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Newsletter: November 2022


Energy Consumers Australia

From the CEO

As I sit down to write my contribution to our penultimate newsletter for the year, the events of the past week in South Australia are again an acute reminder of the challenges for consumers in understanding and participating in the transition to a 100% renewable energy system.

I can illustrate this with two events separated by only a month.

On 16 October, a new negative demand record of minus 236MW was achieved in South Australia, with the distribution network managed by South Australia Power Networks becoming a net exporter for more than 5.5 hours, the longest duration seen so far in South Australia’s energy transition. This was the twelfth time this year and the seventh time in a month.

Yet, on 16 November the Australian Energy Market Operator in a statement described how it had been acting to both curtail generation, including rooftop solar, and scheduling load into service, after  South Australia had disconnected from the National Energy Market on 12 November (triggered by a fallen transmission tower). It took until 19 November for South Australia to be integrated again into the NEM.

While the system needs are self-evident to the engineers and the energy technology sector, it isn’t at all likely that households and small businesses understand why they are being asked to increase their use of grid supplied electricity or, if they also have rooftop solar, why their system has been turned off.

To the system, this ability to dial up and dial down both electricity use and generation is a necessary and valuable resource – which at this point households and small businesses are not being paid for. For consumers, this is at best a nuisance and at worst an epic fail, further eroding trust and confidence that the system is designed to meet their needs. I say “further eroding trust” because after a decade in which retail electricity and gas prices have been at historic highs (in real terms), they are again rising. The recent Treasury projections contained in the budget – assuming no policy interventions – are for a 30% increase in retail electricity prices in 2023-24 and 20% increase in retail gas prices on top of 20% increases in both electricity and gas this financial year.

I recently made the case for why trust matters in my keynote speech to the 9th International Conference, Integration of Renewable & Distributed Energy Resources.  

We can’t assume that people are willing to be adaptable to changing system conditions in their energy use in their homes and businesses. We say that the challenge is not “integration of consumer energy resources” but reimagination of the pathways to a future energy system that is better than today. A better future in which energy is clean, reliable and affordable, not just for those who have the means and opportunity to invest in energy technologies, or switch from fossil fuels for heating and transport but for everyone in our community.

This brings me to our 2023 Foresighting Forum whose theme is “Energising Australians”. It is an opportunity to have a dialogue about how to deliver a system and frameworks that support the active and constructive role we are counting on consumers to play in managing their energy use and generation, to benefit themselves and the system. The program is grounded in the premise that the challenges in the transformation of the energy system are essentially human challenges. These challenges begin and end with consumers, their needs, preferences and behaviours.

If you haven’t been to the Forum before, we bring together leaders, decision makers, advocates, and thinkers from across the energy sector, in a series of panels to stimulate and promote intensive discussions. Together we will consider how we can build a better energy future. We will discuss and debate what the future of our energy system might look like if we put the consumer back into the centre of thinking and design.  

In addition to the panels, we have three international speakers, to share valuable insights and experience in integrating human design in system transformations.

  • Paul De Martini is a leading expert on the business, policy and technology dimensions of a more distributed power system, including the insights that he shares through his work with the Pacific Energy Institute.
  • Matt Finch is from the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. His work focuses on the value of scenario planning in situations characterised by turbulence, uncertainty, novelty, and ambiguity.
  • Paul Jordon is from Energy Systems Catapult, which advocates for a whole of system approach to achieving net zero targets in the United Kingdom, and whose work prominently features what works best for consumers.

Across the two days, the program will be complemented by a dedicated room showcasing the Digital Energy Futures (DEF) project. A partnership between Monash University, Ausgrid, AusNet Services and Energy Consumers Australia, DEF draws on future-focused social science research to better understand how emerging technologies are shaping the way people live. 

We are very much looking forward to again meeting in person in Sydney, on 15-16 February 2022. There is limited capacity at the University of Technology venue, and as we will not be live streaming, it would be wise to commit soon to attending.

We hope to see you there. 

Lynne Gallagher
Chief Executive Officer

Foresighting Forum

We are very excited to unveil the program, which is packed with some of the most innovative and engaging speakers in the energy and consumer space – both from Australia and internationally. Over two days we’ll unpack the lived experiences of consumers right now, what a future system could look like if designed for consumers, how we can address the wicked problems of the energy system, and much, much more.

It’s bound to be an enriching and thought-provoking event. Don’t miss out! Register for the Forum today.

The event will be held in-person on 15-16 February 2023 at the UTS Aerial Centre, Sydney. Please note that WorldPride commences in Sydney the day after the Forum. We therefore strongly encourage people who need flights and accommodation to book early to avoid missing out.

New Grants Funding

We are pleased to announce support for four new projects through our Grants Program, totalling more than $600,000 in funding. With a focus on consumer empowerment, these projects promise to deliver significant benefits to energy consumers.

The grants include a project to ensure communities’ resilience to prepare, withstand, recover, and thrive after severe weather events and other hazards, a project to assist household renovators to future proof their properties, an initiative designed to encourage migrant communities to actively engage in the energy transition, and a program that will evaluate the benefits of price incentives and flexible tariffs for electric vehicle charging.

Energy Efficient Homes Roundtable

Most homes in Australia perform poorly when it comes to energy efficiency. Yet addressing energy efficiency is a key way to reduce domestic power bills and meet our Net Zero commitments. To help achieve this, Energy Consumers Australia and Renew commissioned SEC Newgate to ask home-owners, landlords and renters their views on improving the energy performance of their homes, and where they see benefits or encounter barriers.    

Senator Jenny McAllister, the Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy, will launch the research report at our Energy Efficient Homes Roundtable on 24 November. If you are based in Canberra, we would love to see you there.

Behind the Scenes at ECA

Annual Report

It’s an understatement to say that it’s been a challenging year in energy. However, we have seen progress in the national conversation around what new opportunities and responsibilities there are for consumers to participate in the future system. We have sought to add value to this conversation and intensified our efforts across an integrated work program with three core strategic impact areas. First, more affordable energy for households and small businesses, second a more individualised energy services that give consumers choice and control, and finally a more modern, flexible and resilient energy system built on trust and social license for change with consumers. 

Take a deep dive into our Annual Report to see how we’ve been working to ensure the needs, expectations and values of Australians are being met by their energy system.

Stakeholder Survey Insights

We understand that the nature of our work is collaborative and its success relies on building strong working relationships across the sector. In light of this, we recently commissioned a stakeholder survey to understand how we can continue to build and prioritise stakeholder relationships and ensure they remain strong and mutually beneficial. We were pleased to receive positive feedback but remain committed to improvement. We encourage any of our stakeholders to share additional feedback with us if they would like to.  

bECAuse Blogs

Consumer Sensitivity to Price Increases

To ensure consumers’ interests are represented in regulatory decisions, the AER runs a Consumer Reference Group (CRG). Recently, with funding obtained through ECA, the CRG surveyed 2500 consumers to find out what price increases mean for them. The CRG found that many consumers are financially stressed when it comes to energy and are already taking steps – sometimes drastic in nature (like living in the dark) – to take control of their energy use. 

Vinnies Tariff Tracker

St Vincent de Paul Society has been tracking changes to domestic energy bills and reporting how this impacts households and energy affordability more broadly for over a decade. Tracking the results year-on-year helps us to see trends over time, helping to ensure transparency of what can be a pretty murky area, and encourage a competitive retail market.  

This research is funded through our Grants Program. 

Recent Events

Keynote Speech to the IRED Conference

Our CEO, Lynne Gallagher, was invited to give the keynote address to the 9th International Conference, Integration of Renewable & Distributed Energy Resources. Lynne described a preferred energy future that can be boiled down to four words: least cost, most participation. To get there, we need a kind of grand bargain between consumers and those who run the system. 

Energy Ministers’ Meeting

ECA attended the Energy Ministers’ Meeting in October. We welcome the outcomes of the meeting as a starting point to work together to bring down power bills and benefit consumers.

Best of the Rest

Accelerating the Uptake of EVs

Electric vehicles are a key piece of our future energy system and will play a prominent role in the lives of Australians. However, the details of what this looks like are still being determined. We put forward a submission to DCCEEW outlining our position on policy measures to accelerate the uptake of EVs.  

We have also released two other submissions over the past month including one to the AEMC on Transmission Planning and Investment and one to the AER on Incentivising and Measuring Export Service Performance

Energy Forecasts and the Federal Budget

One of the big news stories on Federal Budget night was the expected rises in electricity and gas prices. With predictions that electricity prices will rise 20% by late 2022 and another 30% in 2023-24, such forecasts can seem scary for households who are already on tight budgets. That means it’s more important that ever that we have a national conversation on how governments can help people control energy use and bring bills down. 

To find out more about our take on the Budget, you can read Lynne’s response in media coverage received in 7 News, Brisbane Times, and myGC

Board Communique

The Board met in October to consider a range of funding applications from advocacy and research institutions under Energy Consumers Australia’s Grants Program.  

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