Consumers can take more control during the energy transition

As you know, EiD is part of the Energy Advice Exchange and our concern is about ensuring greater consumer empowerment in the development of EU’s sustainable energy strategy. Judith Ireland writes a good article on the illawarramercury website in Australia explaining that householders do not need to be experts to better control how they consume energy. What are your views?

 

People power: how households can help the energy crisis

As politicians argue about what do to do about our energy crisis, people are quietly making their own difference.

By his own admission, Sydney’s Chris Dunstan is an “energy wonk”. Not only has he installed solar panels on the roof of his Hurlstone Park home, he has designed a system so his rainwater tanks store water for his airconditioning unit.

But the research director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, based at the University of Technology, says householders don’t need to be experts to better control how they consume energy.

Mr Dunstan has started using an app from local company Solar Analytics , which allows him to monitor how much energy his house is creating and how much it is using. This recently warned him his energy generation was dropping off, prompting him to chop of a branch that was shading one of the panels on his roof, and triple his solar output.

It also showed him the best times of day to run big household appliances – like his pool pump – so he can use his own solar-generated supply. For similar reasons, he now puts his dishwasher on a delay to run overnight, instead of after dinner.

“These are reliably simple things,” Dunstan says, who adds the changes have not only saved him money, but energy for everyone in the process.

With rising electricity prices and dire predictions about summertime blackouts and brownouts, Australia is understood to be in grip of an energy crisis. But as politicians argue about what to do next, people are quietly making their own difference.

According to energy consultant Hugh Saddler, households account for about 27 per cent of total electricity consumption in Australia. In recent years, despite a rising population and ever-growing passion for gadgetry, there has been a decline in our electricity use. As Dr Saddler notes in a recent report for The Australia Institute, between 2006 and 2016, the quantity of electricity supplied to consumers over the whole year increased by less than two per cent up to 2011, and since then has fallen away to be over nine per cent below the 2006 level.

Dr Saddler says the increasing energy efficiency of household appliances – such as air conditioners and fridges – along with the switch to LED light bulbs, have had a significant impact on our consumption. So it can be worth updating your appliances.

“The best new TVs cost much less to run than older flat screen TVs,” says RMIT senior industry fellow Alan Pears. “Older TVs may have high standby power use.”

There is also an increasing awareness that energy is something we should actively manage ourselves.

Rising electricity costs are part of this and have changed people’s behaviour, says Dr Saddler, who is also an honorary associate professor at the Australian National University. But he says people are also making use of advice from government (there are multiple websites about energy efficiency ratings, organising your home and choosing your power company), not-for-profits and industry about how to control their energy use.

The options range from the complex and costly, such as building more energy efficient homes, to the very basic: unplugging appliances. Mr Dunstan also makes use of many “low tech” measures in his home, including sealing up vents in the walls, installing weather strips around doors and windows, keeping internal as well as external doors shut on hot days and closing curtains.

In the midst of all this, Australian households are generating their own power with gusto. About 16.5 per cent of Australian households have a solar panel system. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, household energy “extraction” increased by 10 per cent from 2013-14 to 2014-15 and is up by 86 per cent between 2002-03 and 2014-15.

Institute of Sustainable Futures research principle Dani Alexander says there is also significant opportunity in demand management, where power suppliers deliberately take steps to shift or reduce demand across the day.

“Supply is only one half of the equation,” she says. “There are big gains to be had.”

This could include initiatives like encouraging people to shift their peak usage to different times of the day and could involve autonomous or remote controls for appliances.

Ms Alexander uses the example of people coming home and turning on their air conditioners in the early evening of a hot summer’s day, which puts enormous pressure on the system. Instead of doing so at 5pm or 6pm, they could begin cooling at 3pm for the evening, “so they’re not turning it on at the same time as everyone else”.

As Fairfax Media reported recently, the Australian Energy Regulator wants to encourage power companies to remotely turn down energy guzzling appliances in exchange for lower power bills. Chief scientist Alan Finkel’s review of the national electricity market also said “more attention should be paid” to how consumers are rewarded for managing their power.

Mr Dunstan says demand management could deliver more capacity than the Liddell power station. In the meantime, he says “there’s a whole lot of little things” people can do on their own.

“We don’t really try very hard,” he says of his four-person household. “We don’t give up any creature comforts.”

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