Coal in Australia

2 March 2015

Did you know that Australia is the world’s fourth largest coal producer?1

Right now, coal is Australia’s primary fuel source for generating electricity at around 73 percent. Of this, black coal is used to generate around half of all our electricity (51 percent), while Victoria mainly uses brown coal (22 percent) because it’s mined in the state.2

Black coal is found across Australia. It gets its name from its colour and it has higher energy and lower moisture content than brown coal.3 The majority of Australia's black coal resources are located in Queensland and New South Wales in the Bowen, Surat and Sydney basins.4

diagram elect gen aust coal

Electricity generation across Australia 5

Brown coal, sometimes called lignite, is a relatively soft material, which has a heating value of about one-quarter of black coal. It has much lower organic carbon content, higher moisture content, and is of lower quality than black coal.

Take a look at how the percentage of Australia’s coal-powered electricity generation compares with the rest of the world:6

Mongolia 98%
South Africa 94%
Poland 86%
China 81%
Australia 69%
India 68%
Israel 59%
Indonesia 44%
USA 43%
Germany 43%
UK 29%
Japan 27%

Australia is a major coal exporter 

Coal is Australia’s second largest export commodity, accounting for about 13 percent of Australia’s total exports in 2012-2013 and worth about $38 billion.7  

Coal and climate change

Burning coal to generate electricity produces greenhouse gases, which cause climate change. 

Brown coal is not as efficient at burning as black coal (because of its high moisture and low carbon content) and therefore it produces up to 30 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than black coal when used to generate electricity. 

While coal remains one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Australia, and across the world, there’s a global movement towards a greater use of natural gas and renewable energy as communities realise the impacts of climate change.8

  1. World Coal Association (WCA), Coal statistics, WCA. 
  2. With analysis from Origin Energy, data includes all of Australia: the National Electricity Market (QLD, NSW, Vic, SA, TAS), plus Western Australia and the Northern Territory, but excludes Mt Isa. Embedded generation data sourced from State of energy market report 2014, Australian Energy Regulator, WA FY12 data from Greg Ruthven 2012, Statement of Opportunities Pre-Launch briefing, Independent Market Operator 2012 and NT FY13  data Energy Supply Association of Australia 2012, Electricity Gas Australia 2014.
  3. Geoscience Australia 2012, Coal facts, Australian atlas of minerals resources, mines and processing centres, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.
  4. Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE), Energy in Australia 2014, BREE. 
  5. With analysis from Origin Energy, data includes all of Australia: the National Electricity Market (QLD, NSW, Vic, SA, TAS), plus Western Australia and the Northern Territory, but excludes Mt Isa. Embedded generation data sourced from State of energy market report 2014, Australian Energy Regulator, WA FY12 data from Greg Ruthven 2012, Statement of Opportunities Pre-Launch briefing, Independent Market Operator 2012 and NT FY13  data Energy Supply Association of Australia 2012, Electricity Gas Australia 2014.
  6. World Coal Association (WCA), Coal facts 2013, WCA. 
  7. Minerals Council of Australia 2014, Australia’s coal Industry, Minerals Council of Australia and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2014, International Trade in Goods and Services, Australia, June 2014 (5368.0), ABS.
  8. Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) 2011, Carbon Dioxide Equivalent Index- available generators file 2011, AEMO.