissions Audit, analysing the electricity sector over the previous month. 

Key Points

  • From 16 March 2020 when major lockdowns and closures began to 21 April 2020, electricity consumption was 2.4 per cent lower than in the corresponding period in 2019 and 2.5 per cent lower than in 2018. 
  • The period from mid-March to mid-April was significantly warmer in both 2019 and 2018 than this year. While reduced economic activity may have contributed to the reduction, it was certainly not the only causal factor, contributing about 1% in each year. 
  • Gas use has remained stable with electricity, manufacturing and LNG production accounting for over 70% of total gas consumption in eastern Australia and facing relatively little impact from the pandemic response. 
  • Coal generators and retailers are reportedly using the COVID-19 health crisis to lobby to slow down reforms to the NEM that would allow renewable energy and demand response to compete against them.  

“Given the disruptive nature of the pandemic and its effect on sectors like transport, it might surprise some that the carbon emissions from electricity – the most polluting sector in Australia — have been so small,” said Dr Hugh Saddler, author of The Australia Institute’s National Energy Emissions Audit.

“With most Australians ‘grounded’ transport emissions have dropped significantly but major electricity and gas users are still operating as per usual, and there is higher household demand.

“In the last 12 months renewables have performed strongly and on Easter Saturday, renewables generated half of Australia’s electricity for nearly two hours, an impressive new milestone that has only been achieved for a few minutes in the past.”

“Unfortunately, some coal generators and retailers are using this health crisis to lobby and slow down much needed reforms to the NEM. Over the long-term this will harm consumers, slow down economic recovery and hinder the growth of clean energy and emissions reduction,” said Richie Merzian, Climate & Energy Program Director at The Australia Institute.

“Australia’s electricity sector provides an incredibly valuable opportunity to stimulate the economy and reduce emissions; however, it is abundantly clear that more fossil fuel extraction and use cannot achieve either of these goals as effectively as renewables.”

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