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The spike in temperature into the 40’s in Melbourne on the weekend got me thinking of the old lady who was ahead of me in the queue at the post office last week. She was beside herself with worry over a “threatening letter” she had received from her electricity retailer.  She was “scared” as she did not know how she was going to pay her bill.  I wondered what decisions she would have made on the hot night we have just had to keep herself cool and in good health.

I bet the vast majority of Melbournians would have had their air conditioners running in multiple rooms, with the fan on high and the temperature set as low as they could go.  Most people would have been unaware that their actions that night is what drives up investments in energy infrastructure, and in turn the rates everyone pays, including that old lady at the post office.

But what if we took a community approach to address this problem?  What if through education and incentives we encouraged everyone to turn the fan down and the temperature up on their air conditioners, just a little?  What if people understood that by taking steps to reduce peak demand we could stay within the limits of the system and avoid costly energy infrastructure upgrades.

Australia is just starting its demand response journey and faces the same challenge other utilities do around the world.  The number one challenge is effectively engaging consumers, so they participate in demand response events and reduce consumption.  The usual approach is to offer people some kind of financial reward.  The problem is, the amount of money each person receives is usually quite small.

Instead of each person taking part in the demand response event receiving a few dollars, what if the money all went into some form of community fund?  This would result in two benefits.  By reducing peak demand, less would need to be spent on energy infrastructure, keeping rates down.  Secondly, the fund could be used to help people struggling to pay their bills.  For example, the money may be used to help invest in more energy efficient appliances, better insulation, and even contribute towards paying their bills.  I feel many of us have drifted away from thinking as a community but given a chance we would jump at the opportunity to help out those less fortunate than ourselves.

If we are going to reduce the price of electricity, we are going to need to work as a community, and not as individuals. If you knew that how you consumed energy could positively impact that old lady in the post office, would you think twice about turning on all your Air Conditioners full blast during those hot nights?


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