Getting less fired-up at Victoria's Hazelwood power station. Photo: John Donegan
Weak demand for electricity across eastern mainland states has sparked a “dramatic fall” in greenhouse gas emissions from Australia's power stations, the latest review of data by consultants Pitt & Sherry has found.
While demand for base-load electricity from black coal-fired power stations has been in retreat for about three years, the decline has extended in recent months to two of Victoria's emissions-intensive brown coal-fired plants, Hazelwood and Yallourn.
Changes in demand of electricity on this scale are unprecedented in the entire 120-year history of the electricity supply industry in Australia
Hazelwood, one of the country's oldest and dirtiest power plants, was operating at only 67 per cent capacity in November, down from the mid-80 per cent range in May and June, Hugh Saddler, principal consultant in the climate change business unit of Pitt & Sherry, said.
The data, analysed from half-hourly reports to the Australian Energy Market Operator, also show Yallourn was operating at just 56 per cent last month even after it announced it was mothballing one of its four units. That ratio is down from 90 per cent capacity use in December last year, Dr Saddler said.
In NSW, power stations were operating in the 60-70 per cent capacity range, with Eraring down to 44 per cent and Bayswater 64 per cent last month.
The slide in coal-fired power generation means “it should really be quite easy” for the government to meet its goal of cutting Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 from 2000 levels, he said.
Total emissions from energy use for the year ended September 30 were 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide lower than in the year ended July 2012. In November alone, CO2 emissions from energy dropped another 600,000 tonnes based on a rolling 12-month data series.
Pitt & Sherry analysis shows demand for electricity fell 2.5 per cent in year to November, compared with a year earlier, led by a decline of more than 5 per cent for NSW. South Australia and Tasmania posted falls of about 3 per cent, with Queensland and Victoria registering small retreats in demand.
Higher electricity prices appear to be an important prompt to the demand drop.
“The price is a signal to consumers to use less electricity,” Dr Saddler said. “There's also been a dramatic increase in residential use of small-scale reverse cycle air-conditioners, which have become very much more efficient in recent years.”
Using electricity demand in 2008-09 as the base, annual demand to the end of November 2012 has seen an 11 per cent fall in Victoria, 8 per cent in NSW, with smaller drops in other states.
"Changes in demand of electricity on this scale are unprecedented in the entire 120-year history of the electricity supply industry in Australia," the Pitt & Sherry report said.
The rapid spread of solar photovoltaic panels is also beginning to erode demand, although the full impact may not be felt until more companies rather than homes install the technology, he said. Commercial power demand typically matches solar PV output more closely than residential use.
Meanwhile, one of Australia's biggest PV installers, Mark Group, has begun offering additional solar payments to foster demand even as state governments roll back feed-in tariffs.
Earlier this year, Victoria cut its feed-in tariff from 25¢ per kilowatt-hour to 8¢. Mark Group, along with retailer Diamond Energy, has lifted that rate to 33¢, with plans to roll out similar programs in NSW, Queensland and South Australia next year.
A surge in Chinese PV production has seen the cost of panels drop from $1.80 to 65¢ per kilowatt capacity in the past two years. “We're not that far from operating without subsidies,” Rob Grant, chief executive of Mark Group's Australian operations, said. “The biggest uptake is going to commercial.”