The great power squeeze
Power prices are rising across the country and the trend is set to continue. With rising power prices and more energy-intensive appliances, families are feeling the squeeze of high electricity bills. For people living out bush, high energy costs are especially difficult to cope with. Those in regional and remote areas tend to earn less then city people, and there are many costs associated with remote living - long distances to centers, high fuel bills and food that is expensive which needs to be transported a long way.
Research shows that low income households spend a larger proportion of their available income on essential services (food, electricity, fuel) than higher income households. This factor is compounded for people living remotely from service centers. Remote Indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to rising household energy prices. Usually people living in these communities are low or fixed income earners, and they face a number of unique challenges which lead to high electricity prices. Most Indigenous communities are located in regions of extreme heat and humidity (see map), meaning that cooling costs are high for much of the year. Also, most housing in Indigenous communities is public or state-owned public, which may not have been designed or fitted-out in an energy efficient manner or maintained to a high standard. The high proportion of rental homes also means that residents have limited control over structural changes to improve efficiency. In addition, overcrowding is common in many remote communities, further driving up power bills.
Rising household energy use also impacts onAustralia’s greenhouse gas emissions and contribution to climate change. Many remote communities inAustraliaare not part of the conventional electricity grid network. Depending on the size and remoteness, these communities may be powered by a series of diesel generators. Diesel is a non-renewable resource that emits greenhouse gas emissions when it is burned to make electricity. Diesel is also bulky and transported by truck over long distances, which adds to the expense and emissions.
Improving energy efficiency is recognised as the quickest, cheapest and most effective way of reducing power bills, cutting greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that improved energy efficiency can contribute up to half of the world’s potential emission reductions by 2020. Energy efficiency simply means using less energy to provide the same level of energy services. Household energy efficiency has a neutral or negative cost impact for households because the cost of implementing measures is recouped within the lifetime of most products. These reductions are achievable with existing approaches and readily-available technologies.
Household energy efficiency can be achieved in two main ways: people changing their behaviour, or changing technology in the house – appliances, fittings and fixtures. If residents are able to make changes in both of these realms, then they will notice a drop in their power bills. Some examples of behavioural and technology changes are outlined below.
- Behaviour Changes
- Technology Changes
- Switching off appliances at the wall
- Using air-conditioners only when necessary, or choosing fans instead
- Closing doors and windows when air-con is running
- Choosing to use small cooking appliances rather than the large electric stove
- Replacing old, inefficient appliances
- Replacing old light bulbs with new CFLs
- Installing shade structures on the sunny side of the house
- Repairing and blocking gaps surrounding doors and windows
In 2009, Bushlight, a major project of the Centre for Appropriate Technology, developed a new program aimed at reducing energy use (and costs) in Indigenous community households. The Bushlight Energy Efficiency Program:
- Uses a train-the-trainer approach, where a small core of local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are trained and employed full-time as energy field officers to undertake household energy consultations in the communities
- Adopts a systematic approach to community engagement, where householders are offered a free energy consultation at a time of their choosing
- Is centered on a household education process, which is tailored to the needs of the individual households and supported by a range of targeted educational resources
- Includes demonstration and retrofit components, where field officers demonstrate energy efficient behaviours and install some low-cost energy saving technologies such as low-flow shower heads and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs.