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Newsletter: February 2024


Energy Consumers Australia

From the CEO

If I had a dollar for every time someone has said to me ‘we need to think differently’ I would very possibly be tanning and not typing…
Put simply, we resist thinking differently because it hurts our brains. Even in the face of clear evidence that old ways of thinking aren’t working, sometimes we persist because the alternative is so unsettling.
And then you encounter someone who saw the same pieces on the board but seems somehow to be playing chess when you’re stuck with checkers. That’s what happened to me at our recent Foresighting Forum, and I’ve been busting to tell you about it.
Twenty years ago, the US state of Oregon established an independent energy trust on a dauntingly simple premise. Rather than thinking of energy architecture in traditional terms as two systems – supplier and consumer – stapled together at a meter, they would instead conceive of it as a single, unified system underpinned by least cost production.
This changed way of thinking allowed for a whole-of-system question: is it cheaper to increase efficiency or capacity? The result (drumroll): it’s much cheaper to increase the energy efficiency of homes, businesses, industry and agriculture than it is to generate and distribute more energy to cover the inefficiency. 
Every year since, the Energy Trust of Oregon (ETO) has assessed how much efficiency is available in each supplier’s patch and how much it will cost the supplier to get it from consumers via paid audits, upgrades, incentives, consumer energy resources, appliance replacements, etc. This efficiency dividend then becomes the ‘first fuel’ in the cost stack that each supplier takes to their pricing regulator.
The result: an investment of $US2.6 billion in direct support to 4.2 million residents has removed the need for what would have been higher capital cost in generation and distribution. Oh, and consumers reduced consumption by ~20% (against a national increase of ~15%) and, in the process, saved $US10.6 billion from their bills.
What was required for this highly successful and universally popular process to work? Three factors stand out:

  1. There’s a recognition that energy efficiency is a measurable economic resource with a discernible value all along the supply chain – i.e. everybody can win.
  2. Direct investment in efficiency and an entity to deliver it – when supported by a pricing mechanism that encourages it – avoids reliance on behavioural nudges and consumer engagement, i.e. it takes the burden off consumers and places it with an organisation focused on delivering efficient outcomes.
  3. Many of the greatest efficiency gains are in the homes of economically vulnerable people (Our research shows time and again housing stock is least efficient for people on low incomes) so, wonderfully, their efficiency dividend is the most valuable for suppliers and thus the incentive to assist vulnerable consumers is highest.

This is precisely what thinking differently looks like. My profound thanks to our friends Michael Colgrove and Amber Cole from ETO for flying over to Sydney to show us all what is possible.  
Anyone for a game of chess?

Brendan French
Chief Executive Officer

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Welcome Dr Michael Schaper

We’re delighted to welcome Dr Michael Schaper as the new Chair of our Board. Michael has a long-standing background in regulatory issues, consumer protection, small business representation and public policy.  

Michael will be replacing our inaugural Chair, Louise Sylvan, who has served in the role for the last nine years. Louise has been tireless in her advocacy for consumers and has helped build the organisation from the ground up. We would like to extend our deepest thanks to Louise for her passionate service. 

Foresighting Forum Videos

If you missed our Foresighting Forum, or want to rewatch any of the presentations, you can now catch up on all the sessions. We hope these continue to spark discussions about how you can embed the consumer at the centre of the energy transition. Subscribe to our YouTube channel to keep up to date with all our content.  

Gill Owen Scholarship

And the winner is…

At our Foresighting Forum, we had the privilege of announcing the 2024 recipient of the Gill Owen Scholarship. The scholarship enables someone to travel internationally to research innovative ideas to improve outcomes for Australian energy consumers.  

Madison Sturgess from Original Power is our latest scholar. Madison will travel to the UK to investigate community energy initiatives, which she aims to apply to First Nations and regional communities in Australia. Congratulations Madison! 

This scholarship is awarded in memory of Gill Owen who was a Director of our Board and a fierce energy advocate. We were fortunate to have Gill’s husband, David Green, present the award. 

Should we name our heatwaves?

One of our 2023 Gill Owen scholars, Rob McLeod from Renew, travelled to Spain to understand what they are doing to combat extreme heat and what Australia might be able to learn from this. Key measures include improving public awareness and communication on the dangers of heatwaves, retrofitting housing, improving health systems, and even naming heatwaves.   


Energy as a right

The energy transition will only be successful if there are opportunities for First Nations communities to lead, participate in, and benefit from it. In our submission to DCCEEW, we argue that to achieve the best outcomes for First Nations communities, energy should be embedded as a right in energy law and rules.   

Protecting consumers on embedded networks

Where you live or work shouldn’t determine the type of consumer protections you receive. That’s why we’re pushing for stronger protections for consumers receiving energy via embedded networks. Read our submissions to the Australian Energy Regulator and the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal to find out more.  

From the Grants Team

We’re pleased to share with you the recent insights from three projects funded through our Grants Program. 

Geographies of disparity

New research from the Australian National University found that one in five Australians don’t have access to the full range of consumer electricity protections. And that number skyrockets if you live in a remote or First Nations community. To make sure these communities don’t approach the transition on an uneven footing, there needs to be significant policy reforms.  

Supporting CALD consumers in the transition

Culturally and linguistically diverse energy consumers feel unrepresented in energy policy and market narratives. To address this, Queensland University of Tecnology has co-designed a toolkit to better support and empower CALD consumers as they engage with the energy system.  

When’s the best time to charge my EV?

As EV adoption begins to take off, the demand for electricity to power these vehicles will also increase. When and how EVs are charged is important for managing the transition, ensuring good outcomes for consumers, and maintaining grid reliability.  

bECAuse blogs

Homeowners are increasingly going electric

Public sentiment is slowly changing towards gas appliances in homes. Homeowners are increasingly considering swapping gas appliances with electric ones. Our bECAuse blog digs into the data on the latest trends.

What Taylor can teach us about the energy transition

Yes, we’ve jumped on the Taylor Swift bandwagon. But only because we think there are some important lessons we can apply to engaging consumers in Australia’s energy transition (and we’ve got some massive Swifties in the office…).  

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