Low-income households struggling to pay power bills should immediately be placed on payment plans as a short-term solution, with most unaware that their electricity providers offer support options, according to QUT researchers who have co-authored a national report.
The report, Driving Change: Identifying what caused low-income consumers to change behaviour, also recommends making landlords meet minimum energy efficiency requirements for rental properties, and regulatory reforms to make the nation’s governments retrofit social housing to a high energy efficient level to help those most in need.
- This is Australia’s most comprehensive investigation into how low-income households respond to energy efficiency initiatives.
- The report analyses 20 energy consumer projects that ran across Australia under the Commonwealth Government’s Low-Income Energy Efficiency Program (LIEEP).
- These projects trialled initiatives such as retrofitting energy efficient lighting and appliances, installing solar panels and roof insulation, and home energy visits that discussed energy usage, bills, tips, and payment and support plans.
- The average drop in consumer energy use across projects ranged from 2 per cent to 12 per cent.
- Lessons learnt include there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ way to bring about behaviour change (but most consumers had positive attitudes towards energy efficiency and wanted positive change).
- Remote and elderly consumers held back by lack of knowledge and capacity to effect change.
- Recommendations include a mix of targeted campaigns and regulatory reforms.
The report was commissioned by Energy Consumers Australia through its Power Shift project (funded by the Commonwealth Government), with the analysis conducted by Group of Energy Efficiency Researchers Australia (GEER) members from QUT and Swinburne University of Technology.
“Major, recurring issues of energy affordability, ongoing disadvantage and discrimination, fear and a real incapacity to make the changes needed in their lives (especially for tenants) means that most low-income households face a dire future as it relates to energy,” state the report’s authors, including QUT’s Professor Rebekah Russell-Bennett and Swinburne’s Dr Rowan Bedggood.
“Allowing things to continue as they have been will mean that most low-income households will experience an even greater financial struggle than they do at present, which, from the findings of this report, will substantially worsen their quality of life and wellbeing.”
The researchers found the top five motivators for energy consumption behaviour change were awareness, low perceived cost, incentives and rebates, comfort and improved health/wellness/stress. The top five barriers were high perceived costs, knowledge gaps, lack of trust, split incentives and low literacy/cultural barriers.
Professor Russell-Bennett, who is a consumer researcher with the QUT Business School, said the research had implications for customers, energy efficiency program developers and stakeholders.
“We have identified nine different low income groups – ranging from elderly pensioners to young renters to remote Aboriginal households – and they all require unique services and support to improve their household energy efficiency,” she said.
Professor Russell-Bennett said the research team also identified three market segments and how governments and energy providers could best connect with them:
- ‘New to energy’ consumers (eg in remote communities) – the focus should be on building capacity of the community, not the individual, and energy efficiency should be positioned as an important life skill.
- ‘Energy without effort’ consumers (young adults, young families) – respond well to digital platforms for program delivery and positioning energy efficiency as fun and interesting.
- ‘Stressed about energy’ consumers (mature, habitual people) – best approach is face-to-face and in-home communication that provides graduated support, positions energy efficiency as low-cost, and draws on trusted organisations.
LIEEP projects included the Manymak Energy Efficiency Project that involved more than 500 households throughout East Arnhem Land and Green Heart Wisdom led by Brisbane City Council that helped 1647 pensioners over 60.
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