ECA Foresighting Forum 2020 - Rob Murray-Leach's view on the forum 20 February 2020

I just came back from an incredibly thought-provoking couple of days at Energy Consumer Australia's Foresighting Forum with key consumer and energy organisations. Here are some of my first-glance takeaways:

Decarbonisung the UK will need all the things - renewables, batteries, electric vehicles and shifting heating from gas to electricity. Improving energy efficiency will be key to keeping the massive investment in the electricity sector as small and affordable as possible.

The energy sector in countries like Australia and the UK has changed incredibly fast and will continue to change. Technology change alone is not the answer - that tech needs to be integrated, optimised and matched with behavioral and market changes.

Not only that, but the model of meeting the community’s energy needs in the future could look radically different. It could be grid-connected renewables, or microgrids, or even companies bundling housing, heating, light and power together as an offering to consumers.

However, Australia’s uniquely partisan energy debate, with ‘pro’ vs ‘anti’ renewables camps, makes it difficult to resolve the more important question of the best way to integrate lots of renewables. This means we will have an uneccesarily painful transition.

Energy Consumers Australia funded research that found that many households and businesses still think that yes/no to solar PV is the beginning and end of the energy debate, but we really need diverse generation, healthy insulated homes and energy management.

It’s likely that a key reason that people focus on solar PV is that they trust it, because it’s literally ‘close to home’. They feel they can control it and their bills. Same is true for an efficient, healthy home. Trust is much lower for ‘distant’ energy companies and governments.

We desperatrly need to restore trust in the energy sector. If every home is an island with its own PV and batteries, it’s much more expensive to meet the community’s energy needs than a connected system. However, keeping people connected will require more trust.

Trust isn’t about ‘more information’. Many people don’t want to know all the details about how their energy is supplied and used. Being force fed information you don’t want can actually decrease your level of trust.

People will trust the energy system more when they feel it is being run FOR THEM. For the community, energy isn’t just a commodity, it’s an essential service and it needs to reflect their community values of fairness and sustainability.

A couple of final energy efficiency thoughts:

  1. Focusing on making people’s homes healthy and safe is probably the best way to save them energy, rather than saving energy to boost health; and
  2. Bundled service delivery with trusted partners is valuable.
Finally, thanks to Energy Consumers Australia and Rosemary Sincair AM for a cracking conference.

Rob Murray-Leach is Head of Policy at the Energy Efficiency Council, Australia's industry association for energy management, energy efficiency and demand response. This article originally appeared as a Twitter thread on Rob Murray-Leach's Twitter account.