Leading the Australian Energy Foundation, I have come across a unicorn. A policy solution so rare and precious, it delivers the trifecta of positive economic, environmental and health outcomes. This solution has the potential to tackle cost of living pressures, escalating energy emissions, and health problems exacerbated by climate-induced temperature extremes. And better yet, this solution is in our power to implement now. We have the technology, and we have the know-how to get moving.
The solution is to decarbonise our homes by turning them from glorified tents with solar panels, to homes which are:
- Renewable – run on renewable energy generation and storage via the grid and/or on the premises
- Electric – use all-electric appliances, particularly vehicles, hot water and heating and cooling
- Energy efficient – have energy efficient building materials and measures such as insulation and draught sealing
- Energy conscious – people are conscious about the amount of energy that they are using and how to safely minimise use.
Decarbonising the 8 million Australian homes that were built before current energy efficiency standards1 is a mammoth task, and undertaking it is also essential. These 8 million homes are estimated to contribute between 18 to 20 per cent of Australia’s carbon emissions2 and house people who are paying unnecessarily high energy bills – predicted to soar3 more than $250 a year, taking the average bill to $1,434 per year from 1 July 2022. The poor state of Australia’s housing is a contributor to one of the highest winter mortality rates in the OECD4. In addition to this, people who are isolated, have limited mobility, and/or lacking the funds to make energy upgrades, are more likely to experience the adverse health impacts from extreme heat and cold exposure5.
It’s clear that not every Australian is in the same position when it comes to reducing energy, and there are very real barriers to take into consideration if we want to move together towards a zero-carbon society as a nation. The Australian Energy Foundation supports roughly 11,000 households each year to be part of the clean energy transition, and these are some of the consistent barriers that households face to making improvements in their homes:
How might we overcome these real barriers that households face to decarbonising their homes via holistic energy upgrades6? Renovate Europe’s platform offers useful policy building blocks:
- long-term commitment to decarbonisation via better building and rental regulations
- simple, tailored advice on energy upgrades direct to households and to household influencers
- financing options suitable for different household types (e.g. tax incentives, low-interests loans)
- energy upgrades of public buildings to lead by example.
Australia has work in progress across these areas, yet we lack a co-ordinated cross-sector effort at the scale of ambition that we need. We need to get beyond the early adopters and increase the accessibility to decarbonisation for all households. With technology and market settings forever changing, it brings with it great volatility and uncertainty – people need to be guided through the home decarbonisation process simply, efficiently, and according to their needs.
There is a saying which has become a cliché for a good reason: change moves at the speed of trust. This is also true for home decarbonisation. We need to mobilise the people that are trusted by households to help them make the everyday decisions that set their energy consumption trajectory for the following 10-20 years:
- the plumbers who are there when the gas hot water breaks down need to be motivated and equipped to recommend hot water heat pumps
- the property managers need to be motivated to advocate for patching holes alongside updating old gas heating to reverse cycle air conditioning
- the vehicle and retail salespeople, the real estate agents and home loan managers
- the local council planning officers that review new build and renovation plans.
These trusted influencers and their ilk will set the course for achieving home decarbonisation.
Indeed, there are new influencers emerging that have incentives to drive home decarbonisation who interact with households at key life transition points when there tends to be a greater openness to change:
- banks are being incentivised by capital flows to extend their emissions reduction efforts to their financed emissions. Their mortgage holdings are ripe for decarbonisation, and when people take on loans (to buy a new home) and re-mortgage (to renovate), these present perfect intervention points to steer them towards greater customer/distributed energy resources and energy efficiency.
- large employers are being driven by their stakeholders to understand the emissions associated with their hybrid workforces, and are therefore motivated for the first time to consider decarbonisation in home offices.
- superannuation funds have an interest in their customers’ long-term financial wellbeing and with the home typically the largest asset held by a customer, there is an incentive to improve the value of this asset, and to minimise ongoing household operational costs through decarbonisation.
While it is essential that this powerful network of influencers is informed and motivated to enable home decarbonisation, the Australian Energy Foundation’s 21+ years of experience working directly with households tells us that the value of simple, tailored and independent advice is invaluable. When the AEF provides households with advice about renewable energy, electrification and energy efficiency, we are considering the needs of the households and how these might change over time, offering objective analysis of potential solutions, and recommending upgrades without any incentive to maximise the households’ spend, or to direct that spend towards any particular product. This is the core value of AEF’s long-running Energy Advice Service that assists more than 8,000 households each year to decarbonise their homes.
AEF’s Energy Advice Service is complemented by services that are specifically focused on people that experience barriers to engaging in the energy market and/or have greater need for accessible and reliable clean energy. The high-impact Victorian Healthy Homes Program, for example, provided government-funded energy efficiency upgrades to close to 1000 households with complex healthcare needs, resulting in improved indoor winter temperatures and lower household energy bills7.
One-Stop-Shops for Integrated Home Energy Renovations, which are increasingly common across Europe, offer a combination of the “light touch” advice and “hands on” upgrade co-ordination8 which the AEF has been delivering over many years. The Shops provide a universal entry point for all household types to commence the home decarbonisation process. The Shops tailor the level of support provided to the resources available to the households, and their needs. By providing multiple levels of support from low to high intensity, this service delivery model enables funding and investment from public and private sources to be leveraged with maximum efficiency. The benefit of this model is that it receives the sustained funding needed to provide households, suppliers and other partners involved in home energy upgrades with confidence to engage. It is a model that needs to be explored for Australia.
As I reach the end of my time leading AEF, I am reminded of the teachings of my mentor, Gayle Hardie of the Global Leadership Foundation9. Gayle teaches that how we do what we do is just as important as what we do. I joined AEF with the intention of being courageous, curious and compassionate, and of cultivating these attributes in the AEF team. One of the things that most attracted me to working at AEF was the description of the team in the CEO position description as “practical visionaries”. It has been an honour working with a diverse collective of professionals delivering for the community each day. They truly live up to being “practical visionaries”.
I’m so proud of what we have achieved together, in very trying circumstances. Here is a snapshot from our work in FY22:
- 8831 households engaged with home energy education and advice
- 2414 households engaged with specialist home energy assessments and upgrades
- 6.76 C02e tonnes abated through solar installations.
I would like to thank each and every one of the AEF team members and Board Directors I have worked with. I hope that you all continue striving each day towards an equitable zero-carbon society.
Anna’s last working day with AEF is Friday 22 July 2022.
1 Eight million Australian homes aren’t energy efficient. This sharehouse is just one battling to change their property – ABC News (PowerHousing in ABC News) 4 Nov 2021
2 Eight million Australian homes aren’t energy efficient. This sharehouse is just one battling to change their property – ABC News (PowerHousing in ABC News) 4 Nov 2021
3 Household electricity bills are set to soar by more than $250 a year, taking the average bill to $1,434 per year from 1 July 2022 (ACCC in ABC News) Power prices to surge up to 18.3 per cent as energy market turmoil flows through to households – ABC News 26 May 2022
5 University of Sydney, 2019.
6 Holistic energy upgrades refers to renewable energy generation and storage, all home electrification, energy efficiency, and energy conscious behaviour.
8 Cicmanova et al, How to set up a One-Stop-Shop for Integrated Home Energy Renovation, Innovate, 2020.