What is renewable energy and how does it work in Australia?

It seems these days that everyone is talking about renewable energy, whether it be politicians, journalists, or even your neighbour down the street. With other countries slowly building up their renewable energy resources it seems the pressure is on for Australia to follow suit. But what exactly is renewable energy and how does it all work down under? In this article, we’ll break down all the details you need to know about renewable energy in Australia and how it could affect you.

What is renewable energy?

Renewable energy, or ‘renewables’, is produced by natural resources which can not be depleted or run out. This includes energy created by renewable sources like sunlight, water and wind, which are replenished naturally without any human interference. Renewable energy is often referred as being a more sustainable source of power generation.

Green Energy Plans

Here are the energy plans in Australia that offer GreenPower as part of the deal, meaning the retailer matches a customers’ electricity usage by purchasing renewables from government-accredited renewable power generators. The prices you see below includes the cost of GreenPower, but keep in mind that the amount of GreenPower included varies according to the plan.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have GreenPower included in the cost and include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have GreenPower included in the cost and include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have GreenPower included in the cost and include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have GreenPower included in the cost and include a link to the retailer’s website for further details. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

How is it different to non-renewable energy?

Non-renewable energy – also known as fossil fuels – use resources which take years to regenerate naturally, like oil, coal and gas. As fossil fuels are often formed from things like buried plant and animal remains, these resources take much longer to replenish as opposed to renewable energy, which is easily regenerated on a day-to-day basis.

Since non-renewable sources cannot be as quickly replaced as they are used, they are more environmentally difficult to source, burn and maintain than renewable energy.

Types of renewable energy

Solar pv farm

There are currently five main types of renewable energy in Australia: Solar, hydro, wind, ocean and bioenergy.

  • Solar: The most well-known type of renewable energy is solar power. Solar uses heat and light from the sun and converts it into a heating, lighting and energy source. It is a renewable source as sunlight naturally regenerates. To create solar power sunlight and heat is converted into energy through the use of solar PV panels or solar thermal technology.
  • Hydro: One of the biggest types of renewable energy in Australia is hydroelectricity. Hydro uses passing water, usually from a dam or reservoir, to create an energy source. The water passes through a turbine, which uses blades to drive the generator and convert the momentum of the water into electricity. Australia utilises areas of heavy rainfall, such as NSW and TAS, as places to source its hydroelectricity.
  • Wind: Possibly the most widespread renewable energy source is wind energy. Generated by harnessing the wind, this source of power produces electricity through wind turbines in high altitude places, usually on hilltops or near the ocean. Wind turbines can even be found floating on the surface of the ocean or built into the ocean floor, with the turbines turning on the surface. Wind turbines can also be used in conjunction with other renewable resources, like solar farms, to allow maximum energy storage when the wind isn’t blowing too strongly.
  • Ocean: More of an indusrialised renewable energy source, ocean energy uses three types of ocean technology – waves, tidal and ocean thermal – to generate electricity. Wave energy is generated by converting the momentum of waves into electricity. Tidal energy is generated by harvesting the energy from the height difference between low and high tide or capturing the momentum of the currents flowing in and out of tidal areas like seashores. And ocean thermal energy is created by converting the temperature difference between the ocean’s surface and deep ocean into energy. Ocean energy is still in the very early stages of commercialisation and is harnessed differently in each country, depending on its oceanic surrounds.
  • Bioenergy: The final and still developing renewable energy source in Australia is Bioenergy. Bioenergy uses organic renewable materials like wastewater, municipal waste and stream waste from agriculture – known as biomass – to produce heat, electricity, biogas and liquid fuels. Biomass is converted into bioenergy through conversion technologies like combustion, pyrolysis, gasification and fermentation. The International Energy Agency stated in its ‘Renewables 2018’ report that modern bioenergy is currently an “overlooked giant within renewable energy”.

Geothermal energy is also another well-known renewable energy source. Geothermal extracts heat from the earth and converts it into energy. This resource is not as prevalent in Australia though, as it is quite costly to source, produce and maintain with the correct technologies.

What are the advantages of renewable energy?

Wind turbines on hill side

There are some quite notable advantages to using renewable energy. For a start, it does hold a more positive impact on the environment as it typically emits little to no greenhouse gas or other harmful pollutants that can cause respiratory and cardiac issues in the long term. Renewable energy also generally requires less maintenance on machinery and is less likely to run out than fossil fuels. Naturally sourced energy also allows Australia to be less reliant on foreign countries for energy supplies.

Is renewable energy more expensive?

While renewable energy does have some financial long-term benefits, in the short-term it is more expensive than fossil fuels. This is purely because renewable resources are costly to initialise and set-up. It’s important to note here too that if Australia is to be reliant on renewable energy, a lot of the pre-existing infrastructure on our electricity grid would need to be replaced, as we are currently predominately reliant on fossil fuels.

How much renewable energy is Australia using?

According to the Clean Energy Australia Report 2021, Australia had 27.7 per cent renewable energy within the country’s total electricity generation. This number was up by 3.7 per cent from 2019. Wind energy is currently Australia’s leading renewable energy source, accounting for 35.9 per cent of renewable energy generation in 2020.
Clean Energy Council renewable graph

Information sourced from The Clean Energy Council’s Clean Energy Australia Report 2021. This data reflects electricity generation for 2020.

What’s the difference between renewable energy and carbon neutral energy?

Though the two are often confused for one and the same, renewable energy and carbon neutral energy are actually two completely separate topics. While both options are greener than fossil fuels, carbon neutral still slightly contributes to fossil fuels as it runs through the energy grid. Renewable energy is completely self-reliant and is created from natural materials. Carbon neutral energy simply offsets the carbon used in its production on the grid by buying back carbon credits in renewable energy projects up to or equal to the level of emissions released. EnergyAustralia, Powershop, AGL, Energy Locals and Origin are just some of the retailers who offer carbon neutral plans in Australia.

Compare Carbon Neutral Plans in Australia

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have a carbon offsets included in the cost. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Ausgrid network in Sydney but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 3900kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have a carbon offsets included in the cost. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Citipower network in Melbourne but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have a carbon offsets included in the cost. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the Energex network in Brisbane but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4600kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Here are some of the cheapest published deals from the retailers on our database that have a carbon offsets included in the cost. These are products from referral partners†. These costs are based on the SA Power network in Adelaide but prices may vary depending on your circumstances. This comparison assumes general energy usage of 4000kWh/year for a residential customer on a single rate tariff. Please use our comparison tool for a specific comparison in your area. Our database may not cover all deals in your area. As always, check all details of any plan directly with the retailer before making a purchase decision.

Is renewable energy and GreenPower the same thing?

Sugarcane in field

While GreenPower is essentially a type of renewable energy, they are still slightly different. GreenPower is renewable energy which has been put back into the grid by an electricity provider, usually at the cost of the customer. Some providers will give customers the option to purchase a percentage of GreenPower as an additional cost on their bill. The provider will then put that percentage of GreenPower – renewable energy – back into the grid.

While a provider cannot specifically connect renewable energy to any one individual household as all electricity comes from the same grids, GreenPower allows customers to invest in renewables and greener energy projects while still being connected to the grid. At this stage in Australia, the only way to receive 100 per cent renewable energy is to live entirely off grid, with all household energy coming from solar or solar batteries.

Is renewable the most sustainable energy option?

With renewable energy as the likely energy resource of the future, there are clearly some positives to these resources. With lower greenhouse emissions, less stress on supply, long-term savings and the ability to be self-reliant, it seems as if renewable energy should be the way forward.

But, with the additional upfront costs and potential geographical setbacks of some resources – e.g., geothermal and ocean energy – it’s easy to see why there is some pushback on the conversion to renewables.

At the end of the day there is a benefit to using natural resources, but like anything, this will come at a cost. It’s now just a matter of whether the environmental benefits outweigh the costs involved, particularly if those costs are absorbed by the energy consumer.

Image credits: Greg Brave/Shutterstock.com, imagevixen/Shutterstock.com, fuyu liu/Shutterstock.com, Pla2na/Shutterstock.com, Clean Energy Council Website

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