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Commentary

Newsletter: February 2023

From the CEO

If you were unable to join us, last week we hosted our annual Foresighting Forum. And if you’ll permit me, I think it was a fabulous success – and for that I want to publicly acknowledge the leadership of Jacqueline Crawshaw and the team at Energy Consumers Australia.  

Over the course of the event, as Lou Reed might say, we took a walk on the demand side.

We invited attendees to think, speak, act, and dream like a consumer. To consider how consumers currently engage with the system. What they want, value, and expect from any future system. And how we can best enable consumers to participate to create a thriving energy system that benefits everyone. 

How did we end up there?

Our energy system is rapidly changing as we move towards a smarter, low-carbon energy system. Much focus has been placed on how we can ensure that this power is delivered safely, and reliably, now and into the future.  And rightly so.

But what has been, for the most part, missing from this conversation is how we must also reshape and rethink demand. To make less costly, investment in generation and networks, we must cast our minds more broadly and contemplate what measures such as energy efficiency, fuel switching, load shifting, and behaviour change can also bring.

And what do each of these measures have in common? People. People complete with their complexities, diverse motivations, and opportunities to participate. No matter how hard some might try, we simply can’t engineer people out of the system.

This means the tired, old way of thinking that sees consumers as either meddlesome interferences, or what I like to call “imaginary friends,” needs to change. The success of the transition will depend on having a clear picture about when, where, and why consumers use energy. And that requires speaking to real people about their lived  experiences.

And the Forum definitely delivered on this.

One of the innovations of this Forum was to hear throughout from consumer advocates as part of our Consumer Voices Panel. As one of our advocate colleagues Rebecca Law from SACOSS challenged us, “We need to bring consumer voices back into the conversation.” We had the privilege of learning from the lived experiences of First Nations people, renters, small businesses, agribusinesses, low socio-economic households, older Australians, and more. These advocates were generous with their time and experiences. And encouraged us to start designing the system to capture the diverse needs and values of the consumer.

This is not going to be easy. As David Harding from Business NSW reminded us, “Australia faces the biggest change management challenge of its history”. And as we transition, we must ensure that everyone gets brought along on the journey and that no one is left behind. Or in Anna Collyer from the AEMC’s words, “”We can’t accept a growing divide as we transition to net zero.”

But the good news is, as Professor Yolande Strengers from Monash University shared, “People are interested in a much broader range of participation in the energy system than is currently being considered.” Our challenge then is to reflect how we can facilitate and enable this. Because if we’re not careful, we’ll miss the opportunity to engage people along the way. In UNSW’s Mike Roberts’ words, “We need these consumers and we need to win their hearts and minds. We need them to care.”

Two major themes emerged during the discussions about how to achieve this. The first was the need to rebuild trust for consumers and establish social license. And the second, was the need to create a common and shared language that empowers consumers, and to start speaking about the solutions in human terms. Because, as Joel Dignam from Better Renting reminded us, “most consumers don’t know their NMI from the NEM.”

The Forum left me with a renewed belief that consumers are indeed one of our greatest assets. And that if we begin to start designing our future energy system to harness this, our system will be more secure, reliable and resilient and deliver affordability. 

This framing and belief are something that here at Energy Consumers Australia we’ll keep coming back to and championing in 2023. But this is not something that we can do on our own.

It requires attention and input from people and organisations across the board. We’ll need planners, retailers, policy makers, consumer advocates, researchers, innovators, decision makers, and so much more to each play their part.

This sense of partnership will be required as we implement and tackle a whole range of issues this year such as realising the benefits of investment in technology, improving the energy performance of their homes, electrifying heating and transport, and through adaptive behaviour change. Not to mention the National Energy Performance Strategy, a national Energy Savings Campaign initiative, and the rising cost of energy bills – to name just a few. These are big, complex issues that require ongoing, robust discussions where we continue to place consumers at the centre; and is something we’ll be bringing before the Energy and Climate Change Ministerial Council tomorrow.

To finish, I want to leave you with the same challenge that I issued to participants as they began the Forum: What’s my role in ensuring there’s a plan to maximise consumer outcomes? What’s the one thing I can do to ensure that at the end of the day, consumers are better off?

This is a transformation like no other. And it will take all of us, together.

Lynne Gallagher
Chief Executive Officer


Foresighting Forum

If you missed attending the Foresighting Forum in person, (or you want to relive the memories), we have recorded all the sessions. There’s so much great content and new ideas in here so take your time to contemplate and consider what it means to put the consumer at the heart of the energy system.

As part of the Forum we hosted the Digital Energy Futures Room, an immersive experience where people could learn more about the future energy needs of Australian households. This coincided with Monash University launching their Digital Energy Futures: Scenarios for Future Living 2030/2050 report – the culmination of four years of research. The report was conducted in partnership with Ausgrid, AusNet Services, Energy Consumers Australia and the Australian Research Council. 

A big thank you also to our sponsor, ACIL Allen, for their support of the event. And mark your diaries. We’re pleased to announce that our next Foresighting Forum will be held on 14-15 February 2024.


From the Grants Team

Gill Owen Scholarship Winners

During the Foresighting Forum, we had the exciting opportunity to announce the winners of the 2022 Gill Owen Scholarship. This scholarship enables someone to travel internationally to research innovative ideas to improve energy outcomes for Australian consumers. And given the calibre of applicants, we awarded not one but two scholarships.

Our first recipient is Rob McLeod from Renew. Rob will research the Spanish response to heatwaves to enable us to strengthen our own response. And our second recipient is Liz Fletcher. Liz will travel to Europe to better understand how we can improve our energy regulatory frameworks to become more consumer-centric. Congratulations Rob and Liz!

Supporting Community Resilience & Empowerment

We are pleased to announce funding for two new grants. First, we have provided funding to the Venus Bay Community Centre to support a community-led project on energy resilience. Their journey to create a resilience plan will be documented and shared with other communities to empower them to understand and articulate their own resilience needs.

Second, we are excited to fund our first project through our Consumer Empowerment Funding Program (CEFP). We are supporting the TasNetworks Reset Advisory Committee to help their engagement in a regulatory process. The CEFP provides consumer voices with support to engage most effectively in network determinations. Applications are open all year round.

Your Chance to Receive Grant Funding

Do you have an idea for an advocacy or research project that can benefit energy consumers? Are you passionate about improving energy inclusion and equity? Our next round of Influence and Collaboration Grants is closing on 2 March. Our team is always happy to have a conversation about appropriate topics that align with ECA’s strategic priorities. The following grants round will close on 28 April.


bECAuse Blogs

The UK and Australia are both on the cusp of a monumental energy transition. And there are significant parallels between our experiences.

Mike Roberts received funding from ECA’s Grants Program to travel to the UK and investigate best policies and practices for encouraging household electricity flexibility.


Shaping the Energy Conversation

The Power to Shift the System

Our CEO, Lynne Gallagher, delivered a speech to the 3rd State of Energy Research Conference. Lynne challenged attendees to harness “people power” as we transition our energy system and place them at the centre of our design.

In the Media

With the rising cost of energy, we’ve been out in the media discussing the impact on consumers and what can be done. Among others, we’ve featured in the ABC, the AFR, SBS, and Channel 10.


Submissions

The National Energy Performance Strategy, alongside the National Energy Transformation Partnership, set the foundational architecture to give equal weight to both the supply and the demand side in the energy transformation. This is a great opportunity to empower consumers to take control of their energy use. However, to do this we need to provide consumers with independent and trusted information and advice that suits their situation.

In our submission we advocate for a new institutional architecture that integrates energy performance into energy system governance, and supports coordination and collaboration across all levels of government. We also support targets for action that deliver clear benefits to consumers, and are purposeful, measurable and ambitious. 

We have also recently completed submissions to the AEMC regarding the review of the regulatory framework for metering services, to DDCEEW on incorporating an emissions reduction objective, to the Essential Services Commission on the Victorian Default Offer 2023-24, and to the AER on a ring-fencing class waiver for community batteries.


Best of the Rest

Energy Developments in South Australia

When it comes to innovation in the energy sector, there are some exciting projects underway in South Australia. Last year we travelled to Adelaide to see first-hand the work of SA Power Networks’ Innovation Centre and AGL’s Torrens Island Power Station.

As our CEO, Lynne Gallagher, explained, “We need to reimagine how we use electricity in our homes… Innovation needs to make this easy for consumers.”

New Energy Tech Consumer Code

We are happy to announce the New Energy Tech Consumer Code program is now live. This program will see new energy tech providers commit to consumer protection and will help consumers find them. ECA has contributed to its design and is part of the NETCC Council.

Join our Team

We’re looking for an experienced Director of Communications and Engagement that is passionate about making a positive change for energy consumers in Australia.

This is a high impact role working on one of the most important issues of our time. Our preferred candidate would have a range of skills including a strong background in strategic communications and stakeholder relations.


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