Between 1982/83 and 1993/94, energy consumption increased 36% for industrial, commercial, and residential use, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Because of its relatively scant hydroelectric resources and only recently discovered oil, Australia has had to rely on coal-burning steam plants for about three-quarters of its public power requirements. The remainder has been supplied by hydroelectricity, gas turbines, and internal combustion generators. In 2000, net electricity generation was 200 billion kWh, of which roughly 90% came from fossil fuels, 8% from hydropower, none from nuclear energy, and 2% from other sources. In the same year, consumption of electricity totaled 188.5 million kWh. Total installed capacity at the beginning of 2001 was 42.7 million kW.
Major electric power undertakings, originally privately owned and operated, were by 1952 under the control of state organizations. In the early 1990s however, many of the Australian state governments began privatizing sections of their energy utilities. Manufacturing has been developed most extensively in or near coal areas, and distribution of electricity to principal users is therefore relatively simple. All major cities except Perth use 240-volt, 50-cycle, three-phase alternating current; Perth has 250-volt, 40-cycle, single-phase alternating current.
The Snowy Mountains hydroelectric scheme in southeast New South Wales, Australia's most ambitious public works project, comprises 7 power stations, a pumping station, 16 large and many smaller dams, and 145 km (90 mi) of tunnels and 80 km (50 mi) of aqueducts. It provides electricity to the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and Victoria. The project took 25 years to complete and has a generating capacity of 3,740 MW (about 10% of Australia's total generating capacity). The Snowy Mountains scheme and other large power projects in New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania have greatly increased the nation's aggregate installed capacity. The only state with water resources sufficient for continuous operation of large hydroelectric power stations is Tasmania, which possesses about 50% of Australia's hydroelectric energy potential. Production and use of such power is on the increase throughout the country, however.
As of 2002 Australia was the world's fourth-largest coal producer. Since 1986, it has been the world's largest exporter of coal. In that time exports have doubled, reaching 162 million tons by 1997. Exports of black coal alone totaled about 85 million tons in 2001. In that year exports account for more than half of total coal production. The major market is Japan, which imports about 50% of Australia's coal exports. At home, coal supplied 44% of the country's energy as of 2002. Production in 2000 amounted to 337.2 million tons; around 80% of Australia's coal was bituminous and 20% was lignite. New South Wales and Queensland account for more than 95% of Australia's black coal production and virtually all its exports. Australia has over 55 billion tons of recoverable reserves of bituminous coal, an amount that could satisfy production levels for about 260 years at current levels of demand.
In early 1983, Alcoa Australia signed a contract with the Western Australian State Energy Commission, at an estimated cost of A $11.2 billion, to supply natural gas from the Northwest Shelf (the North West Gas Shelf Project—NWGSP). In 1985, eight Japanese companies agreed to buy 5.84 million tons of liquefied natural gas (LNG) a year from 1989 to 2009. Capacity has continued to increase thanks to completion of additional offshore platforms and onshore facilities. The A $4 billion expansion of the North West Shelf LNG Project added seven million tons to LNG production when it began operation in 2003. Natural gas reserves were estimated at 2.5 trillion cu m (88 trillion cu ft) at the beginning of 2002 (more than double the figure for 2001). In early 1992, petroleum exploration began in the Timor Sea; the area had been off limits for over a decade in order to establish a zone of cooperation with Indonesia. In 2001 Australia, Phillips Petroleum, and the newly independent state of East Timor renegotiated arrangements for development of the Bayu Undan oil field in the Timor Sea, with 90% of the royalties going to East Timor.
Oil production, which began in 1964, totaled 633,000 barrels per day in 2001; reserves in 2002 were estimated at 3.5 billion barrels, a 20% increase over the figure for 2001, thanks to a record amount of exploration activity and the resulting new discoveries. Commercially exploitable uranium reserves are estimated at 474,000 tons. Rapid increases in demand for oil have outpaced supply, leaving Australia with a growing oil deficit. It is estimated that self-sufficiency in oil could plummet to only 40%.