25 June 2009

Comparing energy use in Australia and New Zealand

Recently released statistics outline the different methods Australia and New Zealand use to power their economies.  The BP figures show that each country derives its energy from different sources.

Fuel consumption in 2008 (millions of tons of oil equivalent)

  Australia New Zealand
Oil 42.5 7.3
Natural gas 21.2 3.4
Coal 51.3 2.1
Hydro 3.4 5.0
Total 118.3 17.9


In July 2008 the population of Australia was estimated at 21.00 million, while New Zealand’s was estimated at 4.17 million, i.e. just about a five-to-one ratio (CIA Factbook figures).  The table shows that Australia consumes 6.6 times as much energy as New Zealand despite only having 5.03 times the population (it’s a bigger economy, obviously). 

The proportions of energy use types are also noteworthy, illustrating the substantially different approach to energy generation in each country:

Percent of total fuel consumption, 2008

  Australia New Zealand
Oil 35.9% 40.8%
Natural gas 17.9% 19.0%
Coal 43.4% 11.7%
Hydro 2.9% 27.9%
Total 100.0% 100.0%


(Note that the above information excludes the relatively small-scale renewable resource use that also provides some energy in both countries).

Clearly New Zealand is more reliant on oil imports to supply its energy needs: in 2008 Australia possessed oil reserves of 4.2 billion barrels, while New Zealand’s reserves were not significant enough to mention in BP’s report.  Natural gas usage is proportionately similar, but the big difference is in the alternate use of coal and hydro power.  Australia’s massive coal reserves were heavily tapped, providing 43 percent of Australia’s needs, while New Zealand coal use was the equivalent of 2.1 millions of tons of oil – only one twenty-fourth of Australia’s total coal use.  In comparison, New Zealand’s bountiful rainfall meant that it was able to make substantial use of its hydro-electric schemes to generate energy: over a quarter of New Zealand’s energy use came from this source, as opposed to under three percent of Australia’s energy.   

New Zealand’s balance of generation methods enabled the Ministry of Economic Development to state, in its December 2008 Energy Quarterly, that ‘due to the country’s high percentage of renewable sources utilised for electricity generation, New Zealand’s emissions intensity for electricity generation is very low by international standards’.  By way of comparison with Australia, the World Bank’s 2007 Little Green Data Book listed CO2 emissions statistics in 2007:

Comparing Australian and New Zealand CO2 emissions, 2007

  Australia New Zealand
CO2 emissions per unit of GDP 0.7 0.4
CO2 emissions per capita 17.8 8.7
CO2 emissions growth, 1990-2003 (%) 23.1 32.1


So while New Zealand can note that its per-unit and per-capita CO2 emissions are considerably lower than those in Australia, a note of caution should be sounded that New Zealand’s emissions are actually catching up with Australia’s! 

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