The Australian wind energy market in 2010 and beyond

Australia boasts some of the best wind resources in the world, the so-called “roaring forties” which sweep the south coast. The Australian government has set a 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020, and today, wind power is supplying over 5,100 GWh annually, which represents around 2% of national electricity consumption.

At the end of 2010, 1,880 MW of wind farm capacity was installed in Australia, consisting of 1,052 operating wind turbines spread over 52 wind farms. The amount of wind energy generation capacity has increased by an average of 30% per year over the past decade. While policy uncertainty, the low price of renewable energy certificates and the financial crisis made it difficult for developers to secure financing in 2010, recent changes to the implementation of the Renewable Energy Target should go a long way toward returning stability to the industry.

Three new wind farm projects, which are all located in South Australia, became fully operational in 2010, adding 167 MW of wind power capacity to the Australian electricity grid: Hallett 2 (71.4 MW), Clements Gap (56.7 MW) and Lake Bonney Stage 3 (39 MW). A further eight wind farm projects totalling 1,047 MW are currently under construction and expected to be completed within the next three years.

An additional 8.8 GW of wind power projects are proposed for development in Australia, and have either received planning and environmental approvals or are currently applying for them, and another 5 GW of projects are undergoing feasibility studies. There is no shortage of available prime onshore wind sites in Australia, and as a result, there are currently no plans to develop offshore wind farms.

The size of Australian wind farms is increasing, and Acciona’s 192 MW Waubra wind farm in Victoria is currently the largest with 128 wind turbines spread over 173 square kilometres. However, significantly larger wind farms are under development, including the 420 MW AGL/Meridian Energy Macarthur wind farm in Victoria. The biggest wind energy project currently proposed is a 1,000 MW wind farm in New South Wales (Silverton wind farm) by Epuron, which, in its current form, will have 598 wind turbines and meet 4.5% of the state’s total power consumption.

While wind farms are present throughout Australia, South Australia accounts for nearly half of the total national wind farm capacity.

Installed wind farm capacity in Australia by state
State -Installed Capacity -(MW)
South Australia 907 MW
Western Australia 428 MW
Victoria 202 MW
Tasmania 187 MW
New South Wales 143 MW
Queensland 12 MW
Australian Antarctic Territory 1 MW
Total: 1,880 MW

Vestas dominates the Australian wind turbines market with a market share of 38%, followed by Suzlon with 25%. Other international wind turbine manufacturers are also present with smaller market shares, including NEG Micon (11%), Acciona (10%), Repower (8%) and Enercon (6%).

The Australian government’s Renewable Energy Target (RET) Scheme started on 1 January 2010, mandating that 20% of Australia’s electricity supply be sourced from renewable energy by 2020. The RET expands on the previous Mandatory Renewable Energy Target (MRET), which began in 2001.

The RET is crucial in supporting investment in the renewable energy industry and it provides the main incentive for wind power development in Australia, unlocking an expected investment of more than AUD 20 billion (EUR 15 billion / USD 20 billion) over the next decade. As it is the least expensive large scale renewable energy, much of this target is expected to be met with investment in wind energy.

However, during the last two years, difficulties with the implementation of the RET coupled with the global financial crisis and policy uncertainty surrounding a price on carbon affected the lending practices and risk appetite of banks. This made it difficult for wind farm developers to secure financing in 2010.

In June 2010, the Australian Parliament passed legislation to separate the RET into two parts – the Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) and the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) – and this legislation entered into force on 1 January 2011. Separating the two parts is intended to provide greater certainty for large-scale renewable energy projects and small-scale renewable energy systems by addressing the oversupply of certificates.

Other policy measures for renewable energy development include the GreenPower schemes, which allow consumers to purchase renewable energy from their electric utility, as well as state-based feed-in tariff or buyback schemes for domestic scale wind technology that provide some level of payment or credit towards electricity bills.

In July 2010, the Environment Protection and Heritage Council released its draft National wind farm Development Guidelines2 for a period of 12 months to provide jurisdictions with the opportunity to assess how these guidelines would be incorporated within their existing planning and development processes. The guidelines aim to outline best practice for industry and planning authorities in areas including heritage, threatened species and wind turbine noise.

The Australian Wind Energy Forecasting System was launched in 2008. This is a centralised system that provides predictions of wind energy generation using weather forecasts from meteorological bureaus and operational data  from wind turbines to forecast expected wind energy generation.