This report summarises the findings and recommendations from the ‘Changing Demand: Flexibility of energy practices in households with children’ research project funded by the Consumer Advocacy Panel. The project aimed to understand how households with children may be affected by electricity market reforms and demand management initiatives, such as cost-reflective pricing. The study involved 44 in-depth interviews, home tours and observations and a national survey with over 500 Australian households with children.
In households with children, many of the practices which use energy are coordinated and concentrated in the late afternoon and early evening on weekdays. Parents’ reliance on routine to manage the demands of family life limits the flexibility of energy use. With limited ability to shift practices to other times of the day, and priorities such as ‘doing what’s best for children’ and ‘using time efficiently’ taking precedence, households with children risk financial disadvantage under pricing strategies such as Time-of-Use (TOU) pricing. Financial insecurity is widespread in, but not limited to, low-income and sole parent households. Health concerns, thermally inefficient housing and appliances, housing tenure, safety and noise concerns, and widespread tariff confusion also restrict the capacity of households with children to manage energy use and costs. Many parents had little time, interest or trust to investigate tariff choice and available energy information. As such, increasing choice and complexity in electricity market offerings does not meet the needs of these households and TOU pricing is unlikely to achieve its aims with this household group.
Family routines were more amenable to disruption on an occasional basis for non-financial reasons. For example, 85 per cent of survey respondents said they would reduce electricity use for a ‘peak alert’ in hot weather. Acting for the ‘common good’ appealed to most parents, for example to prevent an electricity outage and/or be part of a community effort. Household activities considered inflexible for a hypothetical TOU tariff, such as home cooling, television and computer activities and cooking, were considered. Recommendations from this study include reassessing the energy policy focus on price signals, tariff choice and information to address issues of household demand in Australia. Several alternatives are proposed such as peak alerts, and affordable access to public cooling during hot peak days.