Lagging investment in renewables and reduced hydro generation are contributing to Australia’s rising emissions, but rooftop solar was the star during last year’s heatwave in South Australia.

According to pitt&sherry’s January 2016 Carbon Emissions Index (CEDEX), Australia’s overdependence on coal and the rise in electricity demand means rising electricity emissions will continue for at least the next six months.

The December 2015 CEDEX found that emissions continued to rise, and the January 2016 CEDEX revealed much of the same – despite Australia’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030 and the signing of the Paris Agreement.

To compound the situation, two significant heatwaves in South Australia in December 2015 had a huge effect on daily energy demand and daily peak demand – resulting in a 70 per cent increase in demand for electrical energy.

In a spot of good news for the renewables sector, however, rooftop solar PV installations made a valuable contribution to meeting both peak demand and increased total daily demand for electrical energy during the longer heatwave period.

“During the heatwave, rooftop PV reduced peak electricity demand by 6 per cent below what it would have been without rooftop solar and also took pressure off the system on the four hottest days, by supplying 5 per cent of the total energy demand during this period,” Dr Hugh Saddler, Principal Consultant of Energy Strategies at pitt&sherry, said.

“This demonstrates a clear case for continued or enhanced support for solar energy installations, including those with more westerly orientations,” he added.

While solar was a standout performer, Mr Saddler said it is difficult to see how emissions will reduce without significant policy change. He said Australia’s ongoing use of coal-fired power stations is primarily driven by:

  • a stall in renewable energy investment</strong> over the past 18 months due to political uncertainty
  • lower than usual hydro generation in Tasmania, with energy storage levels below 24 per cent due to an abnormally dry winter
  • an overall increase in electricity demand</strong> – for the first time since 2010, electricity demand increased in the national electricity market (NEM) as a whole and in every individual state
  • a decline in gas-fired generation</strong>, with gas supply being diverted to exports

“While some changes may occur in the market, such as new renewable energy development and improved hydro generation, it is likely the current scenario will continue for at least six months, and Australia will continue to rely increasingly on coal-fired power stations for its electricity supply,” Mr Saddler said.