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Australia's wind power potential

Wind in the Bush: The most informative, comprehensive, and up-to-date pages on Australian wind power and wind farms.
The author is not beholden to any company, lobby group, or government. *

Created 2008/10/31, modified 2017/01/04
About these pages
Contact: email daveclarkecb@yahoo.com

Contents of this page..

Introduction | Australian electricity consumption | Wind power potential in Australia | Matching electricity consumption to generation | Off-shore development | Will it affect the weather? | Links



Potential on-shore wind development in Australia (conservative)


Australian electricity consumption | Potential wind power in Australia by state


Wind resource map of Australia


On 17th October 2008 the Rudd government made available to the public the Renewable Energy Atlas of Australia. Among other things, this contained a wind resource map of Australia and made it possible to identify the places in Australia where the wind resource is at its best, and do some simple calculations of the amount of wind power that could be generated if these places were developed.

By mid 2012 solar was starting to look like providing serious competition to wind in terms of cost per installed Watt. However, solar has the disadvantage of having a capacity factor of about half that of wind. (That is, for every kilowatt of installed solar an average of about 180 Watts will be generated, while for wind the corresponding figure is around 340 Watts.)
In 2008, of the renewable energy resources, only hydro and wind could be called mature technologies, solar PV was still developing quickly and solar thermal was a long way behind on costs. There was little, if any, scope for additional large hydro-power development in Australia. There was scope for micro-hydro, run-of-river hydro, and for development of pumped-hydro as a short-term energy storage and recovery asset.

If more than a small fraction of Australia's wind power potential is to be developed the electrical transmission system will have to be considerably expanded (this was true in 2008, and is still true in 2016). This problem is dealt with on another page. Wind and solar power are intermitant; it is quite possible to link the power consumption rate with the availability of power; this is dealt with on another page.

Australian electricity consumption

Electricity consumption by state in 2006-07, TWhr/yr
Electricity consumption by state
Data from ABARE
Total Australian electricity consumption (TWhr)
Total Australian electricity consumption
Data from ABARE
The graph at the right shows the total electricity consumption in Australia broken up into state consumptions. The data are from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE).

The greatest consumption is generally roughly proportional to the population of each state except for Queensland and Tasmania which consume more than the proportion expeced from their population.

Tasmania has a far higher proportion of renewable energy (mainly hydro) than any other state. South Australia was producing around 40% of its power by renewables by 2015, and in 2016 the ACT had a target of 100% renewable energy by 2020, most of this being generated outside of that Territory.
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This graph shows the total annual electricity consumption in Australia from the 1960-61 financial year to 2006-07.

According to indexmundi.com, which claimed to get its data from the CIA World Factbook, Australia's electricity consumption increased very little in the period from 2006 to 2012. (I believe that consumption, from the grid, did not much increase up to at least early 2017, although there was an increasing amount of solar PV power that was consumed 'behind the meter'.)

Australia's total electricity consumption declined over the period from 2010 to 2013.

Wind power potential in Australia

Wind resource map of Australia
Wind resources in Oz
Image from Aust. Dept. of the Environment, Renewable Energy Atlas of Australia
(Apparently no longer available – 2011/03/18)
The wind resource map on the right was released on October 17th 2008. The better the wind resource the stronger the red colouring.

The map shows that the best wind resources are:

  • Around the coast of the southern half of the continent and around the entire coast of Tasmania;
  • The area within about 100km of the coast from Shark Bay to Moora (about 100km north of Perth) in WA;
  • A strip in southern WA extending north from Ravensthorpe about 300km;
  • A smaller strip a little further east, extending north from about Esperance for about 150km;
  • The peninsulas, Kangaroo Island, and the Mount Lofty/Flinders Ranges areas of South Australia (see Eyre Peninsula wind resource for more detail);
  • An area around Ballarat in Victoria;
  • The Alps of eastern Victoria and southern NSW;
  • A relatively small area near Goulburn in NSW;
  • Sections of the coast of Queensland;
  • Several areas of inland Queensland including, in particular, the Atherton Tablelands;
  • Bass strait and its islands;
  • Central Tasmania and the NE and NW corners of the island.
This page is based on the data of the Wind Resource Map (above). It should be said that the validity of this map is disputed by some; Andrew Durren of Epuron/Taurus Energy has said that mesoscale wind resource maps are unreliable and the wind resource at Silverton (Broken Hill) is better than indicated on the Wind Resource Map of Australia.

Wind farms have been proposed in the Hamilton and Colac areas of Victoria, the Broken Hill, Bathurst and New England areas of NSW. I have neglected these for the purpose of estimating Australia's wind resource, because the map indicates a second rate resource in these places and this page deals only with the areas having first rate wind resources.

Scientific American (March 2009) published figures for the estimated total wind power generation for the world, (see Sustainable Energy), these figures confirm that the estimates on this page are highly conservative.

Potential on-shore wind development in Australia (conservative)
Starting at westernmost WA and moving anti-clockwise around the coast
StateRegionLengthRowsTurbinesTotal MW
WAWest coast of WA
Exmouth to Augusta, coast
1200km1 48009600
Shark Bay to Moora
600km3 720014400
South coast of WA
Augusta to Esperance
650km1 26005200
Ravensthorpe and north300km3 36007200
Esperance and north150km1 6001200
Total for WA18 800 37 600
SAWest coast Eyre Peninsula320km 4512010240
West coast Yorke Peninsula140km4 22404480
Southern Flinders Ranges100km3 12002400
Mount Lofty Ranges270km2 21604320
South East coast290km1 11602320
Kangaroo Island60km4 9601920
Total for SA12 840 25 680
StateRegionLengthRowsTurbinesTotal MW
VictoriaCoast400km 116003200
Ballarat80km4 12802560
Alps40km2 320640
Total for Victoria32006400
TasmaniaCoast600km 124004800
Central80km4 12802560
Cape Barren Is.30km4 480960
Flinders Is.30km4 480960
King Is.50km4 8001600
Total for Tasmania5440 10 880
NSWCoast200km 18001600
Goulburn50km5 10002000
Total for NSW18003600
QueenslandCoast600km 124004800
Atherton region350km1 14002800
Total for Queensland38007600
TerritoryRegionLengthRowsTurbinesTotal MW
ACT00 00
NT00 00
Total for Australia45 880 91 760
91 760MW = 91.76GW. Using a capacity factor of 34% one can
calculate that this would provide 273TWhr of electricity per year.
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In the table on the right wind resource regions are assessed according to the number of turbines each could support.

I have allowed for there being no wind power development in areas of relatively high population, high tourism value or in conservation or other parks.

Most of the areas shown on the wind potential map tend to be long and narrow. Consequently I have based the estimates on the length of each area and the number of rows of turbines that could be installed in that area. Again, these figures are in most cases very conservative; for example, the 'Shark Bay to Moora hinterland' area of high wind is some 40 to 100km wide, it most likely could support more than three rows of turbines.

Within each row I have assumed four 2MW turbines per kilometre, based on several existing wind farms in Mid North South Australia.

The total, 91 760MW installed capacity, using a capacity factor of 34%, gives an annual electricity generation of 273TWhr, greater than the total Australian electricity consumption for the 2006-07 year, 262TWhr. Note that this does not imply that all of Australia's power could readily be generated by wind farms – because the wind is intermittent; a massive amount of electricity storage would also be required.

In Sustainable Energy I note that Scientific American published a figure of 167PWhr/yr as the total wind energy that could, in principle, be harvested with current technology in the whole world. The land area of Australia is 5% that of the whole world, 5% of 167PWhr is 8350TWhr; presumably this would be a fair estimate of the full potential of Australia's wind power, if all, rather than just the best, resources were harnesed. (Also, my figure of 241TWhr/yr is only for on-shore wind power.)

The US Department of Energy estimated that the total US wind energy potential is over 10 000 billion kilowatt-hours (100TWh) annually (Wind Power in the US: Technology, Economic, and Policy Issues; Congressional Research Service). Wind power potential in Australia would be of a similar magnitude.

Where do the best resources tend to be?

The map clearly shows that the southern coasts and sections of the Queensland coast are windy.

Highlands have better wind resources than lowlands: for example, the Victorian and NSW Alps and the Atherton Tablelands of north Queensland. The strip of high quality resource running north from Ravensthorpe in WA corresponds to a plateau.

Any line of hills that lies across the direction of the prevailing winds seems to have a particularly good resource: the north-south trending Mount Lofty/Flinders Ranges, for example, lie across the prevailing westerly winds of the area.
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Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island is an interesting case study. (It lies south of Yorke and Fleurieu peninsulas and is about 140km long and 40km wide.)

Denmark's Samso Island has about the same number of residents as Kangaroo Island and it has made itself famous by the development of renewable energy.
I have listed Kangaroo Island as having potential for 4 rows of turbines each 60km long (960 turbines and 1920MW of installed power); this is very conservative, but follows the rule of thumb I have used elsewhere. I have visited Kangaroo Island several times including January 2009 and am convinced that it could support several times as much wind power as this without compromising its excellent tourism and environmental values. An estimate of 4GW would still be conservative.

KI has a population of around 4500; assuming two people per houshold and 1kW power consumption per house we can calculate a domestic load for KI of 2.25MW. Assuming another 2.25MW for industry, the total load would probably be near 4.5MW; about one thousandth of the potential wind generation capacity for the island. Calculating $10 000 land leasing fee for each 2MW turbine and 1000 turbines, the potential earning from this source alone would be about $10 million annually; about $2200 per person. There would also be employment for the people needed to maintain the wind farms.

There is quite a bit of elevated land close to the coast of Kangaroo Island that would be well suited to pumped storage of energy. (See my notes on Pumped hydro in SA? on another page on this site.) Some of the land within two kilometres of the north coast is 160m plus in altitude and well suited for pumped hydro storages. Combining pumped hydro and wind power could make Kangaroo Island a very serious source of electricity, including base-load electricity.

To deliver the power to a market (in Adelaide) would require a transmission line about 200km long if it went via Backstairs Passage to minimise the length of undersea cable (14km). If the line went from near Stokes Bay on the northern coast of Kangaroo Island the 53km beneath Investigator Stait to Yorke Peninsula to pick up the substantial southern Yorke Peninsula wind resource, then the 63km beneath Gulf St Vincent to Adelaide, the total distance would be about 150km.

Wind power potential and consumption, by state

Potential wind power generation in Australia, by state, TWhr/yr
Potential generation by state
From the data of the table above, total 273
Electricity consumption by state in 2006-07, TWhr/yr
Electricity consumption by state
Data from ABARE (Same graph as above), total 262
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Matching electricity consumption to generation

Consumption compared to resource,
as percentages of the whole,
in order of consumption

Spatial matching

The states with the best wind resources do not match the states with the greatest electricity consumption, as shown in the table on the right and the pie diagrams above.

WA, with by far the greatest wind resource, is a long way from the big electricity consuming states of the east, probably too far for the current state of power transmission technology. (High Voltage Direct Current [HVDC] is increasingly used to efficiently transmit large quantities of power over long distances.)

Transmitting power from SA to the eastern states would be a practicality, while perhaps progressively moving high consumption industries such as aluminium smelting from the mainland eastern states to WA could be considered if the wind resource is to be utilised and Australia's greenhouse gas production rates reduced.

Temporal matching

The other main problem with using large percentages of wind (or solar) energy in any national system is the miss-match between the timing of availability and consumption. This can be alleviated to some extent by making consumption rates responsive to electricity availability (called price-responsive-load), I have discussed this in Sustainable electricity. Methods of efficiently storing electricity are discussed on the same page.
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Off-shore wind power

In general winds are stronger off-shore than on-shore, they are less tubulent and more consistent. Off-shore turbines are more acceptable to the public, because they are less conspicuous, than on-shore turbines. About twice as expensive as on-shore, both in capital and maintenance costs. The more corrosive environment would probably also lead to quicker deterioration and shorter life-times.

Off-shore turbine development

Development of off-shore wind resources is happening in Europe in water depths of up to about 30m as of 2008.

From a quick search on the Net it seems that commercial turbines have been erected at depths of up to 30m and experimental turbines have been constructed off the coast of Scotland in 50m deep water [http://www.livescience.com/environment/ 070214_wind_farm.html].

Off-shore development would have to be just as feasible along the coasts of Australia.

Technological and financial constraints preclude developing the resource in deep water at present, but turbines could be erected anywhere around the coast in the shallower waters.

The Australian off-shore wind resource is potentially similar in size to the on-shore resource. As costs are higher there is no good reason to expect off-shore development before good on-shore sites are used up. Therefore I have not put any numbers to off-shore potential for the present.

Bass Strait

Wikipedia states that Bass Strait is generally around 50m deep.

In Bass Strait the continental shelf extends from west of King Island around 500km to east of Flinders Island and the Strait is about 200km wide.

Bass Strait has the advantage of being close to the most populated part of Australia. It seems that if off-shore wind power was to be developed on a large scale anywhere in Australia, the shallower parts of Bass Strait would be attractive.

Cost of off-shore wind power

The recently opened (November 2008) Snowtown Wind Farm had a total cost of Aust$220 million for 99MW of wind turbines: Aust$2.22 million per MW. The Princess Amalia Wind Farm off the cost of the Netherlands - which exported its first power in December 2007, as did Snowtown - cost 383 million Euros and is rated at 120MW. 383 million Euros converts to Aust$729 million (Nov. 2008), giving a cost of Aust$6.07 million per MW.

From the costs of these two wind farms...
On-shore$2 million per MW
Off-shore$6 million per MW
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Will it affect the weather?

A wind turbine takes energy from the wind by slowing the wind. The wind tends to flow around any obstacle that restricts its movement. An entire wind farm would presumably tend to divert the wind flow on a larger scale than a single turbine. If 50 to 100GW of wind power was developed in Australia there would be a slightly increased tendency for winds to blow around the continent rather than over it. Would it be significant? I don't know.

There are two effects, not only is the direction of the wind slightly changed, but energy is taken from the wind. One turbine taking 2MW of power from the wind, or even 100 turbines taking 200MW from the wind probably has very little affect on the weather, but 50 000 turbines taking 100GW from the wind? The effect on the wind would be something like planting extensive forests where before there was bare ground. Would it significantly change the weather? I don't know.

Moving from fossil fuel to wind is a technological 'fix' to the primary problem that we are using energy wastefully. Technological fixes can always have unforseen and undesirable consequences. Using a mix of wind, solar, geothermal, biological and other sustainable energy would be safer than relying on just wind. Using a mix of distributed (eg. solar panels on house roofs) and centralised utility scale power production would be safer than relying on just the latter.

But the safest thing of all would be to reduce our energy consumption.


Wind velocity maps of Australia; Bureau of Meteorology

Bonzle gives data on the windiest and calmest places in Australia.


Australian electricity consumption
Electricity consumption compared to resource
Kangaroo Island
Matching electricity consumption to generation
Off-shore development
Potential on-shore wind development in Australia
Potential wind power in Australia by state
Where do the best resources tend to be?
Will it affect the weather?
Wind power potential in Australia
Wind resource map of Australia
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