26th February 2023
A team at Monash University has mapped out a range of scenarios for how different households might use electricity in the future – and be affected by energy policy decisions made today – in a landmark consumer-focused study.
The team, led by professor Yolande Strengers, analysed 46 different energy scenarios across 14 industry reports and found that no data or insights had been used to represent or forecast how people will engage with the energy system in the future.
“This presents a huge opportunity to improve upon the existing industry scenarios by better considering changing trends in and around how people will engage with the energy system,” Stengers says.
To this end, the report presents four scenarios to help paint a clearer picture of what the energy landscape might look for consumers in the years 2030 and 2050.
Stengers says the scenarios have been specifically designed to highlight a component of energy industry scenarios that often lacks detail and data: how people will live in the future.
“Through our carefully designed scenarios we are able to illustrate the lives of three diverse households to explore the nitty-gritty of daily life in the future – things like changing living circumstances, working patterns or emerging health concerns – to update and expand current industry scenarios,” she says.
Scenarios include the well-off Johnsons, for whom technology is a major feature of their lives. They own an electric vehicle (EV) and over time an early investment in a large solar and battery system allows them to turn a tidy profit exporting surplus electricity from the EV when grid prices are high.
On the other side is nursing assistant Xinyi, whose landlord declined to install solar panels or a battery, despite government incentives. By 2050, robotic assistants have taken over Xinyi’s job and she winds up unemployed and struggling to pay her rising electricity bills.
And there is Ruth, now widowed, elderly and living on a rural property. She has become anxious about the frequently extreme weather conditions and electricity outages and is considering moving into town so she can better access community services, including a refuge centre set up by government in recognition that many people don’t have access to safe and healthy homes.
People aren’t behaving the way companies think
What the Digital Energy Futures: Scenarios for Future Living 2030/2050 report identified was a disconnect between what industry thinks consumers will do, and how they actually act, a pattern that could upend the major changes planned by energy retailers and generators.
“In industry scenarios and roadmaps, more automation is assumed to achieve higher levels of certainty concerning future demand and grid stability,” says the report.
“The DEF scenarios reveal that industry needs to prepare for more diverse forms of participation and engagement to maintain high levels of material certainty.”
Another major issue for the energy industry in the future will be distrust. The report found high levels of animosity when households are penalised for behaviour they can’t change – such as using a lot of power at peak times – rather than rewarded for behaviour that embraces the energy change.
The four year study also found that Australians don’t read the letters and emails sent by their energy retailers, so companies need to rethink how they communicate with their customers.
Furthermore, householders who are engaged want energy feedback to be appliance specific, but the vast majority of people are less interested in data – which isn’t effective at changing behaviour, unless coupled with incentives/programs.
That sort of lack of engagement could put the energy transition at risk, says Energy Consumers Australia CEO Lynne Gallagher.
“While the future is uncertain, one thing we are sure of is that consumers must be placed right at the core of our planning if we are to reap the full benefits of transition to net zero,” Gallagher said in a statement.
“This 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.”
Siestas and hybrid work becomes the norm
By 2030, Australians will be using more power than ever as work-from-home in poorly insulated houses becomes the norm amidst rising wealth, but people prefer to remain in ultimate control of their electricity usage and concerns about energy equity begin to increase.
Increasing use of sensors and smart devices are leading people to shift their behaviours around when they use power, and concerns about the reliability of the grid push more and more people — who can afford to — into buying rooftop solar and household batteries.
The increase in people actively participating in the energy market brings new challenges such as greater disengagement caused by complex feed-in tariff structures, and new opportunities.
By 2050 Australians are hunkering down in a hot climate that is affected by extreme weather.
“Many schools, workplaces, and businesses now operate earlier and/or later in the day to avoid the most extreme temperatures in summer. In summer, school and work hours start earlier in the morning, so that students can return home before the peak of the afternoon heat,” the report says.
“School is only remote on the most extreme weather days. Work hours have adjusted, with either earlier or later start times, or to break up the day around the hottest temperatures in the afternoon.”
It imagined a time when work hours synchronised with the end of the school day, creating an afternoon period where energy use peaks but early enough in the day so families are still able to use the solar power from rooftop panels.
Houses will be automated to enable the efficient use of energy, malfunctions are rare, but the gap between the rich and poor – or home owners and renters — will be even wider than today, as the latter will suffer the worst elements of poor housing and high energy costs.
Ausgrid and AusNet Services, which partnered in the project, are considering adapting the findings from the project into their own planning for the shift to a low carbon future and the researchers are hoping other companies will do the same.