Forgotten fuel: Australia’s failure on energy efficiency is a global embarrassment
Astounding but true: The communique of the June 8 state and federal energy minister’s meeting made no mention of energy efficiency and management as a way of helping to manage our gas, coal and electricity crisis.
We seem to have no plan to manage energy demand in a crisis. Yet there are many ways to trim gas and electricity use. No wonder Australia scored 18th out of 25 countries reviewed in the latest international energy efficiency scorecard published by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
For example, using a reverse cycle air conditioner (RCAC) for heating can cut gas and electricity use, yet many are not used for heating because people don’t recognise the benefits.
There are over 7 million air conditioners in homes in NSW, Victoria, ACT, South Australia and Tasmania, many of which are reverse cycle units that can heat as well as cool.
If a RCAC replaces traditional electric heating, it can cut electricity use by two-thirds to 80 per cent. If it replaces gas use with electricity sourced from anything other than gas-fired generation, it avoids all gas heating energy.
Even if it replaces gas-fired electricity, it still saves 15 to 60% of gas heating, depending on the relative efficiencies of the gas and electric equipment. Even partly replacing gas heating makes a difference.
At the start of winter, a time when governments are beginning to encourage switching from gas, and in a serious energy crisis, we should be helping people to choose the most efficient reverse cycle air conditions.
However, the government energy rating website has not provided information for buyers for months. As shown in the screenshot below (from Energy Rating Calculator | Energy Rating on 10 June 2022), its calculator doesn’t show star ratings. What a mess.
Where are the advertising campaigns telling us how to cut gas and electricity waste? Why are gas and electricity retailers not contacting high consumers to help them cut energy waste: they know exactly who these customers are.
Our failure to get our act together on energy efficiency is a global embarrassment. In Europe, the mantra is ‘energy efficiency first’ and the International Energy Agency calls energy efficiency the ‘first fuel’. In Australia it is the ‘forgotten fuel’ – to our great cost.
Maybe we can learn from the Japanese, who used energy efficiency to help manage after the Fukushima disaster. Or we could dust off the early 1980s NSW campaign that helped manage an electricity shortage.
Alan Pears AM has worked on clean energy and climate policy for several decades. His work spans all sectors of the economy, ranging from practical site-level projects to program development and implementation, policy analysis and education. He is a Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University and a Fellow at the University of Melbourne’s Climate and Energy College