Australian energy consumption has soared to record highs, with each person using the equivalent of four electric bar radiators 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Official figures released today show a 61 per cent increase in energy consumption over a twenty-year period with six per cent coming from renewable sources.

The statistics are contained in the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report, Australia’s Environment: Issues and Trends. It reveals that Australians are using more energy than ever before but only nine per cent of adults rank environmental problems as their key concern. Australia’s population of about 19 million in 1998 represents only 0.3 per cent of the world’s people, but its per capita consumption levels and waste production were among the highest in the world.

Industry is the major consumer of energy in Australia. In 1997-1998, 78 per cent of total energy consumption was by three sectors: electricity generation, transport and manufacturing.

The total energy used in 1998 was 2.8 times that used in 1978, although the population grew only 1.3 times in the same period, the ABS said. “The total amount of energy consumed per annum in Australia was 4810 petajoules in 1997-98, a rise of 61 per cent from 2985 petajoules in 1977-78. This reflects the growth of both the Australian population and the economy. “The report states that the amount of energy used per capita increased by 24 per cent over this period, from 209 gigajoules per person in 1977-78 to 258 gigajoules in 1997-98.

This amounts to the equivalent of about eight kilowatts per person per day, Australian National University’s sustainable energy expert Dr Keith Lovegrove reportedly said. “It is about four electric bar radiators per person in the country, running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, something like that,” said Dr Lovegrove.

Australia’s total energy consumption was estimated at 230 gigajoules a head, compared with an OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) average of 192 gigajoules, the ABS said. Mexico and Turkey consumed 61 GJ and 44 GJ respectively.

The six per cent of energy derived from renewable sources are mainly from hydro-electricity, solar heaters or photovoltaic cells, wind generators and biomass generators, says the report. High capital costs have limited the use of renewable energy sources although by June 2000, 17 electricity retailers had accredited schemes offering about 68 000 consumers a green tariff alternative.

The report points to the energy generation sector as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas, accounting for 80 per cent of all emissions in 1998, with electricity (mainly gas-fired power stations) and heat being the biggest contributors to the sector. Carbon dioxide emissions per capita for Australia was more than four times the world average and 30 per cent higher than the average for OECD countries, the ABS said.