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Heatwaves, homes & health: why household vulnerability to extreme heat is an electricity policy issue

Electricity prices Energy Household finance Energy consumption Extreme weather events Energy pricing Melbourne Dubbo Cairns
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Heatwaves and extreme heat are a significant risk to household health. As electricity costs rise, more households are experiencing difficulty paying energy bills. Householder concerns about energy bills already contribute to self-rationing of heating and negative outcomes for health and wellbeing in cold weather.

During hot weather, the electricity sector aims to reduce peak electricity demand via ‘price signals’ – higher prices for electricity used at times when many households use air conditioning to cool their homes. To manage the risk of electricity outages at peak times, public messages to reduce consumption are also used. Little is known about how current electricity costs and messaging impact heat vulnerable households or what effects pricing reforms could have on household practices during hot weather and health outcomes.

The Heatwaves, Homes, & Health project sought to address this knowledge gap. The role of electricity costs, price signals and messaging in shaping household cooling practices and strategies during extreme heat, and outcomes for health and wellbeing were investigated.  The project aimed to:

  • provide evidence regarding potential financial and health implications of electricity pricing and messaging for heat vulnerable households; 
  • build knowledge among advocates and industry decision makers; and 
  • develop strategies to help minimise adverse outcomes for households. 

The project was conducted in three stages:

1. A critical review of energy sector cost-reflective pricing documents to identify current engagement with household vulnerability, particularly during and as a result of extreme heat. See Electricity pricing, heatwaves and household vulnerability in Australia briefing paper.

 2. Research with ‘key informants’ from health and social services sector who work with heat vulnerable households.

3. Research with households who may be more at risk in hot weather. 

This report presents the findings from Stages 2 and 3 and recommendations from the project. There is a clear need for cross-sectoral collaboration between the energy, housing and appliance sectors to address households’ exposure to indoor heat indoors through housing design, housing and appliance regulations and standards, retrofit programs, incentives and other schemes, and in ways which account for local climate conditions.

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