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Newsletter: September 2022


Energy Consumers Australia

From the CEO

In the past week I’ve had a couple of great opportunities to engage with two very different audiences about the same idea: electrification. 

I can scarcely think of a more important thing to be discussing right now. The comedian George Carlin once said: “electricity is just organised lighting”. As we look to a next decade in which we are seeking to electrify the homes, transport and lives of 25 million Australians it is pretty clear… 

We’ve got an awful lot of organising to do.  

And it’s going to take a broad coalition to get there — much broader than the way things are mostly unfolding at the moment. 

In Brisbane, at our Board Stakeholder Forum, I was pleased to join with the Queensland Government’s Dr Liam Byrne and Queensland University of Technology’s Associate Professor Wendy Miller for a great discussion about the challenges of electrification, including the electric vehicle superhighway charging network being created and a living lab project engaging with residents of the Carseldine Village housing estate. 

Just a few days later I was in the Hunter Valley and fortunate enough to speak at the Clean Energy Conference of the Master Electricians Association. 

I get a lot of opportunities to speak at different events, often to an audience of people who count as important decision makers in our energy system. Ministers, Premiers, CEOs and Chairs. I’m not sure if any of those audiences have been quite as important as this one. 

It’s often said that the big challenge of our energy transition is to electrify everything. In this very message last month, I joked that it was really ‘electrify everyone’ given how much consumers would be asked to invest in technologies and change their behaviour, habits and ways of living, or doing business. 

Either way, somebody is going to need to do all that electrifying. The next decade or two is going to be an exciting and rewarding time to be a sparky. 

We are going to need electricians and we are going to need more of them. There is a skills challenge that will require investment from governments and present huge opportunity for the industry. But we are also going to need electricians, like everybody else in our energy system, to rise to the occasion. We recently carried out research that shows Australians strongly want to live more energy wise and resourceful lives but are worried about whether the necessary workforce exists to make it happen without unintended consequences such as high costs, excessive waste, delay or even physical danger. All of this will be front of mind as the nation ponders how to go about the challenge of making critical changes to make millions of homes and small business premises more energy efficient.  

Electricians are going to be at the frontier of the revolution that’s coming. That’s why it’s critical that those who are responsible for leading these changes, decision makers and policy reformers are engaged and helping people to understand the reasons why electrification of our homes, transport and lives needs to happen, what kinds of products, practices and changes it will deliver for consumers and where their points of curiosity, caution and even anxiety might lie. From electricians and their associations we’ll need to see a commitment to the task and a determined willingness to build trust with consumers, deliver sound and independent advice and be the partner that everyday Australians need to get them through a tricky process, safely, affordably and with minimal fuss and costs.  

People like electricians are so important because they will be the conduit between the future system and its users. They are in our homes, often when we are vulnerable, when something has gone wrong. When circuit boards and tempers are decidedly frazzled. When the consumer is in hot water because, all of a sudden, they don’t have any. 

These will be the moments when Australians choose a new hot water heater, space heater or air conditioner. When the old one has broken, the tradesperson is standing in front of them, and the need feels urgent. Getting consumers good advice that serves their long-term interests is likely to be more important at such moments than the information on any government website or fact sheet can ever be. 

Australian homes, and the ways we live in them, need to change. It is going to be a big job and we need everyone who will be part of that transformation pulling in the same direction if we are to succeed.  

Given the scale of what’s needed it was really pleasing to see a breakthrough around one part of the challenge during the past month. In August, Building Ministers acted to ratify a new version of the National Construction Code that – among other things – lifts the minimum energy efficiency rating for new-build homes from six to seven stars.  

This was a victory worth celebrating. It’s something we campaigned and worked for, collaborating with others to build a coalition for change. It means in the not-too-distant future every new home in Australia will be built to a higher standard, will come with an energy budget that incentivises greater efficiency and will be future-proofed for the electric vehicle revolution that we know is cresting the horizon. 

That’s a lot. But not nearly enough. Think of it this way… around 80% of the homes we will be living in when 2050 arrives have already been built. Those millions of existing homes are not constructed to a standard of seven stars. Most of them – those built before standards increased to six stars in 2010 – have an average rating of 1.8 stars, closer to a tent. 

In all of the celebration after this win, many of us have been talking about the challenge of retro-fitting 8 million houses. Of improving building stock. Of elevating our built environment. These are essential conversations, about how we get it done, but we need to be careful that we don’t miss the point, about why we need to get it done. 

So much of the time our job is to walk into the rooms where critical decisions are being made around rule changes and investment requirements, transmission and generation, and to say: “sure, but what about the people?” If we spend so much of our time urging system planners to avoid making assumptions about what consumers want, need or will tolerate then we can’t make the same mistake ourselves when it comes to energy efficient housing. 

The task of transforming Australian homes is mostly about the quality of Australian lives. How and when we clean ourselves, cook our food, warm and cool our families. How and when we work, operate our businesses or spend our leisure time. That means we aren’t just talking about retro-fitting houses here. We are talking about future-proofing lives. 

Consumers get this on some level. Recently we were testing names for an initiative we are working on in this space. We shared a few sample names with everyday Australians and the results were interesting. The options about healthy homes or smart buildings mostly elicited a crinkling of the nose and an absence of interest. But when we asked about a ‘sustainable living’ initiative the feedback was warm and enthusiastic.  

To get to where we need to go, we are going to need everybody to play their part. That includes leaders, decision makers and policy experts. But equally importantly it also includes electricians, and plumbers, insulation installers, architects and builders. And, of course, it includes all of us. A big part of Energy Consumers Australia’s role will be to help make the connections, build capacity and see the whole of the challenge, from consumers’ points of view.  

Another way of saying it is that we need a big tent to get this done… (and then we need to take that tent, add plenty of insulation, some thermally efficient windows and a decent heat pump). If electricity really is just organised lighting it at least feels good to have started in earnest the process of getting collectively organised. We might have a long way to go but it’s important we celebrate the wins and milestones along the way.  

Lynne Gallagher
Chief Executive Officer

Foresighting Forum 23

Our Foresighting Forum is the energy event not to be missed! We’re bringing together the leading minds and advocates for energy matters in Australia to discuss the future energy system. And we want you to be there. We are excited to announce that registrations are now open.

Over the two-day forum, we will grapple with the complexities of the energy transition and the opportunities it creates. Ultimately we will be asking, how do we capture the potential and harness the benefits of including consumers?

The event will be held in-person on 15-16 February 2023 at the UTS Aerial Centre, Sydney

In Energy News

Consumer Confidence is Plummeting

The latest instalment of our ‘Pulse’ survey, tracking how Australians think and feel about energy issues, showed that confidence in Australia’s electricity market is in freefall. In just a month, confidence that the market is working in the long-term interests of consumers dropped from 44% in July to 37% in August. Top of mind concerns for consumers were value for money for electricity and gas, and rising energy bills. Read more about the results in coverage of the survey from The ABC, The Australian (paywall), Renew Economy, and The Squiz.

Leading the Way in Consumer Engagement

Congratulations to the winners of the 2022 Energy Networks Industry Consumer Engagement Award – AusNet Services, Australian Gas Networks and Multinet Gas Networks (AGIG).

The three gas distribution businesses designed and delivered a single, integrated, consumer and stakeholder engagement program for their regulatory reset engagement plans, providing a single forum to discuss issues of importance to the sector.

The award was jointly run by Energy Consumers Australia and Energy Networks Australia.

From the Grants Team

Spotlight on Grant Recipient: Total Environment Centre

As Australians embrace Consumer Energy Resources in increasing numbers, our nation continues to grapple with the implications of these new generation, storage, and efficiency assets and the energy they make available into the grid. Total Environment Centre (TEC) accepted this challenge with this project, working to fundamentally reimagine the national grid. TEC, alongside others, worked to influence regulatory reform by proposing an alternative, consumer-centric model that allows small customers to generate, export, and trade energy amongst themselves. AEMC has since updated its rules and adopted many of the suggested changes, creating a genuine win-win for networks and solar owners.
Funding for this work was provided through ECA’s grant program.

Funding an Inclusive Energy System

For the energy transition to be equitable, we need to consider the needs of people from all different backgrounds. That’s why we’ve just announced funding for two new grants with a strong energy inclusion and equity lens, investigating the specific needs of international students and farmers in our energy system.

Gill Owen Scholarship – Travel Opportunities Now Open

Gill Owen: Scholarship

We’re calling for applications from individuals who want to travel internationally to research innovative ideas and initiatives that could benefit consumers in the Australian energy market. Does this sound like you? The Gill Owen scholarship is now open with applications closing October 28.

Behind the Scenes

Meet Brian: our Director of Energy System Transition

There are two energy transitions happening in Australia today – the transition to renewables and a shift towards empowered consumers. Here at ECA, we want to build a bridge between energy systems and consumers, and make sure their voice is included in these transitions. Director of Energy System Transition, Brian Spak, is passionate about building these bridges. Learn from Brian about how we approach this. 

Increasing the Administered Price Cap

Following the market dysfunction in June, the Australian Energy Market Commission is considering temporarily increasing the Administered Price Cap (APC) and invited submissions on this decision. ECA supports a temporary increase to the APC – an important safety net to avoid sustained periods of high prices – to reduce the likelihood of another suspension of the energy market. We are also advocating for a better review process to update the APC and other market mechanisms. Read our full submission here.
We have also recently put forward submissions on recovering the cost of AEMO’s participant fees, wholesale market monitoring reforms, and the ESB’s data strategy.   

From the Board

Stakeholders in the Sunshine State

Last week our Board held a Stakeholder Forum in Brisbane and Board Members were extremely pleased to see such a strong representation of energy sector leaders, thinkers, advocates, and researchers gather for an important discussion about the electrification challenges facing the Sunshine State. Lynne Gallagher (Energy Consumers Australia), Dr Liam Byrnes (Department of Energy and Public Works) and Dr Wendy Miller (Queensland University of Technology) gave presentations, followed by a lively Q&A with members of the audience.

August Communique

Our board met in August to hear updates from some of our grant recipients. They were impressed with the way project teams are using the resources ECA has provided to shape a better future for energy consumers across Australia.

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