National Energy Emissions Audit

February/March 2021
by Hugh Saddler

Welcome to the February- April 2021 bumper issue of the NEEA Report, presenting electricity-related data updated to the end of March 2021, data on gas consumption to the end of February, and petroleum product consumption to the end of January.

Details on data sources and methods are included in the appendix.

Key Findings:

  • Between February 2020 and January 2021 annual energy combustion emissions fell by about 7.3 % (about 22.3 Mt CO2-e) of which about 12.8 Mt CO2-e relate to petroleum use which was directly impacted by the pandemic response.
  • Total energy consumption was the lowest it has been in six years in South Australia, five years for the NEM as a whole and four years in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.
  • Total electricity consumption in 2019-20 however, was slightly higher than in 2018-19 in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. There was a slight increase in NSW.
  • There is no evidence that in NEM states that economic lock-down and associated economic recession caused a significant drop in total electricity consumption. Excluding Victoria where similar data is not yet available.
  • Within electricity consumption, a small shift may have occurred from general business consumption to residential consumption. This would be expected given the tendency to work from home during the pandemic.
  • Commentators who continue to assert that Australia has experienced a fall in electricity consumption, are simply transferring the experience of Europe and the USA, giving no consideration to the actual evidence of what has happened in Australia.
  • The highest peak demand in the NEM for this financial year occurred on Sunday 24 January 2021.
    • This was the hottest day of the summer in many parts of eastern Australia, but it is the first-ever time that the summer peak has occurred on a Sunday.
    • This 2020-21 peak demand was lower relative to each of the previous five summers, undoubtedly caused of the growing supply from rooftop solar.
    • Rooftop solar made a larger contribution to the grid during the 2020-21 peak demand than either Liddell (output 750MW) or Yallourn (output 1,300MW).
  • Petroleum emissions are expected to reach around 125 Mt CO2-e in 2030. By contrast, electricity generation emissions are expected to fall to 111 Mt.
    • On the basis of current policy settings, by 2030 petroleum emissions will be a considerably larger source of emissions in Australia than electricity generation.
    • Transport accounts for 75% of total petroleum consumption with most of the rest coming from mining (14%) and agriculture (5%).
  • The four remaining oil refineries in Australia are old and relatively small. Altona was commissioned in 1949, Geelong in 1954, Kwinana in 1955 and Lytton in 1963. Although each has been upgraded and modified over the years, for most of their lives they have been oriented to producing more petrol than any other product. Two (Kwinana and Altona) are scheduled to close
  • Geelong and Lytton oil refineries have recently reported heavy operating losses for 2020. Geelong, has indicated that it will depend on continuing government subsidy to remain open, while Lytton said that it is currently reviewing the future of the refinery.  The capacity of these two refineries will only be sufficient to produce less than a quarter of the volume of petroleum products (which Australia consumed in 2018-19).
  • It is hard to see the logic of spending public money to maintain the operations of Geelong and Lytton given they are old, inefficient refineries that mainly produce petrol, which will be the first fuel to decline with the rise of electric vehicles.
  • The best way to increase Australia’s energy security in the medium term would be to reduce consumption of petrol by rapidly switching to electric passenger vehicles, and focus on diesel and jet fuel supplies as the main energy security challenge.

Full report