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Commentary

Newsletter: November 2023

From the CEO

One of the many things that makes ECA unique is the way we have listened to how Australians feel about the energy that powers their lives. For a decade we have regularly asked thousands of people a year to let us know what interests, worries, and exasperates them. Among recent trends, there are a couple I wanted to tell you about in case they worry you the same way they worry me.

1. A life without energy

We’ve all seen the double-whammy of higher energy prices – far outstripping CPI – and higher cost of living (see graph below). Worrying about prices affects everyone: 59% of households tell us they think energy might be unaffordable within three years but, importantly, many more (77%) also say it will be unaffordable for others (June 23 ECSS). What this tells me is that a significant majority of the population are thinking outside their own walls and wondering how they feel about a system that limits an essential service to exposed people due to price.

2. Information vacuums create misinformation volcanoes

Our recent survey of 2500 consumers showed that 48% – wait for it – have no memory of hearing, seeing or reading anything at all in the last year that would help them reduce bills or manage usage. Of the other 52%, what they mostly remembered was a retailer ad from the telly. (For those of you old enough to know what I’m talking about, the ink isn’t getting into the chalk.) While this is remarkable, try this one for extraordinary: 35% of consumers who believe they have received very clear communications think their bill will go down in future thanks to renewables – but that drops to only 2% of those who believe they have received unclear communications (June 23 ECSS). As obvious as it is to say, concern and confusion thrive in vacuum.

So, consumers don’t know where to go, get confused by what they find, and increasingly don’t trust what they see.

It seems to me that governments, market bodies and industry have got a big problem looming. There is an armada of energy policy bearing down on consumers over the next few years – think CER integration, smart meters, two-way grid/tariffs, electrification, demand management, energy audits/retrofits, reliability measures, EVs and more. Frankly, consumer buy-in for just about all of these is already baked into the business case but it is pretty clear the connective tissue between policy intent and consumer behaviour is too thin to succeed.

But there is a way forward.

We believe strongly that two additions to the mix would very considerably lift the odds of a successful transition and I ask you to add your voice to ours if you agree:

  1. Australians lack a master narrative around the transition. A narrative would provide the organising principle and motivation people need to make the right decisions for themselves and their families. (It would also go a considerable distance in filling a void increasingly attracting misinformation.) Think Slip-Slop-Slap.
  2. Australians need a one-stop-shop to provide essential information, advice and support to households and businesses. A pamphlet in a bill or a website only the faithful will find simply won’t cut it. What we need is a consumer-centred information hub that will provide guidance on all the topics I listed above and more.  It can be – must be – the critical link in the chain that connects the entire transition back to people and their lives and decisions. There are dozens of one-stop-shops around the world. We want one here.

Which, as it happens, leads me to my shameless plug!  Our upcoming Foresighting Forum (14-15 February) includes an in-person keynote from Michael Colgrove of the Energy Trust of Oregon, a one-stop-shop that has supported consumers for 20 years, saving them billions of dollars on their energy bills in the process.  Even some of that would go a long way to keeping us all connected, in every possible way.

Until next time,

Brendan French
Chief Executive Officer


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Foresighting Forum

We’re excited to share the program for our Foresighting Forum – the energy conference like no other where you get to think, dream, and act like a consumer.

The lineup is packed with exceptional leaders in energy and consumer advocacy from around Australia and beyond. We have the privilege of welcoming Michael Colgrove from the Energy Trust of Oregon as our keynote speaker. Michael will share with us how they’re helping consumers in the US to use less energy, save on energy costs, and transition to renewables.

When: 14-15 February 2024 

Where: UTS Aerial Centre, Sydney 

Cost: Tickets start from $995. Register before 20 December to secure early bird pricing.  


Energy Consumer Information Survey

Household Energy Consumers

Consumers need the right information at the right time from sources they trust in order to make the right decisions for their household. But our latest research shows that’s not what they’re getting – and as a result this is leaving them disengaged and lacking trust in the energy market.

We found that most households are on ‘first base’ in their energy journey and need simple, clear communications on the easy, high impact steps they can take to better manage their energy. It’s vital that we get this right as we’re asking consumers to do a lot as we transition to net zero.

We break down the insights from this report further in our latest bECAuse blog to reveal who household energy consumers trust, where they’re looking for information, and what barriers they face to action.

Small Business Energy Consumers

In addition to speaking with households, we also conducted research with 400 SME energy consumers to understand their unique needs for receiving information on energy.

Just like households, small businesses need further support to understand the ‘best bang for buck’ actions they can take to reduce their energy use and bring down their bills. However, who they trust and where they look for information differs from household consumers.

This research was released with a companion report, Power over their Power: Small Business Perspectives on Energy, which provides insights about how small businesses engage with the energy sector more broadly, the barriers SMEs face in the energy transition, and how policy makers should respond.


Join our Team

Are you – or someone you know – a master storyteller and media wrangler? Do you find ways to cut through the news cycle with fresh angles? Can you create simple visual comms to back up a story?

We’re on the hunt for a Media and Storytelling Manager to join our team.


From the Grants Team

Influence Grants Open

Our latest Influence Grants round is open! Funding is available to support advocacy or research ideas that benefit energy consumers in Australia.

We fund a wide range of projects, and our Grants Team are happy to discuss any specific ideas you might want to explore prior to applying.

Case Study: Energy Ready Webinar

Next week we’ll be releasing the Energy Ready Guidebook. It helps communities to prepare for, respond to and bounce back from disaster-related power cuts and improve their energy resilience.

Keep your eyes peeled for the Guidebook’s release, but in the meantime, register for the webinar on 12 December at 12pm AEDT which will share more information about the Guidebook and how to use it.

Energy Ready was funded by Energy Consumers Australia’s Grants Program and delivered in partnership with the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, Community Power Agency and Parallel Lines.


21st Century Webinars

What should our energy system planning processes of the future look like?

If you missed out, we recently hosted a series of four webinars with leading experts around the world to consider how Australia can best plan for the future. 


Submissions

During the past month we’ve made submissions on:

  • The Future Gas Strategy to DISR on the need to provide a clear plan for households and small businesses to help them electrify. Read more here.
  • The Treasury Laws Amendment (Support for Small Business) to the Economics Legislation Committee on the need for policy certainty for small businesses to help them decarbonise. Read more here.
  • The Default Market Offer Prices 2024-25 Issues Paper to the Australian Energy Regulator and how it can best be used to protect consumers. Read more here.

Annual Report

In the past year, ECA has delivered high impact outcomes for energy consumers and ensured that their needs, values, and wants are placed front and centre in discussions about energy. Our Annual Report provides an overview of our major achievements in 2022-23.


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