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Commentary

Newsletter: July 2022

Author

Energy Consumers Australia

From the CEO

If you’ve read a newspaper or turned on your radio in the past month you’ll know that the energy market has been in a state of disarray. 

And while we’ve seen plenty of talk about the collapse of the market, what we are even more concerned about is a collapse in consumer trust and confidence. 

Our eleventh Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey was released earlier this month. To measure the impact of recent events we decided to add a ‘Pulse’ report that captures what has changed since research for the main report was completed in April. 

On every available measure we’ve seen a rise in concern and a collapse in trust. Only four out of ten Australians now say they have confidence in the energy market to look after their long-term interest. 

Nationally, 88% of us are concerned energy will become unaffordable for ourselves in the next three years, while 95% are worried it will be unaffordable for others. 

And 90% are concerned the system won’t be resilient enough to prevent future blackouts and outages. 

The verdict is clear from consumers. What they have seen in recent weeks is not just the energy market failing; they have seen it failing them

We say that’s a big problem. When consumers lose trust in the energy market they are inclined to disengage from it. And if we are going to have a successful energy transition, we need all Australians to play an active and constructive part. 

System planners and operators are already making plenty of assumptions about what future consumers will invest in, how they’ll behave and what they’ll agree to. 

They are betting people will be open to changing the time of day when they use certain appliances or when they send power from their rooftop solar to the grid. 

They are betting that Australians will happily invest tens of billions of their own dollars changing from gas appliances to electric, buying EVs, batteries and solar panels and then using them in exactly the way that suits the system. 

They are betting that ordinary people will be willing to host 10,000 kilometres of transmission that the Integrated System Plan says is needed to be built in, through and across their communities. 

Are these good bets? When we ask consumers what they want, most tell us they want energy that is affordable, reliable and clean. They don’t expect to trade these things off against each other; they expect all three. 

If that’s to happen, we need a change. 

Just as we have recently been promised a national plan for the energy transition that all Energy Ministers have agreed to collaborate on, we also need a national action plan to support consumers. 

I’m talking about a new energy grand bargain: A plan to detail how governments will help consumers by keeping their energy costs affordable and supply reliable over the next decade as we transition to a net-zero system. But also a plan that lays out what role consumers will be expected to play, whether it’s investing in new technology, changing their behaviour or allowing access to their energy resources to help balance supply and demand. 

It’s not enough just to say what they’ll be expected to do. We need to have a plan for how to enable them to participate. A plan that takes into account what they want, what they expect and what they require before granting the social licence for these sweeping changes to happen. 

We’re calling on energy ministers and energy system leaders to commit to such a plan. It should take as its starting point how we can use energy more efficiently, so that we don’t need quite so much investment in new infrastructure.  

That means helping households become more energy efficient; upgrading appliances and insulating all of our millions of leaky, inefficient homes. It means well-designed mechanisms to not just encourage EV uptake but to make sure there is a massive charging network available, making it easy and cheap to charge your EV during the day when energy is plentiful. 

And it means investing far more ambitiously in local storage, so that we are making the most of the cheap solar energy millions of Australians are generating during the day. Local storage is a hugely-important part of the puzzle. That’s why we were pleased last week to tour the community battery facility at the Yarra Energy Foundation in Melbourne. Projects such as this should be central to the energy future we are striving to bring about.  

This month we are also making a splash with our grants program, announcing over $400,000 in new grants for projects designed to improve the experience of diverse groups of consumers in the energy system. We’re excited about these three new projects, including one that will help community swim schools use less energy and make the switch from gas to electricity. 

Electrification and the transition away from gas is also the subject of our first  Knowledge and Capacity Gap Report, published this month as part of our Grants Program. 

This handy resource details the electrification challenge as we see it and provides a gap analysis around the research and advocacy work that is needed to help consumers navigate what is looming as a potentially difficult but ultimately necessary shift. 

Reading it will help potential grants applicants identify the kind of questions we’d like to see addressed and the type of projects we are keen to fund. In coming months we’ll be publishing further gap reports on other subjects. For any researcher or advocate interested in receiving grants funding for us they will be an essential resource.  

Our Grants Program is currently open for funding applications. We’d love to hear your ideas for projects that can help close these knowledge gaps and benefit consumers in our energy system. 

Lynne Gallagher
Chief Executive Officer


Public Response to the Energy Crisis

In the Media

As the energy system was brought to its knees, Australians were clamouring for detailed insights and analysis on what it all meant and what might happen next. ECA was front and centre in the media as a trusted, independent source, helping people make sense of the situation, and ensuring that consumer needs were being represented in the public debate. Catch up on some of our media appearances from the past month from the Australian Financial Review (here and here – paywall), ABC News, and Renew Economy.

Consumer Advice Hub

The events of past weeks have left many Australians feeling frustrated and stressed as they face financial pressure from rising energy bills. Households and small businesses are often unsure about who to trust, and where to turn to for advice.

To help everyday Australians navigate the energy system, we’ve launched our Consumer Advice Hub. It’s packed with clear, independent information to help consumers more confidently understand and engage with all things energy. Our expert policy and research team has put together these easy-to-understand resources to answer some of the big questions consumers are asking right now.

Who can you share these resources with today?

bECAuse Blog

Consumer trust in the energy system has collapsed. And trust, once eroded, is difficult to win back. What does this mean for the future of our energy systems? And how can we regain this trust?


From the Grants Team

Knowledge and Capacity Gap Analysis

One of the questions we get asked the most is: what projects are most likely to receive grant funding? To help potential applicants understand the areas of research and advocacy where we’d like to see impactful projects making a difference, we will be releasing Knowledge and Capacity Gap Analyses. These will be essential reading for anyone considering a grant application. The first gap analysis we are publishing is on the gas transition, a critical plank of our larger transition to a Net Zero energy system.

New Grants Approved

We’re delighted to announce Grants Program funding for three new projects. Find out more about these exciting projects here. 

Do you have an advocacy or research initiative that is looking to tackle some of the pressing challenges facing energy consumers? Our Influence Grants funding round is now open. Applications close 1 September. More details on how to apply and eligibility can be found here.


Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey

We recently released our six-monthly Energy Consumer Sentiment Survey. This provides our nation’s most in-depth insights about what Australian households and small businesses think and feel about energy prices and the energy system.

Our CEO, Lynne Gallagher, was featured prominently across print, radio and TV media discussing the results and the collapse of consumer confidence. Media highlights included ABC News, The Australian (paywall), ABC AM, 7 News, Herald Sun (paywall), and The Drum. 

Save the Date – Foresighting Forum

Our Foresighting Forum is the biggest event in our calendar each year. It brings together consumer advocates, government, and industry to imagine how we can work towards a future energy system that puts consumers at the centre. We’re very excited to finally be back in person for our next Foresighting Forum in Sydney on 15-16 February 2023. Please save the date in your calendars and we will get back to you soon with more information.


Keynote Address to Energy Week

What do grandmas, tents, and energy efficiency have to do with each other? Our CEO, Lynne Gallagher, delivered the keynote address at Australian Energy Week in June. Lynne discussed the imperative to fix our housing, up our storage, and address EV charging.


Submissions

Submissions are a crucial part of how ECA shapes policy, regulation, and change in our energy system. This past month we have lodged two submissions:

  1. We presented the need for a new consumer protection framework to the  Australian Energy Regulator as they consider the Retailer Authorisation and Exemption framework. Read our full submission here.
  2. We commented on the Transmission Access Reform Consultation Paper to the Energy Security Board. Read our full submission here.

Retail Tariff Tracker Results

It’s difficult to get a complete picture of the energy costs facing small businesses, especially across jurisdictions. In order to assist businesses, promote competition, and encourage transparency, we publish the latest data trends on energy bills for small to medium enterprises across Australia.


From the Board

The Board met in June and is unsettled to again see surging consumer concern around energy bills and energy supply. They believe these problems need urgent action.

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