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Newsletter: February 2022

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From the CEO

Dear Readers,

We are now firmly into 2022, a year that – while we work to look forward – has a certain ‘back to the future’ feel. So much of our work in the energy sector is about setting up for the decades to come, yet we must all carry out our work during the third year of a global pandemic. It simultaneously can feel that the ground is shifting under us every single day but also that the big constraints we’ve all lived under during the past two years are going to continue. Everything is changing and yet nothing does. 

After a summer break, and a busy February, I have made time to reflect and to find reasons to be optimistic about what lies ahead for Energy Consumers Australia in 2022.

Seven years strong

Our organisation has been around for seven years now. The capabilities within our team have grown hugely since then, and I’m proud to say, so has our ability to work across the energy system, whether it be on technical matters, policy, regulation, research and more. We can do so much more now and we find our role and our unique contribution have been enthusiastically embraced by so many across our stakeholder environment (including many of you reading this). That throws up its own challenges. To put it bluntly, there are more things we could do than ever before and we need to be intentional and strategic in what we take on, making sure we hold true to the purpose we have set. 

Shaping the system so that it works for the people and small businesses who use it. 

Over recent weeks we’ve been doing lots of thinking within our team  around how to achieve that. One little thought experiment I’ve been using a lot is: imagine we’re in 2050 (having travelled there like Michael J Fox in his DeLorean). We’ve made it to our destination: The Future Energy System. The transition we talk so much about… it’s done. Energy is clean and renewable, and it is all electric. Climate change action is entrenched. 

In this scenario (stay with me here) does ‘the system’ fit into the lives of everyday Australians? Or do they struggle to make their lives fit into it? 

In 2022 the problem to be solved was that we had too much low-cost variable energy from solar and wind generation during the periods of the day when we didn’t need it and not enough energy available during peak hours when we did need it.

One pathway to 2050, is that consumers are forced to change their lives and businesses to meet the energy system’s needs – so that generation or consumption are cut off in ways that are disruptive and the cost of using grid-supplied electricity at peak times is prohibitively expensive.

The alternative, better future is one in which energy is abundant and available for all consumers when they need it, at prices they can afford.     

Now for the big question we’ve been asking:  

If that’s what the future must look like… how well set up are we to get there, with the current processes and frameworks and ways of doing things in our present-day energy system? 

The answer we keep coming back to is “not very.” Which means that all of us who play a part in the system have got some work to do, with consumers and for consumers.

How can we, as an organisation, best shape the future energy system?

What’s our role? In thinking about the future, I ended up returning to the past (again, like Michael J Fox). Early on in Energy Consumers Australia’s life, we settled on the motto that defines us to the outside world. Not just some words to throw on a logo but the purest distillation of why we exist and what we do. The words we chose were “Your voice heard.” 

Not “Consumer voices heard”. Instead, a direct outreach to Australians: “Your voice.”  

And not “We hear your voice” (a statement about us) but instead a statement in which we are present only through our absence.  

This is a great reminder that for every activity we carry out, every process we participate in, every project we drive… it’s not about us. Our job is to nurture, listen to and act on consumer voices and then to carry those voices into the rooms and processes and arenas where decisions are made. To act as a transformer – shaping the system in line with those voices, so that consumer needs, expectations and values are at its core. 

For others in the system – and for consumers themselves — we will only be as useful as our capacity to hear, understand and convey these voices. In our strategic plan, released last year, we said we wanted to deepen the way we communicate with and listen to consumers – to make it more of a constant dialogue about the things households and small businesses are finding difficult right now. And about the emerging futures their behaviours and preferences around energy use are ushering in. This is an exciting challenge for our whole organisation and one we gladly take on in 2022.  

News from HQ

Already this month we’ve been busy, carrying consumer voices and viewpoints into some of the big decisions that are currently shaping the energy system. 

We’ve lodged a number of submissions including on the Governance of Distributed Energy Resources Technical Standards (or consumer energy resources as we prefer to call them), the Draft Integrated Systems Plan, the Default Market Offer, the Better Bills Guidelines and the South Australian Government’s Consultation Paper on Smart Meters. We’re pleased to share them with you below. Our Grants Program is off and running in 2022, awarding funding to two new projects. There is still time for your great idea to become a Great Grant, with the current round closing at the end of the month. Jawad Shamsi, our Grants Manager shares the important things you need to know in the video below before applying here.

On that subject, I spoke at the launch of ourPower last Thursday, a joint project between the Australian Council of Social Services and Total Environment Centre which was funded through our Grants Program. ourPower is a vision and a tool to drive clean, affordable and dependable energy for all, check out their website here for more information.

In staff news, we were pleased to welcome our new Senior Policy Associate, Caroline Valente, to our Energy System Transitions team. Caroline joins us fresh from completing her PhD at the University of Technology Sydney, with her thesis topic exploring the extent, causes and impacts of energy poverty among older vulnerable households in poor housing conditions – an emerging issue in Australia. Caroline aims to use her multi-disciplinary skill set and her passion for research, sustainability, and advocacy to contribute towards a just energy transition.

On a final note, I think this moment is particularly challenging because we are asking consumers to engage with us and to think and reflect on the future at a time when they are exhausted by the present. When the idea of ‘better’ seems pretty distant. That’s why it is critical for our team to attack 2022 with energy and enthusiasm. The conversations we’ll be having are too important to put on hold.  

As always we appreciate your feedback and inputs to our work and strategic direction. Feel free to email us here. 

Lynne Gallagher
Chief Executive Officer

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A Suite 2, Level 20, 570 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000
Tw @energyvoiceau Ln /energyconsumersaustralia Fb /energyconsumersaustralia


Grants

From the Grants Team

We have been thinking about some of the big questions in the energy system from a consumer perspective and how our Grants Program might play a part in answering them. Two areas where we see potential for organisations to help drive better results for all households and small businesses are the transition away from gas, and an inclusive energy system transition. 

Are you a not-for-profit or research organisation with a public purpose that would be interested in exploring these critical questions, to understand the implications of change, and contribute to the development of solutions that deliver deliver real benefits to consumers?

If so, we’d love to hear from you – check out our full announcement and details on how to apply here. 


News

People power to pave the way towards a cleaner, better energy future.

ourPower is a vision for clean, affordable, dependable energy for all. Developed by energy users, it outlines the preferred future and a basis for working together with industry and governments to get there.

Click here to read more.

The bECAuse Blog: Community energy interest is going through the roof. What does it all mean?

 The December Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey from Energy Consumers Australia reveals booming consumer interest in new products, services and technical solutions that offer community-driven responses to the clean energy needs of Australians.

Click here to read more.

New report sheds light on consumer engagement.

This report on the Energy Consumer Engagement Awards demonstrates the high level of consumer engagement network businesses are undertaking.

Click here to read more.


Submissions

Consumers must have choice and control over their assets in their homes and businesses.

Integrating these “consumer energy resources” such as solar PV, storage assets and appliances to the grid must be done in the context of consumer and society outcomes and social licence. We go into significant details on this in our Submission to the AEMC on the Governance of Distributed Energy Resources Technical Standards.

Focus on the consumer side of the energy system is crucial to a successful NEM-wide plan.

We have several concerns with the direction of the Australian Energy Market Operator’s Draft Integrated System Plan, which we detail in our submission to AEMO’s 2022 Draft Integrated System Plan (ISP).

The Default Market Offer is an important tool for navigating a complex energy market.

Our submission to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ (DISER) Post-Implementation Review of the Competition and Consumer Regulations 2019 broadly supports the directions outlined in the paper but we do offer some comments on proposals.

Delivering simpler bills will lead to better trust and confidence in the energy market.

Addressing the barriers and complexities that exist for consumers and industry with regards to a heavily regulated energy bill is long overdue. However, we see opportunities to further guide best practice which we outline in our submission to the Australian Energy Regulator here.

The secret to great energy research? We don’t know…

What does better look like? Not just for consumers or a better future energy system. But better for researchers too. Read Lynne’s speech from the State of Energy Research conference here.


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