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Commentary

Newsletter: August 2022

From the CEO

I was fortunate enough, along with representatives from other market institutions, to be in the room observing recently as Energy Ministers from across Australia met to discuss the future of our energy system.  

Much has been made of the new spirit of cooperation and action we are seeing and I certainly second that. 

The best thing about the meeting was not what it delivered (though there were some good things) but what it makes possible. 

In our recent discussions with various political leaders, we’ve been at pains to stress that the challenges ahead are human challenges not just system ones. At a time when energy is increasingly unaffordable, reliability concerns abound and consumer trust has fallen, it was important that ministers started their work by recognising what this moment looks like for consumers. We were pleased to see them do that. 

Australia is just starting out on a new era of energy policy creation but it’s also true that we are pretty late in the game when it comes to what needs to happen. We don’t yet have in place the full range of thinking and action we’ll need to ensure a transition that delivers affordable, reliable and clean energy for all. 

But we do have a group of decision makers with shared intent and a willingness to listen. And we have a national partnership agreement that represents a pathway to progress on the important work that lies ahead.  

The national conversation around energy is only just beginning to seriously include the demand side. There’s a slow-dawning realisation that we can’t build our way to the future by only piling on more generation, more transmission, more distribution and more consumption. 

Our message has been clear: Just because energy prices are rising and will be for some time, consumer bills don’t have to. Consumers want action on bills and improving the energy efficiency of Australian homes, businesses, cities and lives is the best way to deliver it. 

We see our role in coming months as helping Ministers ensure that the partnership they’ve forged and unveiled is optimised to deliver the change consumers want. 

Billions of dollars, as well as significant time and effort, are being invested in building out our energy system to make it ready for 100% renewable electricity. That’s important and it needs to happen. But if we also invested even a fraction of that money and effort into the human, demand-side, aspects of the transition we’d be much better placed to deliver what consumers repeatedly tell us they want: affordable, reliable and clean energy for all. 

The changes we need are large and complex, on a national scale. That’s why the recently-unveiled partnership can be so important. We are talking about changing the way Australians live, work and travel. In some ways changing the way they think and feel. There are opportunities here for consumers but there are risks, fears and new limitations too. Australians need information, support and clarity – the confidence that comes from knowing there is a well-communicated plan behind the changes that lie ahead and a roadmap for what they can expect.  

Such change can best be driven by our elected representatives. Without getting too lofty about it, that’s the whole point of our democracy – that big changes in the lives of Australians should be overseen by the people they choose to represent them. 

What we saw on August 12 was Energy Ministers sending a clear message that they will be assuming responsibility for driving the energy transition, ably supported by the market bodies and departmental officials who we see doing important work in this space every day. 

Consumers are going to be asked to do a lot. ‘Electrify everything’ is the popular catch-cry but in truth the challenge is more like ‘electrify everyone’. When you put it that way it’s easy to see the potential for consumers to experience a sense of shock. 

It’s almost certain we’ll be asking Australians to replace their appliances (including their cars), to shift some of their energy use to different times of day, to consider sharing resources they consider to be their own and to make other potentially-significant changes to their way of life. 

To do that they’ll need economic incentives and subsidies. They’ll need somebody they trust to effectively and repeatedly explain what needs to happen and why and how. They’ll need to feel like making these changes is desirable, achievable and the right thing to do. And that’s just those who are in a position to be able to change. Others, such as renters, people who live in apartments or those without financial means will need those barriers removed before their willingness to participate can even be a factor. 

This represents a massive exercise in behaviour change and systems change. It is change that takes place at the level of individual people, families and households, and small businesses. That’s where we need to concentrate more of our resources. 

We shouldn’t get discouraged by the size of the challenge; it’s time to be excited by the size of the opportunity. There are plenty of concrete, achievable things we can start doing very soon. We’re really looking forward to being part of the discussion. 

Lynne Gallagher
Chief Executive Officer


You’re Invited: Foresighting Forum 23

Our Foresighting Forum is ECA’s flagship event where we bring together leaders, decision makers and thinkers from across and beyond the energy sector to explore the future, the role of consumers in it, and the challenges and opportunities it brings. We are excited to announce the theme for our next event –  Energising Australians. Over the two day interactive event, participants will imagine our future energy system and how to ensure that people are firmly embedded at its centre.   

The event will be held in person on 15-16 February 2023 at the UTS Aerial Centre, Sydney. More details on how to register will be available soon.


Taking Australian homes to the next level

This week, Federal, State, and Territory building ministers are meeting to update the National Construction Code. We’ve joined with more than 100 organisations to call for minimum energy efficiency ratings to be lifted from 6 to 7 stars for new homes. 7-star homes cut energy bills and reduce living pressure costs. We’ll keep you posted on the outcome of this critical decision.


Join Us: Queensland Stakeholder Forum

Are you based in Queensland? Energy Consumer Australia’s Board would like to invite Queensland stakeholders to an in-person forum to discuss the priorities, opportunities, and challenges of electrifying homes and transport.

This will be followed by a Q&A and networking drinks. The event will be at The Sebel, Brisbane on 14 September from 5 to 7:00pm. Registration is essential as tickets are limited.

Get a taste of our last Board Stakeholder meeting in Sydney and see what might be in store for our upcoming Brisbane event. Watch the video here.


From the Grants Team

Spotlight on Grant Recipient: Better Renting

ECA is proud to fund ground-breaking projects that support advocacy and research on behalf of Australian energy consumers. Our Grants Program funded Better Renting to help 70 renters track winter temperatures in their homes. Results, released last week in a report titled, Cold and Costly: Renter Researchers’ Experiences of Winter 22, are sobering. The World Health Organisation recommends 18°C as the minimum healthy indoor temperature. Yet across researchers’ homes, temperatures were below this level 75% of the time. Read the full report here.

We know it doesn’t have to be like this. Better Renting is calling on Australian governments to introduce minimum energy efficient standards for rental properties. If you agree that everyone should have a healthy, well regulated home, email your MP to share the latest research with them and ask for better energy renting standards.

Grant Applications Closing Shortly

We’re on the search for new and exciting research or advocacy projects that aim to solve some of the pressing problems facing energy consumers. Our Influence Grants round is closing shortly. Applications close 1 September. More details on how to apply and eligibility can be found here.


How to design the market for 2040

Our CEO, Lynne Gallagher, recently delivered a speech to the ACCC/AER Regulatory Conference 2022 – Future regulation of the energy sector. During her speech, Lynne reflected on what market design we require for 2040 and beyond, asking ‘what should we be building towards and why?’ Lynne argued for the need for a radically different approach, one where consumers are centred in the design. 


Protecting those at risk from family violence

Consumer protections are important across our energy system – but especially for those in vulnerable positions. This makes the Australian Energy Market Commission’s proposed changes to strengthen rules to Protect Customers Affected by Family Violence incredibly important. This is a job well started, but needs more work to be a job well done. In a recent submission we advocated for these rules to go further to protect the safety and wellbeing of affected customers by engaging and embedding the learnings of those with lived experience. Read our full submission here.

We have also recently put forward submissions on Voltage Management in Distribution Networks and the Capacity Mechanism Project Design


In the Media

Increases in household energy bills have continued to be front of mind for ECA. Our CEO, Lynne Gallagher, was interviewed on Sky News about the future of energy prices and called for more meaningful direct assistance for people’s energy costs. Watch the full interview here. Similarly, she spoke to ABC News about the impact of soaring energy prices on households and businesses. Watch the full interview here.


Energy Innovation Toolkit

The Australian Energy Regulator has recently released the Energy Innovation Toolkit. Check out this handy interactive website and online portal that provides information on the regulatory regime and aims to reduce barriers for new energy business models.


From the Board

The July Board meeting was held in Melbourne to hear from a number of stakeholders in person, including representatives from Consumer Action Law Centre, AEMO, Monash University’s Digital Energy Futures and Yarra Energy Foundation. These discussions reinforced for the Board that “people are the system”.

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