A remarkable growth in renewable energy production from solar and wind sources has led to a significant decline in fossil fuel-based generation in Australia’s largest electricity grid. This shift has caused wholesale power prices to plummet, as reported by the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO). Over the three months ending in March, average prices stood at $83 per megawatt-hour, marking a 10.5% drop from the previous quarter and a staggering 62% fall compared to the September quarter of the previous year.
AEMO’s most recent quarterly report highlighted the impressive expansion of green energy output, including a 23% average increase in electricity generated by the nation’s expansive rooftop solar panel network compared to the same period in 2022. Large-scale wind and solar farm production also experienced an 11% boost due to the commissioning of new projects. Simultaneously, coal and gas power generation experienced historic lows, even with AEMO’s report of federal government-imposed price caps reducing costs. Gas-fired power generation reached its lowest point in nearly two decades, while the decline in both black and brown coal power continued unabated. AEMO CEO Daniel Westerman emphasized the fundamental shift in the electricity sector from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
Westerman also stressed the necessity for new transmission lines and backup power sources, such as pumped hydro and battery storage, to maintain grid stability during the transition. He cited constraints in the transmission network as a barrier to full capacity supply from several major renewable energy projects in Victoria’s Murray region. Westerman argued that high voltage power lines like VNI West and Energy Connect would significantly enhance the system’s ability to accommodate renewable energy. The impact of rooftop solar has been particularly significant, with over 3 million Australian homes equipped with solar panels. The excess energy produced by these panels is often returned to the grid, pushing out other generators like coal-fired plants. Westerman noted that this trend has led to record-low operational demand and increasingly frequent instances of negative wholesale power prices.
Federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen lauded the AEMO report as evidence that government efforts to reduce electricity prices are successful. He highlighted capped wholesale coal and gas prices for the domestic market as crucial in achieving these results. The upcoming budget will focus on investing in cleaner, cheaper, and more reliable energy sources, providing targeted relief for households and businesses. However, Shadow Energy Minister Ted O’Brien criticized the government’s handling of Australia’s power industry, arguing that the recent closure of the Liddell coal-fired power station in NSW could jeopardize supplies. O’Brien claimed that the government lacked adequate plans to replace retiring baseload generators such as coal plants.