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Technology in Australia 1788-1988Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering
Table of Contents

Chapter 11

I The Present Energy Economy

II Australian Energy Consumption

III Research And Development

IV Coal

V Oil And Natural Gas

VI Solar Energy

VII Nuclear Energy

VIII Bagasse Firewood And Other Biomass

IX Electric Power Generation And Distribution electric Power Generation And Distribution

X Manufactured Gas

XI Industrial Process Heat



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Australian Energy Consumption

A major shock to the world's energy economy occurred in 1974, when Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announced that the price of crude oil would be doubled from about $US2 to $US4, in a move to bring the price of oil closer to the cost of alternative liquid fuels. Over the next 13 years the price rose to over $30, dropped to $7 and then more or less settled at about $US20 (mid 1987). While this caused financial chaos in many countries, it did have one beneficial effect. It signalled in the clearest way that oil was a finite resource which would be exhausted in the foreseeable future and that the days of cheap energy were over. It made people energy conscious and greatly encouraged energy conservation. Cars, trucks and aircraft now have engines which are much more fuel efficient than they were 15 or 20 years ago. This, together with a general slowing of economic activity, has resulted in a continuing drop in the annual increase of Australia's oil consumption, to the point where it is now almost zero.

If in Fig. 1 the section labelled as Primary Fuels is added up and divided by Australia's population at that time, an amount of 196 GJ per annum is obtained. This is the average annual primary energy consumed by each individual in the country, allowing for the energy content of all goods and services and industrial production he/she purchases. It is a rough but useful measure of the invisible energy everybody consumes without being conscious of it and correlates well with standard of living in different countries expressed in annual income per head. It is rough, because it would not include the energy content of an imported car but would include that of an Australian product. It was increasing at the rate of 5.4 per cent p.a. in 1972 but had dropped to 4.1 per cent by 1980 and it has been suggested that there is an upper limit to it: which could mean zero energy growth of energy consumed per head early in the 21st century.

The concept of the energy content of a manufactured product or a structure is particularly useful in assessing the merit in energy terms of a renewable source of energy such as a solar installation. If it does not generate more energy in its lifetime than was used for its construction it cannot be classed as renewable.

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© 1988 Print Edition pages 781 - 784, Online Edition 2000
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