Energy in South Australia

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South Australia is rich in energy. It contains significant reserves of fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, and oil – although there are incentives to phase these out in favour of clean energy. The state also contains large amounts of uranium, including the world's single biggest deposit at Olympic Dam, which represents 30% of the world's total resource.[1]

More recently, the State has seen a rapid increase in investment in renewable energy, and is now the leading producer of wind power in Australia.[2] South Australia has been noted for the availability of hot rocks suitable for geothermal electricity generation.[3] The South Australian Government has released plans to make South Australia a green energy hub for Australia's eastern seaboard.[4]


Historically, much of South Australia's electricity was generated by coal-fuelled power stations. The Electricity Trust of South Australia nationalised the main private generator and the electricity grid that covered most of the populated parts of the state in the 1940s. Initially, the power stations burned coal imported from the eastern states of Australia. The government decided that South Australia needed to be more self-sufficient. In the 1950s, it established the Telford Cut coal mine near Leigh Creek and built the Playford A Power Station near Port Augusta specifically designed to burn South Australian coal. It was joined in the 1960s by the Playford B Power Station. The last and largest coal power station built in South Australia was the Northern Power Station, built near the Playford stations in the 1980s. It was also the last coal fired power station to close, in 2016.

Renewable energy initiatives and potential[edit]

South Australia leads the nation in terms of renewable energy commercialization; with 7.14% of the nation's population, it captures 56% of the grid connected wind power, 30% of solar power and 90% of its geothermal developments.[5] Given its reputation as having some of the windiest and sunniest places in Australia, South Australia is considered to be a target for green energy investors.

The Australian Government has invested AUD 1 million dollars commissioning a study by Macquarie Capital, WorleyParsons and Baker & McKenzie to investigate the state's electricity transmission capacity and potential for expansion of renewable energy in South Australia.[6] This study proposes that increasing the transmission capacity will unlock an estimated AUD 6 billion in renewable energy investment that will generate up to 5000 MW of clean and green energy The Economic Development Board has recommended that the State make use of its unique natural advantages in generating wind, solar, geothermal and wave energy enabling the region to maintain its leading position in the development and use of "green" energy and establishing a significant renewable energy industry. An AUD 20 million renewable energy fund under the supervision of newly formed Renewable SA Board has been established. The first investment of AUD 1.6 million will be spent over two years to create a South Australian Centre for Geothermal Research, in conjunction with the University of Adelaide. The Fund will boost up investment in research and development, examine opportunities for manufacturing, and help assess how to develop a "green grid" based in South Australia but linked directly into the national power grid.[7][8][9] Two utilities have deployed house batteries to provide grid services in a virtual power plant and reduce need for network upgrades.[10][11] However, such installations only provide synthetic inertia which is excluded from the 2017 energy security target.[12][13]

By 2017, South Australia had enough installed wind generation, with more wind and solar generation under development, that sometimes renewable energy could satisfy the entire electricity grid demand. However many of the facilities did not provide technical system strength to ensure that the grid remained stable and reliable under fluctuations in supply or demand. This meant that even when the wind was blowing strongly, the Australian Energy Market Operator demanded that a number of gas-fired generators be turned on to provide system inertia.[14] ElectraNet sought tenders to provide this system strength to the network, however determined that all of the offers were too expensive.[15] In 2019, ElectraNet announced that it proposed to install four synchronous condensers on the grid in South Australia. It proposes to build a pair at Davenport near Port Augusta and a second pair near Robertstown. Thy are expected to be fully operational by the end of 2020.[16]


"Geothermal energy" refers to the heat generated naturally by the earth, which can be used for the production of electricity. One of the greatest advantages of geothermal energy is said to be the reduction in CO2 emission. Unlike some other energy alternatives, which rely on intermittent supply of sunlight or wind, geothermal power generation can be used, like more traditional sources, for long term base-load power 24/7.[17] South Australia hosts significant geothermal resources, with a surface heat flow of 92 ± 10 mW m2, compared to a heat flow of 49-54 mW m2 in geologically similar regions.[18]

Unlike many other parts of the world such as New Zealand and Iceland where geothermal energy sources result from circulating groundwater heated by a shallow magma source, heat flow in South Australia primarily results from elevated concentrations of radiogenic elements such as uranium, thorium and potassium in granitic basement rocks.[19] The radiogenic concentration of basement rock in the South Australian Heat Flow Anomaly (SAHFA) is over three times greater than the global mean for similar regions.[18] Thick layers of overlying sediment insulate and trap in the deeper heat.[20] Due to the low permeability of granite, the hot rocks must undergo hydraulic fracturing and be stimulated to allow a flow of water through the system to produce energy.[21] This heat is slowly conducted to shallower rocks near the surface.[22]

Petratherm propose developing the geothermal energy in the more permeable sedimentary rocks that overlay the hot granite, a process called Heat Exchange Within Insulator (HEWI).[23] While somewhat cooler, in many cases they do not require hydraulic fracturing.

It is estimated that one percent of geothermal energy shallower than five kilometres below the earth's surface and hotter than 150 °C can supply Australia's total energy requirement for 26000 years.[24] South Australia and Tasmania, where the granite basement rocks are suitable, are the main locations where geothermal energy is being developed in Australia. Sedimentary style geothermal resources have also been located near the south Victorian coastline stretching across South Australia.[25]

Geothermal energy has already been utilized commercially at two South Australian locations. Birdsville generates geothermal electricity from the hot water from the great artesian basin there, and a geothermal district heating scheme at Portland has been in use for the last twenty years, supplied by the hot water of the Otway Basin. Many companies in Australia have engaged in developing geothermal energy for full-scale commercial deployment.[26]

Both the state and federal government are making efforts to support and sponsor research for realizing geothermal energy commercially. The South Australian Centre for Geothermal Energy Research (SACGER) was established in 2010 as a part of the state government's Renewable Energy Fund in order to promote a world class hub for practical, high priority geothermal energy research. This 3.6 million dollar funding will help South Australia to reach its target of producing 33% of renewable energy by 2020.[27] Apart from designing geophysical tools, imaging the possible geothermal reservoirs, improving simulation of fracture and fluid networks in geothermal reservoirs, SACGER is also involved in developing trace elements micro-analytical imaging facilities for South Australia through key analytical infrastructure advances and mapping fracture systems in South Australian geothermal reservoir analogues.[28]

In order to promote and encourage exploration in Australia, Geo-science Australia has taken initiatives to identify the hot spots of active geothermal regions for supporting geothermal industry. Onshore Energy Security Program, an initiative by the federal government, has been set up a field logging program to improve the heat flow coverage of Australia. OzTemp database, another product by Somerville et al. (1994 - Geotherm94 database) at the Bureau of Minerals Resources (now Geo-science Australia) and the Energy Research and Development Corporation, is designed to measure temperature from different sources and extrapolate these to five kilometers' depth.[29]


Wind energy is a popular alternative to the fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil in terms of better sustainability, economically feasible and environmental friendly. The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) 2010 SA Supply Demand Outlook estimates that in 2009-10, 18% of the state's energy production came from wind power.[30] In July 2014, South Australian wind farms produced enough power to meet 43% of the state's electricity needs, up from the previous record of 38% in August 2013.[31]

South Australia is the largest producer of wind energy in Australia, as of April 2011 hosting 49% of the nation's installed capacity.[2] In mid-2009, RenewablesSA was established to encourage further investment in renewable energy to the state.[32] There are currently 16 wind farms operating across the state with an installed capacity of 1,473 MW of power.[33]

As of December 2010, South Australia had thirteen operational wind farms, with an installed capacity of 1,018 MW. By August 2014 this has increased to 1,473 MW, accounting for 27 per cent of electricity production.[33] As of late 2015 there are more new wind farms in various stages of planning but only one under construction, the Hornsdale Wind Farm.

South Australia has provided regulatory certainty for wind farms, and the government has implemented land use planning policies which represent national best practice for accommodating wind farms.[34] On 2 June 2009, Premier Mike Rann announced plans to increase South Australia's renewable energy production target to 33% by 2020, well above the national target of 20% by 2020.[34]


As a part of the initiative to depend more on sustainable energy and reduction in carbon emission, the Australian Government is promoting the usage and installation of solar hot water.[35]

Another initiative is the South Australian Government's Solar Hot Water Rebate Scheme, which supplies rebates up to A$500 for the installation of a domestic hot water solar heater. Additionally, the Australian Federal Government's Solar Hot Water Rebate programme can earn a rebate up to A$1,500.[36][37]

Another solar project in Adelaide is the Adelaide Solar City Programme, which plans a 50 kW rooftop solar photovoltaic system. The installation will comprise 288 solar panels. This system will be installed on the roof of a historical market building which according to Dario De Bortoli, Adelaide Solar City Program Manager, is a proof of the fact that solar power systems can be installed even in historical buildings without much renovation.[38]

Adelaide started a feasibility study in 2014 as to whether the country's first solar thermal power plant should be built at Port Augusta, South Australia.[39] The solar thermal power generation focuses sunlight onto an absorber and a pipe containing special fluid. The heated fluid is piped through a heat exchanger to create steam that will drive a steam turbine to generate enough power to supply up to 40% of the state electricity demand.[40] In 2016, a combined greenhouse, desalination plant and solar thermal plant opened near Port Augusta as a private development not exporting electricity to the grid.[41]

Several other solar power stations are proposed or under development in the Port Augusta area, using either solar thermal or photovoltaic technology. Bungala Solar Power Project was the first grid-connected solar power station in South Australia when stage 1 started generating in May 2018.

In September 2018, the South Australian Government announced that it would offer $100M in state government subsidies for up to 40,000 households to install battery storage in their homes. Eligible home owners and renters could receive $500 per kWh up to a maximum of $6,000 for eligible solar and battery systems [42]


South Australia's only hydroelectric generation is the Terminal Storage Mini Hydro installed in SA Water supply pipes in a northeastern suburb of Adelaide. It generates electricity from water flowing downhill from one storage dam to the "terminal storage" facility that feeds into the metropolitan water distribution network.

There are also small electricity generators using collected waste gasses at several of the metropolitan waste water treatment plants and the large landfill dump at Wingfield north of Adelaide.


The Hornsdale Power Reserve is a bank of grid-connected batteries adjacent to the Hornsdale Wind Farm. At the time of construction in late 2017, it was billed as the largest lithium-ion battery in the world.[43]

The Dalrymple ESCRI battery is a 30MW / 8MWh battery installed on Yorke Peninsula owned by Electranet and operated by AGL Energy. It provides strengthened grid reliability on the peninsula in particular and South Australia generally. It was commissioned in June 2018.[44][45]

Electricity prices[edit]

Quarantine Power Station, Adelaide

The 2013 South Australian Electricity Report noted that increases in prices were "largely driven by transmission and distribution network price increases".[46] In contrast, the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) has noted that the South Australian wholesale prices are lower than they have been since the start of the national electricity market, and that the wind “tends to depress the South Australian regional prices”.[47] The Government stated that the price increase due to the Carbon Tax was approximately half of that experienced by other states, due to the high installed capacity of wind and gas-fired generation.[48]

Following the 2016 South Australian blackout, the South Australian government increased its ministerial powers to direct energy corporations in times of peak demand.[49]

It was claimed in 2017 that South Australia had the most expensive electricity in the world [50] Another analysis claimed that South Australia has the second cheapest electricity in Australia.[51]


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