Australians are adopting new energy products and services in great numbers and at a great pace. In 2020, households and businesses installed a record 334,000 rooftop solar systems – despite, or perhaps due to, the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the next two decades, the contribution of these systems, together with home batteries, is expected to more than double from around 9 per cent in 2021 to 20 per cent by 2040. Along with projected growth in electric vehicles (EVs) and other new energy products and services, the unfolding household energy transition will have profound implications for grid management. This has prompted a concerted effort by governments, industry and researchers to respond to technical challenges.
The household energy transition also stands to have significant social impacts. But beyond fairly instrumentalist research into the attitudes of energy ‘consumers’, surprisingly little is known about householders’ motivations for purchasing new energy technologies. And still less is known about their experiences using it – and the issues that they encounter. This is a major knowledge gap: new technologies are coming to market faster than regulatory frameworks can adapt, exposing users (and non-users) to new forms of risks and costs. It is critical to consider the implications associated with ‘responsibilising’ householders for new types of involvement in the energy system.
In this context, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and the Energy and Water Ombudsman partnered with the Australian National University’s Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program to undertake this research project, VOICES (Victorian Ombudsman’s Investigation of Consumer Experiences). From June 2020 until February 2021, we undertook (largely) virtual fieldwork reaching 92 householders, businesses, and industry experts. Methods included semi-structured interviews and technology tours, focus groups, a content analysis of an online user forum and a secondary analysis of existing data.
This report presents our findings spanning the full breadth of householders’ journeys with their new energy products and services, and also focuses on the broader market and regulatory settings within which householders make their decisions.