Cheaper renewable energy driving electricity costs down

Rising demand for electricity has been met by more solar and wind generation, which is keeping a lid on prices and carbon emissions, the market operator says.

Renewable energy generation drove down wholesale prices in the first three months of 2024 despite higher temperatures pushing up electricity demand, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) quarterly report released on Tuesday.

South Australia led the field for price drops. Wholesale prices were down almost a quarter from a year earlier to $55 per megawatt hour.

SA Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis said global energy prices were easing back after the shock of the Ukraine war and increased renewable generation was adding further downward pressure.

“These proven falls in wholesale prices are encouraging signs that we are on the right track,” he said.

Mr Koutsantonis also hailed the increase in battery usage, with revenue more than doubling to $20.4 million.

Renewable sources increased their share nationwide to 39 per cent during January to March 2024, up from 37.4 per cent a year ago, as traditional coal-fired power generation continues to be phased out.

Output from all generation sources other than hydro and gas-fired power plants increased to meet rising demand in the national electricity market (NEM).

“We are increasingly seeing renewable energy records being set which is a good thing for Australian consumers as it is key in driving prices down and NEM emissions intensity to new record lows,” said Violette Mouchaileh, AEMO’s executive general manager of reform delivery.

Grid-scale solar generation had the greatest increase in output compared to a year earlier, with an 18 per cent rise to a new record of 2164MW during the quarter on new capacity in NSW and Queensland.

Rooftop solar output hit record highs in SA, Victoria and Tasmania, and reached its highest level for any March quarter in Queensland and NSW, leading to an overall increase in quarterly output of 10 per cent.

Wind generation had the next largest increase, up five per cent to 2971MW, while black coal-fired generation rose 1.1 per cent to 10,613MW and brown coal-fired generation rose 0.6 per cent to 3675 MW.

Hydro fell 10 per cent to 1344MW and gas-fired generation fell eight per cent to 1026MW.

East coast and international gas prices continued to ease, and export demand for Queensland liquefied natural gas increased.

Gas flows on the Queensland Gas Pipeline have not yet returned to normal following a rupture on March 5 that triggered a first-time use of powers to protect supply, the market operator said.

In Western Australia, multiple heatwaves sparked seven of the 10 highest-ever maximum average operational demands.

The state posted a record maximum average of 4233 megawatts used on February 18 when the temperature hit 43C.


Marion Rae and Jacob Shteyman
(Australian Associated Press)

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