Western Australia in ‘energy poverty’, report says


Many Western Australians are living in “energy poverty”, according to a new Curtin University report.

The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre (BCEC) research report, Power to the People: WA’s Energy Future, found families who earn the least are spending more of their household expenditure on energy than the average household.

BCEC director and report author Professor Alan Duncan said the report revealed the extent of energy poverty in the state.

“West Australian households are now spending an average of $1791 on energy each year, which can account for more than 10 per cent of household spending for low-income families,” Professor Duncan said.

“While rooftop solar power is a solution for many households seeking to deal with rising electricity costs, low-income households are only one quarter as likely to have rooftop solar as those with median wealth.

“There is some evidence to support the claim that high energy costs lead to compromises in other life aspects.

“While average household energy costs have increased since 2010-11, spending on health and groceries have both reduced in this same period.”

Homes deemed suitable for solar PV include detached, semi-detached or terraced houses, but not strata-titled apartments or units. Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre/Clean Energy Regulator/ABS

The report also found WA has been slow in adopting large-scale renewable energy technologies, with the majority of renewable energy generated by rooftop solar installed on homes.

“While renewables only account for 7.1 per cent of WA’s total electricity consumption, total current capacity from rooftop solar as a combined power source is around 730MW,” Professor Duncan said.

“That capacity is expected to reach a potential of 2000MW by 2022, making it the second largest combined power source in the state, after Muja Power Station.

“However, there is a need to revisit incentives for new solar installations, with landlords having little financial motivation to install solar on rental accommodation, and homeowners deterred by the initial upfront costs involved.”

Report co-author and BCEC Research Fellow Dr Yashar Tarverdi said the report also reaffirmed seasonal variances in the use of energy.

“Energy use is vastly different between the seasons, with West Australians consuming energy more consistently across the day in summer, with large peaks occurring at the beginning and end of each day in winter,” Dr Tarverdi said.

“In summer, early morning energy use increases at a much slower speed than in winter. West Australians tend to decrease their energy use around midday during winter, and increase their energy consumption very quickly once the sun begins to set.

“An increase in the uptake of solar storage in households will not only drive down household spending on energy, it will also ease the pressure on the public electricity grid during hot summer days and cold winter nights.”

Professor Duncan said WA’s regulatory framework needs to be future-proofed, flexible and adaptable to different energy futures.

“Regulatory change is inevitable in order to keep pace with the rising popularity of household solar photovoltaic (PV), and new ‘disruptive’ options for distributing and trading electricity through micro-grids,” Professor Duncan said.

“But whatever direction is taken, consumer protection must remain critical as energy markets evolve, no matter how large distributed energy generation grows in the future.”

Professor Duncan concluded that a collaborative approach was needed to develop an energy future that integrated existing and emerging energy technologies.

“The journey to Western Australia’s energy future requires leadership, collaboration and the optimisation and integration of all forms of energy technology.

“This discussion must also be non-adversarial in nature; no one energy source or technology is going to be the answer for our diverse state.”