Continuing at a record pace, the uptake of residential and commercial solar reduced grid demand and drove record low emissions in Australia’s electricity systems in the fourth quarter of 2020.
The Australian Energy Market Operator’s (AEMO) Quarterly Energy Dynamics (QED) report for Q4 2020, highlighted that average operational demand in the National Electricity Market (NEM) reduced by 3% compared to Q4 2019, declining to its lowest quarterly average in 20 years.
AEMO’s Chief Member Services Officer, Violette Mouchaileh, said: “Electricity demand continues to reflect changing energy trends with new minimum demand records observed in Victoria, South Australia (SA), and Western Australia (WA).
“The downward operational demand trend, coupled with increasing renewable energy, which accounted for 24% of the generation mix in Q4 2020, resulted in significant displacement of thermal generation and the lowest NEM emissions on record,” Ms Mouchaileh said.
“Similarly in WA, renewable energy contributed 35% of total generation in Q4 2020, which also led to a decline in average coal-fired generation and gas-powered generation compared to Q4 2019.”
The report notes that approximately three gigawatts (GW) of distributed solar was installed nationwide in 2020, up around 50% on the previous record in 2019.
While east coast electricity and gas market outcomes have been highly correlated in recent years, they diverged in the second half of 2020 with gas prices increasing and electricity prices remaining generally low.
“Wholesale electricity prices in Victoria and SA continued to fall. SA became the lowest-priced NEM region for the first time in almost 10 years as its quarterly average price reduced by 57% to $29 per megawatt hour (MWh),” said Ms Mouchaileh.
“In contrast, New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland bounced back from Q3 2020 lows, with NSW’s average price of $64/MWh at a significant premium to other regions. This was driven by record low coal-fired generation, constraints on imports from other NEM regions, and price volatility.”
Gas-powered generation demand also fell compared to Q4 2019, dropping 29% (-11 petajoules) with reductions in all states except Queensland, resulting in the lowest Q4 gas-powered generation demand since 2005.
Domestic wholesale gas prices increased in all east coast gas markets, averaging $5.90/gigajoule (GJ) compared to $4.50/GJ in Q3 2020.
“The increase in gas prices reversed the downward trend that commenced in 2019 and was largely influenced by LNG prices that are linked to international oil prices,” Ms Mouchaileh said.
 Preliminary data from the Clean Energy Regulator.