Australia’s energy transition could be at risk unless the changing energy needs of households are better understood, according to a world-first forecasting project by Monash University researchers. The four-year project explored how diverse households would use energy in the coming decades, considering factors such as increased automation, smart home technologies, extreme weather conditions, and hybrid school and work arrangements. The Digital Energy Futures: Scenarios for Future Living 2030/2050 report, launched at Energy Consumers Australia’s Foresighting Forum 2023, tracks three diverse households across four different scenarios to provide insights into future household electricity demand.
Project leader Professor Yolande Strengers said the research addressed a knowledge gap in forecasting models used by industry and government, and highlighted the need to consider changing trends in how people will engage with the energy system. The scenarios used in the report were based on extensive research conducted during earlier phases of the project, including multiple focus group workshops and an ethnographic study with over 70 households.
For example, the Johnson family, who own an electric vehicle and a large solar and battery system, technology plays a major role in their lives, enabling them to export surplus electricity from their EV when grid prices are high. In contrast, Xinyi, a nursing assistant, struggles to pay rising electricity bills after her landlord declines to install solar panels or a battery. By 2050, robotic assistants have taken over her job, and she is forced to make a difficult choice between comfort and financial security in a climate of increasingly extreme weather conditions.
In another scenario, business and household routines have shifted in response to the changing climate, with schools, workplaces, and businesses operating earlier or later to avoid the hottest part of the day. Families stay at home more, and some households have embraced the afternoon siesta when working from home. For Ruth, an elderly retiree living on a rural property, frequent extreme weather conditions and electricity outages have prompted her to consider moving to town for better access to community services.
The report was developed by Monash University in partnership with Energy Consumers Australia, Ausgrid, and AusNet Services and represents the final stage of an Australian Research Council Linkage project. Ausgrid and AusNet Services are considering adapting findings from the project into their own planning for the shift to a low carbon future. AusNet General Manager Regulation (Electricity Distribution), Charlotte Eddy, said the research was starting many conversations internally about the needs and expectations of the future customer base, and what AusNet might do to prepare.
Energy Consumers Australia CEO Lynne Gallagher said the project had set a new paradigm for understanding consumers and their key role in the energy transition. “Unless consumers are fully engaged, a successful energy transition simply won’t happen,” she added. The report challenges government and industry to think more deeply about the experiences of a range of consumers, including what drives them to engage with emerging technologies as well as the barriers preventing participation by others. The full report is available on the Monash Digital Energy Futures website.