The Sydney Opera House is seen before Earth Hour in Sydney on March 27, 2021. ( AFP / Steven Saphore)

Posts mislead on share of wind and solar power in Australia's energy mix

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As Australia faced a mounting energy crisis, Facebook users shared a claim that wind and solar make up less than two percent of the country’s energy mix. However, the claim -- which circulated hundreds of times -- is misleading. An energy scholar told AFP that the figures cited in the claim are just a snapshot taken at a specific time and do not accurately reflect Australia’s energy mix. Figures from the Australian Energy Market Operator indicate that around 18 percent of the country’s power was supplied by wind and solar sources over the previous 12 months.

The misleading claim was shared on Facebook here on June 20, 2022.

It states: "Read this & try and understand what they have done to us. NEM Power Station supply by fuel type.

"Gas. 23.6% / Wind. 1% / Solar 0.9% / Hydro 15.5% / Other. 0.9% / Coal 57% / Coal and gas / Combined. 80.6% / Figures updated 17/6/22

"And the lemmings running Australia think that Wind & Solar will provide enough baseload power NOW OR EVER."

NEM is the acronym for the National Electricity Market, which facilitates the trade of electricity throughout Australia's eastern and southern states.

A screenshot of the misleading Facebook post, captured on July 20, 2022

The claim circulated as Australia faced a mounting energy crisis. Local media reported on June 16 (here and here) that residents in New South Wales were urged to reduce their energy use.

Facebook posts with similar claims were also shared here and here.

Comments on the posts indicate some users had been misled.

"Oh wow without gas, hydro and coal there is still nearly 3% left. Probably nearly enough to charge ya phone. Anyone wonder why industry in Australia no longer exists?" reads one comment.

Another reads: "The whole idea is to send us broke so the carpetbaggers can come in. Probably the same left wing, greenies who live in countries with nuclear and or hydropower. We do have enviable resources, and lovely beaches. Greta was just a front."

Wind and solar power

A keyword search on Google led to a graphic with the corresponding figures that was used on Sky News Australia on June 17.

However, the Sky News Australia graphic also states the figures were taken from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), and last updated at 16:55 on that day.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the figures used in the misleading claim (left) and the figures as presented in the Sky News Australia graphic (right):

Rosalind Archer, an energy scholar at Griffith University, told AFP that the contribution of solar and wind power to Australia's energy mix is not constant.

"Solar generation is high in the middle of the day, very low as the sun goes down, and zero at midnight," she said.

"Wind generation requires a minimum wind speed for wind turbines to produce electricity. So wind generation can be very low on calm days, and high on windy days."

A dashboard with details of the NEM's fuel mix is maintained on the AEMO website.

Below is a screenshot from the AEMO dashboard showing the NEM's fuel mix for the one-year period up to July 22:

The figures show that -- for this 12-month period -- solar power contributed 5 percent to the energy mix while wind power contributed 13 percent. For the same period, coal (black and brown) contributed 65 percent while the figure for gas was 7 percent.

Data from the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water showed that in 2019-20 solar and wind power each contributed 9 percent to electricity generation.