Survey of Energy Resources 2007
Hydropower Country Notes
It should be noted that Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth, with over 80% of its landmass receiving an annual average rainfall of less than 600 mm/yr and 50% less than 300 mm/yr. A high variability in rainfall, evaporation rates and temperatures also occurs between years, resulting in Australia having very limited and variable surface and groundwater resources.
The economically exploitable capability is estimated by Hydropower & Dams World Atlas as 30 TWh/yr, of which more than 60% has already been harnessed. According to the same source, no new hydro plants are under construction or planned.
The prospects for large-scale hydroelectric projects in Australia are limited, principally because most available sites have already been developed and, in some cases, have required a compromise to be reached on wilderness preservation or other environmental factors. There are, however, development opportunities associated with hydropower projects. These opportunities are in the refurbishment of existing plant and equipment. Many turbines are now on average approaching 50 years old and to remain serviceable need maintenance and/or refurbishment. Indeed, one of the intentions of the federal Government's Renewable Energy (Electricity) Act 2000 has been to give recognition to large-scale hydro as a renewable energy resource, and to the possibility that hydro could play an important role in meeting the target of 9 500 GWh of new renewable energy by 2010.
In addition to refurbishment opportunities, there are also prospects for increased contributions from mini-hydro projects. Private development of small-scale grid-connected hydro has been taking place in Australia since the mid-1980s, with the first significant project undertaken by Melbourne Water on the Thompson Dam.