Australia's biggest coal state, NSW, also biggest electricity importer

Australia’s biggest coal state, NSW, also biggest electricity importer

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South Australia’s renewables grid is often criticised for relying on “imports” from other states. But no grid relies more on imports than NSW, the grid with the highest percentage of coal generation.

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New South Wales, the state that relies on coal generation more than any other grid in the world, has also been Australia’s biggest net importer of electricity, a new report has found.

In the latest National Energy Emissions Audit, published last week by The Australia Institute, energy analyst Hugh Saddler said NSW had been relying on its neighbours on the NEM for up to a fifth of its demand in 2017.

This was despite the state having a minimal share of so-called “intermittent” renewable energy generation – just 9 per cent, including big hydro – and 91 per cent of its total generation mix coming from “baseload” fossil fuels.

“Consumption has been consistently higher than generation, by as much as 20 per cent, as net imports …(mostly) from Queensland and Victoria contributed significantly to total supply,” Saddler wrote in the report.

In South Australia, meanwhile – “the NEM region with by far the highest share of variable renewable generation,” at 45 per cent (and headed to 75 per cent) – electricity imports have been on the decline, he said.

“Net imports through the two interconnectors with Victoria were previously an important contributor to total state consumption.

“But interconnector flows are now moving steadily towards approximate balance,” Saddler added; “during every month from July to December, exports to Victoria exceeded imports from Victoria.”

The interesting contrast between the two states comes as a number of state and federal politicians, alongside Conservative media outlets, continue to argue that more coal-fired power generation is what Australia needs to improve cost and reliability of supply.

This argument continues despite the increasingly unreliable track record of the nation’s ageing coal plants, some of which – like the Liddell power station in NSW – predate colour TV in Australia.

And it continues despite the assurances from coal plant owners, including AGL Energy and Energy Australia, that coal is not an economically or enironmentally viable solution for future energy generation.

South Australia, meanwhile, is leading the world in its demonstration of how new technologies – like the Tesla big battery – can integrate increasing amounts of renewables into an established electricity supply system, Saddler said.

Interconnectors, he added, would also be an important part of a distributed renewables grid.

“It is important not to ignore the important contribution which interconnector exchanges with Victoria, and also exchanges between Victoria and Tasmania are playing in making best use of the mix of generation technologies across the three states,” he said.

“That explains why there is renewed interest in building a new interconnector between South Australia and either Victoria or New South Wales or, possibly, even Queensland.”

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  1. MaxG 3 years ago

    The problem with the coalition is: they can’t comprehend numbers, and even if they could, they’d still spray their lost cause ideology.

    • Joe 3 years ago

      …but they comprehend Newspoll numbers very well.

      • MaxG 3 years ago

        You could say, they have experience with this; if their number I bigger they are happy… does not take much brains though one would assume 🙂

  2. Jon 3 years ago

    N.S.W. Is going to be in a bit of a pickle in a few years time.
    Qld – NSW interconnector are often near peak, Liddell is going close (hooray!!) there is going to be more renewable generation (again hooray!!) but they have little in the way of storage that can time shift the large volumes of energy they are going to have to.
    Chemical batteries will help to stabilise the grid and time shift small/moderate amounts but they also need some big volume storage.

    • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

      Yeah do you think Lidell closing down will have any impact on global temperature if you do your dumb coal is efficient. How many years do wind turbines have to operate before they outweigh their carbon footprint? Beyond their life greeny hypocrite

      • Warwick Sands 3 years ago

        Less than 18 months is the payback period

        • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

          Then why have electricity prices soared since they came in. If they are so efficient why do we subsidise them

      • Jon 3 years ago

        Hi Brian
        Not by itself it won’t, but along with all the others it will help.
        You might want to get a little more up to date with your facts, wind turbines offset their lifecycle energy (including imanufacture, transport, construction, maintenance and decommissioning) in less than a year.
        If you don’t like wind for environmental reasons at least do yourself a favour and like it for financial reasons, you do understand the concept of zero marginal cost generation, competition and commodities don’t you?

        • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

          Thats fine. If so they dont need the current 80 bucks a certificate do they? If renewables are able to operate without subsidies paid for by poor folk then goos why do you continue ti support robber barons and why do electricity prices rise after we were told theyd go down. ENGIE engergy made all their profit via subsidies last year. But thank you for your gracious and polite response. Regards my friend we all seek a better world.

          • Shaun 3 years ago

            Hi Brian
            Do you have any opinion on the external health costs of coal etc that currently are met by society – black lung, cancer, asthma?
            Do you have any opinion on the external costs of FFs regards worsening drought, storms and the resulting cost to society?
            The ‘poor folk’ you mention suffer far more financially, socially and medically from these issues than they do from the renewable certs used to bring about the necessary change to renewable energy.

          • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

            OK let’s wind back the biggest subsidy of all, the one that FF emitters have foisted upon the environment and all of us for many years: the lack of a market signal that is a price on carbon.

            If you truly believe in the free market you would support a price on carbon surely!!

            When we have that subsidy removed we can have a conversation about withdrawing financial support for renewables.

            Now that would level the playing field!

      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

        Right back at you:

        How many years do COAL plants have to operate before they outweigh their huge and continuing carbon footprint? Answer: they never do and will only grow their carbon footprint as they age.

      • Ben C 3 years ago

        How fossil fuels can be considered cheaper when they will ultimately cost us everything baffles me. even if renewables weren’t financially cost competitive (which they are) there would still be a pretty strong case for using and subsidizing them (especially when there are billions of dollars being poured into coal anyway). The alternative: fossil fuels, will make us pay dearly in social and economic costs down the road.

      • MaxG 3 years ago

        Whats’ worse is all that methane these flat earthers are producing.
        I mean all that good coal has done deserves a heritage listing like the Morwell Power Station. Lidell’s impact on the global temperatures is uninteresting as the hundreds of deaths in the Hunter Valley alone due to coal mining and transport. And given the population growth we have today, who cares that coal particulates pollution is estimated to shorten approximately 1,000,000 lives annually worldwide.
        Let alone impact to land, water, waste, pollution, mercury emissions — what are we complaining about? It’s only the cost of doing business to give you folks some electricity.

    • Jonathan Prendergast 3 years ago

      Are you forgetting existing Snowy Hydro including pumped hydro at Tumut and also pumped hydro at Shoalhaven? There is lots of storage and flexibility in NSW. And currently under-utilised also.

  3. Ken Dyer 3 years ago

    There is no doubt that New South Wales is falling behind, but according to a former Australian Deputy Prime Minister,

    ““It would be a positive outcome for Australia if some of the high
    efficiency, low emission coal generating capacity were installed in
    Australia in the near future as a way of ensuring affordable and
    reliable electricity for the community,”

    Mark Vaile, formerly of the National Party is a big wig in NSW coal. Why do you think they wanted a new nationals leader from NSW – nothing to do with agriculture. If the Nationals had their way, they would turn NSW into a giant coal pit, but that’s all right, most of the Federal COALition LNP MP’s come from NSW, including Turnbull, the PM.

    And they do not care who they poison, coal is king.

    • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

      And if you had your way we would have more poor folk paying subsidies to the rich renewable sector coal us good Al Gore et al lying thieves as proved by the British High Court.

      • Pete 3 years ago

        Haha! It’s like you were on last weeks show with Shaun Micallef! You’re so right! These blow-in wind barons are harnessing our wind for free, how dare they! We need that wind to keep mozzies away. At least coal barons like Glencore pay taxes to run our schools and hospit…errr, hang on. Hmmm, apparently the coal barons are rent seeking scum, my error.

        • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

          They employ a lot more people at no cost to tax payers greeny then you probably dont work or are a publicly funded bludger

          • Mike Westerman 3 years ago

            Ah Blian – just as ignorant of employment in our cpal industry as in all your other dribbles into this thread

          • neroden 3 years ago

            The solar installation business employs more people than the entire coal business. Easy enough to look up.

          • Electric Boogaloo 3 years ago

            Coal produces the overwhelmingly vast majority of Australia’s electricity.

            That just goes to show how horribly inefficient and expensive solar power is and how cheap and efficient coal power is.

            Joules produced per man-hour of labour is what counts.

        • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

          Or what do you do for a job something subsidised by taxpayers why do you support subsidies to AGL

      • Ken Dyer 3 years ago

        So in NSW you are quite content to let the LNP COALitions, both State and Federal, to sponge off other States who have invested lots of money in renewable energy, while the coal producers continue to poison the environment and screw the consumer.

      • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

        And what do you do for a job Kenny boy

        • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

          And what do you do for a job? Besides trolling that is…

      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago


      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

        Comedy, pure comedy.

    • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

      The coal industry pays its way. The renewables rely on subsidies paid for by poor folk then again greenies never work except in public sector jobs so they dont care.coal is beautiful greenies ugly nihilistic morons.

      • Ken Dyer 3 years ago

        Brian, last year the coal industry in Australia received nearly $11 billion dollars in direct government subsidies, i.e. from the poor folk. Paying their way – bulldust – more like being propped up by the taxpayer.

        • Electric Boogaloo 3 years ago

          What are the subsidies?

          You can’t count the diesel excise rebate as a subsidy because that’s available to everyone who uses diesel for off-road purposes as excise is levied to pay for roads.

      • Barri Mundee 3 years ago

        You do not convince people by abusive and derogatory labeling.

  4. Brian Dooley 3 years ago

    Well then explain why SA has the highest power prices in the world ? 20 mill to keep the power station going. Now millions spent on rent seeking robber barons. The math is easy greeny since that idiot Rudd power prices have doubled. Then you guys all work in the government sector or associated subsided sectors. If renewables are efficient why do we need to subsidise them greenies

    • Mike Westerman 3 years ago

      Even those soft in the head know why SA has high prices and has had for decades. Well before Rudd or renewables.

      • Joe 3 years ago

        Brian ‘The Stooge’ / ‘Trolli’…giving it a fair shake. No need to waste any more time with Tooley Dooley.

    • Ken Dyer 3 years ago

      Residential customers have had an average rise of 18 per cent under AGL,
      19.9 per cent from Energy Australia, 16.1 per cent with Origin Energy. SA is effectively being held to ransom by these retail suppliers, who also have significant fossil fuel resources to produce electricity.

      Since the big battery has been implemented in South Australia, it has prevented rorting of wholesale prices by the big three on several occasions.

      • Brian Dooley 3 years ago

        Then when will power prices fall

        • Chris Ford 3 years ago

          Wholesale prices in SA have already fallen. If retailers don’t pass that on it’s the privatised and poorly regulated NEM at fault, not renewable generation. Give it time. Just like the complaints about SA needing to import – FFS, they’re not even at 50% yet! Of course they can’t supply the whole state … yet.

          • John Mills 3 years ago

            I think we, SA, will not be off the ‘hook’ of the coal and gas generators until we have a huge increase in three renewable assets – wind turbines, solar farms, and storage systems.
            Hopefully all those projects being talked about will be built before too long.
            And another connector, to NSW, will also bring down prices by giving us more options for both exporting and importing power.
            But at the moment, because of lack of competition, i.e.lack of renewable (and non-renewable) generators, we are at the mercy of the free market in the wholesale market.
            Jay knows it, has said it, and so is dong everything he can to encourage more renewable generators for SA.
            The other side of the coin however, is that if too many new generators come into play, then the two expensive gas stations we have might end up closing down, just as the Northern Power Station did.
            And there will still be the occasional day where there is no wind and little sunshine. Or more likely – the occasional night when the wind stops!
            So as all states move to increase their renewable capacity, and old power stations are mothballed, there will need to be enough fossil fuel stations still in commission, and maybe even owned by the governments, to provide base load power on those occasions.
            I say owned by the public sector because they might not be able to run at a profit when they are only used on the rare occasion.

          • daw 3 years ago

            Quite hypocritical to be singing the praises of intermettent renewables but also singing the praise of an additional interconnector to states that are predominantly coal fired isn’t it?

        • CsabaU 3 years ago

          When SA has 200(?) MW more roof top PV combined with the 400(?) MW utility PV and the 200(?) MW wind turbines in pipeline are finished within 2(?) years. Then the NG suppliers will not be able to hedge the price any more.

          • trackdaze 3 years ago

            All good. How does that play out with wind curtailment above 1200Mw? And the nessessity to have 3or 4 gas plants running? More storage?

        • trackdaze 3 years ago

          Mine fell to below zero sometime ago. 😉

        • Ben C 3 years ago

          Brian, the power prices would have already fallen more sharply if it weren’t for the borderline criminal coal and gas industries faking scarcity to justify astronomical price hikes and robbing the very poor people you claim to feel so bad for, as well as if we had a federal government that took some initiative and exhibited some leadership by spearheading a comprehensive and coordinated energy plan to lead us into the inevitable future that is renewable energy generation. all this dogma and noise and bureaucracy may slow down and obscure the future, but it will not stop it.

    • PacoBella 3 years ago

      Brian, this is an interesting and informative forum which usually adds adds value to the thoughtful pieces published by Giles. Often the contributors also have an amusing anecdote or comment and many of us enjoy the lighter mood thereby created. Uninformed assertions and abusive name-calling is not generally appreciated. At best, your contributions here tonight do serve to remind regular readers of the depth of the problem we are facing as a community interested in innovative and effective solutions to the train-wreck that has been foisted upon us all by more than a decade of mismanagement by governments at various levels and of various political persuasions. It is good that you have logged on, but do try harder to absorb and analyse the information that is available.

    • neroden 3 years ago

      If you had bothered to read this forum for more than a day, you’d know that *Enron-style market manipulation* — by a cartel of fossil fuel power plant owners — is what raised the power prices in South Australia (and all of Australia).

      The solution was *batteries*, such as the Big Battery. These prevent the market manipulation. So the batteries are bringing the electricity prices back down.

      • daw 3 years ago

        if you bother to look at the graphs here and the tables at AEMO you will see that SA is still dependent on other than W&S and is the dearest nearly all the time.

  5. trackdaze 3 years ago

    Good to see the worm has turned.

    Imagine 2018 is going to mean more green renewable flows across borders to prop up expensive dirty coal flavoured states.

    South Korea and Japan some of our biggest coal export clients are about to start turning the taps off too.

    It’s time the Federal Government looked at coal as a significant risk both here and abroad and hitched the Australian economy onto the sun and wind.

    • daw 3 years ago

      Report on ABC radio (Mon 26-2-18) Malaysia to increase coal imports from Aust from 30 million Tonnes to 45 million tonnes in 2018. Both South Korea and Japan to also increase imports (not quantified) in 2018.
      So much for turning off the taps!

      • Electric Boogaloo 3 years ago

        Bangladesh is building 20GW of coal-fired generation capacity, which is more than our national grid’s base load.

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