The tech and lifestyle trends that are driving home energy bills higher

COVID is 'likely to have a lasting impact' on our home energy use.

COVID is 'likely to have a lasting impact' on our home energy use. Photo: Getty

The way we work and live is changing, and this has big implications for our home energy bills.

Technology’s increasing role in our everyday lives means we’re relying on electricity not just for heating, cooling and cooking, but for everything from charging devices and electric cars to powering elaborate home entertainment set-ups.

Researchers from Monash University’s Emerging Technologies Research Lab (ETLab) have examined how technology trends are shaping the way we live.

Published this week, the Future Home Life report looks at new tech and lifestyle trends’ potential impact on household electricity demand in the near and medium-far future.

The coronavirus pandemic, and the “many changes to household routines” it ushered in, are “likely to have a lasting impact”, the report found.

These changes include:

  • More people working and studying from home for all or part of their working weeks
  • More people spending more time at home, with a corresponding interest in making the home a comfortable, attractive and
    work-friendly environment
  • Increased focus on physical health and wellbeing, resulting in increased uptake of associated technologies and appliances
  • Ongoing impact on mental health and associated uptake in personal computing devices and apps
  • New questioning of apartment living prompted by concerns about airborne transmission of viruses, and lack of space and gardens; and
  • Increasing interest in regional relocation.

“The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the lifestyle trends we uncovered, but many householders we spoke to expect them to continue,” report co-author Yolande Strengers said.

“For instance, people are becoming more interested in health and care technologies, such as air purifiers, to remove allergens and pathogens related to bushfire smoke, pets or pollen, or alleviate concerns about the spread of coronavirus.”

‘Expanding expectations’ of the home

ETLab researchers investigated seven areas of home life where the majority of energy demand takes place at present, or is anticipated to increase in the future.

These include charging and mobility, cooking and eating, heating and cooling, and working and studying from home.

The report found that “households will continue to retrofit, renovate or transition their homes and properties to cater for more of their needs, practices and desires”.

“The home will become an increasingly important site for energy
demand,” it said.

Coupled with this is “strong demand for transition to renewables and opportunities to participate in a sustainable energy future”, the report said.

“There will continue to be widespread household demand for the transition to renewables, including for non-financial
reasons, and households will pursue innovative and affordable opportunities to participate in sustainable energy futures.”

With COVID-19 making health and wellbeing a focus for many, care will “continue to be a central and evolving feature of everyday life, resulting in new digital technology trends and energy demand implications”, the report said.

Many Australians “anticipate that the home will become even more important to them as they age, with health care and aged care increasingly home-based”, Associate Professor Strengers said.

“That all has consequences for energy demand.”

Homes are also becoming “increasingly luxurious by people’s own standards”, with items such as robotic vacuums “acting as harbingers for automated futures”, the report said.

From virtual reality to home cinemas and gaming, entertainment and leisure pursuits are also becoming a bigger part of our home life.

“Many households were spending increased time in the home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to increased investment in household comfort, smart home technology, digital entertainment devices and recreation,” the report said.

“Expanding expectations for the home are also leading to increasing diversity, and simultaneous usage of digital devices used to enhance lifestyle, provide entertainment and recreation, or support other everyday activities.”

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