A survey released today shows extremely high levels of public support for energy efficiency policies, including programs like ‘Victorian Energy Upgrades’, minimum standards for rental homes and upgrading the efficiency of government buildings.
The Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), the Property Council of Australia and the Energy Efficiency Council asked YouGov Galaxy to test 1,000 voters’ views on a range of policies.
A whopping 88 per cent of voters supported government investment in energy efficiency, and just 5 per cent opposed it. This gives energy efficiency a ‘net support’ (support minus opposition) of 83 per cent.
Voters’ views were far more divided on governments keeping old coal-fired generators running (net support of 9 per cent) and investing in new coal-fired generators (net support of 4 per cent).
Despite much of the media arguing against renewable energy, there was MINUS 16 per cent support for reducing incentives for renewable energy and energy storage.
Net support for various policy measures
Being popular doesn’t necessarily mean something is a good idea, it just means it’s popular. The reasons that Australia needs to take action on energy efficiency are well established. First, it’s one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Abatement potential in Australia to 2030
Second, energy efficiency will help to reduce energy bills. The International Energy Agency reports that a range of developed countries have used energy efficiency to cut household bills by around 10 to 30 per since 2000.
As well as reducing bills, more efficient homes are significantly better for occupants’ health.
Third, energy efficiency and demand response are a critical part of ensuring that the transition to clean energy is smoother, cheaper and faster. Demand response can match energy use patterns to the output from wind and solar PV, and energy efficiency is the cheapest form of capacity.
Minimum energy efficiency standards for fridges alone reduce demand by over 500MW at negative cost – that’s equivalent to a large generator running full whack with no downtime.
So, if energy efficiency is so good, why did we survey the public to find out their views on it? Because it’s really important for policy-makers. If you’re a politician introducing a policy your first question should always be ‘Is this the right thing to do?’
However, the second question needs to be ‘Is this policy already popular? If not, what do I have to do to bring the community with me?’
It turns out that energy efficiency is political gold. It’s the right thing to do. It’s popular. And critically for politicians, it will keep energy bills down and reduce the risk they’ll be turfed from office.
So, let’s get into the study in detail. There was near unanimity that it is ‘important’ or ‘very important’ that governments help reduce electricity bills. The proportion of people saying that it was ‘very important’ for governments to take action has gone up since the last time we asked this question in 2013.
How important is it that governments help reduce energy bills for households and businesses?
Secondly, oursurvey found that the overwhelming majority of households were more concerned about their total electricity bill, rather than the price per unit of energy. This may seem self-evident, but it’s actually really important for policy.
Are you more concerned about your bill or the cost per unit of electricity?
The National Electricity Objective (NEO) currently focuses on the long-term interests of consumers with respect to the price of electricity, and does not mention their total bills.
The wording of the NEO has encouraged energy market institutions to focus on moderating electricity prices, and they have paid far less attention to reducing energy bills through energy efficiency.
In contrast, jurisdictions like California have put energy efficiency at the core of their energy policy. As a result, while the price of electricity is higher in California than in many other US states, Californians use less energy and their electricity bills are among the lowest in the US.
Then we asked people about a range of policy options to see how popular they all were. We didn’t choose options that we necessarily support – we chose options that are getting a lot of air-play in the media.
These options included keeping coal-fired generators running, regulating electricity prices and reducing incentives for renewable energy. We worked with YouGov Galaxy to ensure that these options were presented as neutrally as possible.
Do you support or oppose the following energy policies?
The results show that the debate has become highly polarised around renewable energy and coal. However, the big message was that energy efficiency is wildly popular with the public, despite being largely ignored by politicians and the media.
Ironically, much of the media coverage about the survey today confirmed our point. The media is so focused on the click-worthy ‘coal vs renewables’ debate that our policy debate is missing out on areas of consensus that can cut both emissions and bills. To us, the message was clear – while the COAG Energy Council is thinking about the National Energy Guarantee, they also need to keep a focus on energy efficiency.
Finally, we tested public opinion on a range of specific energy efficiency policies. We thought that people might support energy efficiency in a ‘motherhood statement’ kind of way, but oppose individual policies.
However, we were genuinely surprised to see just how popular energy efficiency policies were. The most popular policy for households was raising minimum standards for new homes, but we also found strong support for policies that we thought would be more contentious, like minimum standards for rental homes.
We also found very high levels of support for policies that would improve the energy efficiency of businesses and government operations.
By far the most popular policy was upgrading the energy efficiency of government buildings like schools and hospitals, with 92 per cent support. However, even the least popular option, funding experts to help businesses, had 69 per cent support.
Australia must take action around energy supply, but we can walk and chew gum at the same time. In fact, we have to if we want to deliver electricity that is clean, reliable and affordable.
The full survey can be found here.