CANBERRA, AAP – Australia’s poorest households and non-home owners are roasting in summer and suffering in winter because energy efficiency tools are out of reach, a summit has been told.
Cassandra Goldie, head of the Australian Council of Social Service, is calling for every low-income home to be retrofitted with energy saving solar panels and batteries.
“Right now people in winter are going to bed at 5pm because they are too frightened to have the heater on,” Dr Goldie told the Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit on Friday.
“In summer they are dying because of the heat exposure in the hot boxes because they do not have any energy efficiency,” she said.
“They do not have proper coverings on their windows and they certainly don’t have access to solar panels.”
Hardship has been made worse by COVID-19, according to the latest energy debt data.
The Australian Energy Regulator (AER) said average household energy debt for gas and electricity has increased 12 per cent from $897 in 2019-20 to $1,000 in 2020-21.
The average electricity debt for a customer entering an energy retailer’s hardship program surged 21 per cent over the same period from $1,304 to $1,584.
Dr Goldie said there is talk about billions of dollars being spent on an energy transformation to curb climate change, and workers on low incomes are saying “hang on a minute”.
“People with the least are impacted first, worse, and longest,” she said.
“They want control. Let’s create the design and mechanisms here.”
If government took action as part of plans to reduce emissions this decade, households could save $1000 to $1200 a year, she said.
Scientist Saul Griffith said widespread use of renewable energy and batteries in Australian homes could save up to $60 billion a year by the end of the decade.
“The household is really where I think the action can be this decade for Australia,” said the founder of Otherlab, which specialises in energy, robotics, and advanced manufacturing.
“Forty-two per cent of the domestic emissions in Australia come from decisions made around the kitchen table,” he said.
“That is what fuel is in our cars, what heat is in the home, where electricity comes from, and how fuels are made.”
Labor rejected the call for poorer homes to be retrofitted, saying it would be too expensive compared to other ways to cut power bills.
“A third of Australian households can’t get solar panels for whatever reason,” climate change spokesman Chris Bowen said.
But he told the summit Labor’s plans for larger scale “solar banks” and “community batteries” would help low-income households, including renters or people who live in a strata apartment or share house.
He said an energy rebate doesn’t slice much off power bills, and taking $1000 off the cost of a battery still doesn’t make it economic for a household.
A community battery the size of a car, with homes feeding in and out, would help, he said.
“The same with solar banks, it’s difficult to get the cost of solar on roofs down with rebates, but a solar bank can be a community facility.”