Australia got two pieces of bad news last month. It was the Socceroo’s flame out in the World Cup that crushed the nation, but it is news of Australia’s ranking near the bottom of a global league table on energy efficiency that should be keeping us awake at night.
Within hours of the Soceroos capitulation to Peru, the Washington DC-based American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released the 2018 International Energy Efficiency Scorecard.
The report finds that Australia is falling behind our international competitors, and missing a huge opportunity to drive down energy bills while cutting carbon emissions.
ACEEE found our energy efficiency policies and performance are the worst in the developed world. They placed us at 18th among the world’s 25 largest energy users, a fall from our 16th-place position in 2016.
While our efforts in the building sector received decent scores – in the top half of the nations surveyed – in transport and industry, we ranked 20th and 22nd respectively.
These results are, unfortunately, not surprising. Rather, they are yet another wake-up call that we need to do more to address energy demand.
In the last year both CSIROand the International Energy Agencyhave noted that ramping up our ambition and effort on energy efficiency will make it easier and cheaper for Australia to transition to a low carbon, twenty-first century energy system.
Australia has a huge opportunity to quickly cut energy bills and carbon, while making our homes more comfortable and our businesses more productive.
But to do this, we need strong government leadership, smart, ambitious energy efficiency policies, and businesses and households that are connected to the right information and experts so that they can act.
Easy to say. But how do we make that happen?
In 2016, Australia’s energy ministers recognised that there was a huge backlog of issues in our electricity market and established an independent review, led by Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, to get to the bottom of them.
After a comprehensive process with support from across the community, the Finkel Review made 50 recommendations, 49 of which are now being implemented.
While not every issue is resolved – and the National Energy Guarantee and the ambition of carbon reduction targets chief among them – we have made significant progress in dealing with multiple issues in our electricity sector.
In the wake of this abysmal result on energy efficiency, we need a circuit breaker. It is time for a Finkel Review-like process focused on the demand side of Australia’s energy equation.
We need a review, led by a panel of eminent, independent experts, to get to the bottom of how exactly Australia has found itself the worst performing developed country on energy efficiency.
The panel should also develop a set of comprehensive recommendations for every part of the Australian economy focused on ensuring we quickly catch up to our international competitors.
Some will say that the energy policy agenda is already pretty full, and the last thing we need right now is another review. However, the results from the independent umpire, the ACEEE, are dire, and every month of delay is another month that saddles Australian businesses and households with higher energy bills than necessary.
Australia is more than capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time. We absolutely need to finish the job of putting in place a durable and bipartisan energy policy for our electricity generation sector, but we also need to start doing the hard work of turning around our parlous performance on energy efficiency.
Energy efficiency is one of the most important levers we have to keep energy affordable as we transition to a low carbon, twenty-first century energy system. We need to get on with it. We can’t afford not to.
Luke Menzel is CEO of the Energy Efficiency Council.