Australia’s energy industry is a bit on the nose right now. Any actual examination of energy, particularly energy exports, is bound to raise the hackles of one Aussie political group or another. Given coal’s lower-than-low status with the public and Australia’s bulk commodity exports, you could say that energy, particularly coal, has a PR problem right now.

However, the fact remains that Australia’s energy industry is a significant economic driver, and many of the world’s developing nations depend on our exports to power their burgeoning nations. Australia is not immune from the need for cheap, reliable energy either. On the whole, energy accounts for about 20% of Australia’s exports, with demand growing as population numbers surge worldwide. 

Australia produces about 2.4 per cent of the world’s energy, exporting more than three-quarters of its energy output, valued at A$80 billion.

Much to the dismay of many, these energy numbers remain underpinned mainly by the country’s enormous coal production. Australia is the world’s largest coal exporter, accounting for over half of its energy exports. Regarding an energy commodity breakdown, Australia is an overachiever when comparing the export figures with resource size and availability. For example, Australia has an estimated 1% of global LNG reserves but is the world’s sixth-largest exporter.

Meanwhile, the country’s mountainous coal exports derive from just 6% of global reserves. Regarding uranium, an estimated 46% of the world’s stores lie in Australia’s domain, boding well as the nuclear power sector gathers steam. 

Meeting Australia’s Domestic Energy Needs

Per person or per capita, Australians have some of the highest energy consumption rates on the planet. Much of this is due to distance and the vast expanses between the country’s towns, cities and state borders. Australia is the world’s twentieth-largest energy consumer and fifteenth for per capita energy use.

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When it comes down to our energy consumption, the breakdown looks something like this:

  • Australia’s primary energy consumption is dominated by coal, with around 40%
  • Oil represents 34% – and is mainly imported
  • And gas with 22%.

Regarding electricity generation, coal still accounts for about 75% of power produced domestically, followed by gas at 16%, hydro at 5%, and wind at around 2%. Although renewable energy sources have flourished in recent years, their overall contribution to the energy mix remains low.

And herein lies the PR problem for Australia’s energy producers, as expectations and reality diverge into infighting and confusion. The hard fact is that fossil fuels will be the catalyst for any large-scale transition to clean power and green energy technology in the future. 

Australia has an abundance of fossil and renewable energy sources; however, renewables only account for about 5% of the total energy supply at present. Changing from one source to another presents a monumental challenge for us and future generations, and we must be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

To date, fossil fuels have largely met much of Australia’s energy needs. Our abundance of low-cost coal resources continues to underpin some of the cheapest electricity in the world, boosting Australia’s economy. 

What are the Key Resources in Australia’s Energy Ecosystem?

As we’ve seen, Australia possesses a wealth of fossil fuel resources. Much of which has been leveraged for domestic energy production and even more significant amounts for overseas exports.

But much of Australia’s current coal and even gas reserves may remain in the ground as the world turns toward the future and the expanding role of renewable energy technology. Here’s a breakdown of Australia’s central renewable energy sources and how they compare to traditional fossil fuel reserves in similar metrics.

Geothermal energy

Australia has considerable geothermal energy resources, which have yet to be fully defined and quantified. These resources include hot-rock geothermal resources associated with buried high-heat-producing granites and hot sedimentary aquifer-type geothermal resources.

Hydro energy

Australia has abundant hydroenergy resources in New South Wales and Tasmania. However, the country’s dry climate, high evaporation rates, and variable rainfall limit the significant expansion of hydropower.

Wind energy

Australia has excellent wind energy resources in coastal and highland areas. The industry is growing fast with the help of government policies, and it’s expected to become the country’s top renewable electricity source soon.

Solar energy

Australia has excellent solar resources due to high radiation levels in the northwest and central regions. However, high capital costs have restricted its usage in areas without electricity grid access and far from energy markets. Research is ongoing to improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of solar power, such as solar thermal power stations.

Ocean energy

Australia has excellent wave energy resources on its western and southern coastlines, while the best tidal resources are located along the northern coasts, far from significant demand centres. Most ocean energy technologies are new and require validation in pilot and demonstration plants.


Bioenergy is a significant energy resource in Australia. It is generated from organic matter and can produce electricity, heat, and biofuels for transportation. Australia’s bioenergy for electricity generation is limited to bagasse, wood waste, and gas generated from landfills and sewage facilities. However, biofuel production is increasing, with ethanol produced from sugar by-products and grain waste starch.

Summary and the Future of Australia’s Energy Industry

While it may have a PR problem, nothing can remove energy from its paramount position in Australia’s economy or reduce its importance to our export partners. With a mature energy industry that can transform mild commodity reserves into world-leading export figures, Australia remains in the box seat as an energy producer of significance.

However, with such infrastructure and markets underpinning the whole, our transition away from fossil fuels and their associated megaprofits could be particularly painful. Australia has an abundance of renewable energy sources; however, there is simply no export market of scale for them compared to coal, for example. 


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