Households face rethink on energy usage amid these ‘massive shifts’ in electricity demand

A new government plan details how the nation will lower power bills and achieve climate targets.

A new government plan details how the nation will lower power bills and achieve climate targets. Photo: TND

Australians will need to be more mindful about when and how they use electricity at home as the climate transition shakes up energy demand, as research identifies “massive shifts” in household behaviour are already under way.

Monash University researchers have identified more than 50 emerging trends in household energy use in a study published last week that canvassed how everything from the pandemic to climate change is shaping electricity demand.

Lead author Dr Kari Dahlgren said energy demand was on the rise as families spent more time at home post-COVID and increasingly switched appliances such as stovetops from gas to electricity.

“There are opportunities from electrification as we’re moving away from gas and petrol,” Dahlgren said.

“But it also poses new challenges for the electricity grid.”

Dahlgren said households would increasingly need to be more mindful about how they used power in their everyday lives.

Even an age-old adage like putting the dishwasher on overnight faces being flipped on its head.

In a world where the grid relies more heavily on renewables, power will be cheapest and most plentiful in the middle of the day.

“People have developed an ethics on energy, mostly around conserving electricity,” Dahlgren said.

“But actually, with the electricity system now there might be times when we need to use more energy.”

The Monash study identified a series of trends in household energy use, including a rise in electric vehicles boosting electricity demand and a shift towards remote work after COVID-19.

In the kitchen, households are increasingly turning towards a plethora of small electrical appliances like air fryers and induction cooktops in favour of traditional ovens and gas cooktops.

But what these changes mean for society and the electricity grid is more difficult to untangle, with the report canvassing possible “peak scenarios” that may stress the system.

That includes a predicted “holiday hosting peak” where it’s envisaged increased uptake of EVs could create “high and inflexible” energy demand in popular regional tourist hotspots.

Another risk is “automation override” peaks, where the plethora of smart home devices with automated settings being installed across the nation could exacerbate evening energy demand.

Dahlgren said households surveyed by Monash indicated a willingness to change their habits to help the grid deal with periods of stress. But they also wanted to maintain manual control.

“The more we explain the grid challenges to people, the more they’re willing to make some change to help,” Dalhgren said.

“People have really long-standing habits … but that’s changing.”

Solar panels vital, but access not universal

Dahlgren said Australia’s big point of advantage in the energy transition was the uptake of rooftop solar panels, which can help with grid pressures by decentralising and localising electricity generation.

One couple surveyed for the Monash study, Dolores and Alan, use rooftop solar and said they had started moving parts of their routine into the middle of the day rather than at night.

“During our conversation with them, Alan explained to Dolores that since they are not purchasing power from the utility at night, using the dryer during the day makes more sense as they could use their own solar production,” the report said.

“This surprised Dolores, as she thought it was the other way around, and had been mostly using the dryer in the early evening.”

But not everyone has access to rooftop solar, Dalhgren said.

Renters, in particular, are at risk of being left behind in the energy transition unless more work is done to expand access.

“A lot of people are feeling left out of the energy transition,” she said.

Renters are even having trouble accessing more efficient showerheads for their bathrooms, the study found, with one resident saying they even had to decline an offer for a free replacement.

“About two weeks ago we had someone coming around the  neighbourhood with the showerheads. Like the replacements, [but] all I could do was say, ‘I can’t, we rent’,” one respondent to the Monash survey said.

“We just can’t do stuff. We can’t do really simple stuff like that.”

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