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Five projects supporting SMEs’ energy needs, to receive $672k from the ECA

Energy Consumers Australia (ECA) will fund five projects, boosting support for small businesses in the energy system, under its new grants program. 

The funding ($672,000) is aimed at prioritising energy-efficient housing and improving apartment owners’ access to rooftop solar. Business Australia (BA) and the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA) are two of the five recipients. 

The funded projects will seek to better understand small businesses’ energy needs, and improve resources and information for small businesses attempting to navigate the energy system and COVID-19.

Since 2015, ECA has committed more than $15.3 million in grants funding, enabling recipients to carry out research and advocacy on behalf of consumers who are often limited or blocked when it comes to participating fully in the energy system and energy transition. 

“Small businesses employ 50 per cent of Australians and we know from our own research that these businesses are often leading the way when it comes to pursuing energy efficiency and generating their own electricity,” ECA Chief Executive Officer Lynne Gallagher said.

“But we also know many business owners have struggled during the COVID-19 pandemic and that managing energy costs and finding help or advice when times get tough can be a challenge.

“We are pleased to be able to support this sector  through our Grants Program, as well as to address the  energy divide between owners of detached housing and apartment owners when it comes to energy-efficient homes – a big focus for us going forward.”  

Other projects that will be funded include a major study of household consumer attitudes and preferences regarding energy-efficient housing, as well as research into removing some of the barriers to installing rooftop solar for apartment owners. 

The projects, which were recently approved by the ECA Board, are the final round of Advocacy and Research Grants to be funded under the organization’s 2021 programme.

Here are the projects seeking funding from the ECA:

SME energy policy and support (Business Australia)

Funding  - $150,000 

This  project seeks to  work with small business energy consumers  to understand their  feelings about energy and how they use it. These insights will inform the design of future energy support policies and services for small businesses.  

The  Australian Competition  and  Consumer Commission  (ACCC)’s Retail Electricity Pricing Inquiry  found that  SME customers’ engagement with retailers, whether searching for offers or dealing with day-to-day issues like billing, can be equally difficult as for householders. 

However, electricity costs for small businesses can be far higher, representing a major part of operating costs. Small business owners can be time-poor and often lack the resources to identify and implement energy efficiency measures.  

The project will guide policy development by identifying gaps in existing energy interventions on behalf of SMEs and flag ways that barriers can be overcome in future.  

“These findings will enable strong advocacy that can be presented to government, decision-makers and other key stakeholders to improve understanding of how to achieve better outcomes for small businesses,” Ms Gallagher said.  

Small Business Power  (COSBOA) 

Funding – $147,900 

The COSBOA has been awarded funding to identify the policies and programmes that provided effective assistance to small businesses through COVID-19. The project aims to determine which security measures should be maintained and built into current regulatory frameworks.

COSBOA’s project aims to establish an evidence base to ensure small business energy interests are adequately represented in government decision-making.  It also intends to promote the implementation of effective government consumer protection policies and programs through advocacy by COSBOA and its members. 

“We are pleased to support this project because  the  lack of qualitative data on consumer protections limits the ability of small business advocacy groups to engage meaningfully in this space,” Ms Gallagher said.  

“This absence  of information  can also cause significant detriment to small business energy consumers, many of whom feel they lack a voice in the formation of energy policy or are unaware of the protections available to them.” 

Understanding consumer attitudes to home energy performance (Renew) 

Funding – $194,125 

This project, led by Renew, will build  a strong evidence base for change by researching consumer  experiences and attitudes to home energy performance, including bills and comfort.  

Energy-efficient homes offer improved safety, comfort and health as well as cheaper bills and lower emissions for the people who live in them. Much work is needed before policy  across jurisdictions and portfolios can successfully extend these benefits to all. 

It will propose a clear way to communicate the resulting insights  to Government to  influence key decisions, including the 2022 National Construction Code (NCC).   

Using  qualitative and quantitative research on consumer views and testing messages for communicating a consumer perspective,  this project will strengthen how consumers are heard by decision-makers by elevating consumer experiences, building capacity for long-term advocacy.   

“Home energy efficiency makes for healthier and more affordable housing but it also has a major role to play in reducing emissions,” Ms Gallagher said.  

“Eight million ‘leaky’ Australian homes  contribute  around 18 to 20 per cent of Australia’s total carbon  emissions.  Energy efficiency measures  also  assist in reducing demand, which lowers prices for all and can make our energy system fairer and more equitable for all.” 

Spreading the Power (University of Wollongong)  

Funding – $19,572 

This University of Wollongong project  will  identify  pathways to solar photovoltaic (PV) adoption for Australia’s apartment owners  by  unearthing  the cause of barriers to entry and investigating potential solutions. 

A significant barrier to a fair and equitable  energy transition is the energy divide between homeowners living in apartments and those in detached housing.  

CSIRO research identified dwelling type (e.g. unit, apartment) as the third most critical barrier to the adoption of solar PV, behind only financial costs, and homeownership status.  

According to the 2020 Australasian Strata Insights, 9% of the Australian population live in strata apartments  and, for this reason, are often  excluded from achieving benefits of rooftop solar  such as greater energy independence, cheaper bills, and lowered emissions.   

Ownership structure has been cited as a major issue– strata schemes require the agreement of a majority of owners, a negotiation that can be complex and contested. 

“This project  stood out for its plan to  identify effective ways to provide information, advice, and non-financial support initiatives to improve energy performance standards in apartment buildings and meet communication preferences of different household types,” Ms Gallagher said. 

“We regard this as an essential step on the very important journey of elevating energy-efficient housing to be a critical issue for consumers and decision-makers.”  

Local Energy Futures  (Total Environment Centre)

Funding  – $ 160,306 

The Total Environment Centre’s project will  tackle several of the key regulatory processes underway with the Australian Market Bodies and Distributed Network Supply Providers (DNSP) to remove barriers to consumer agency and empowerment in the energy transition. 

By influencing regulatory reforms related to Distributed  Energy  Resources  (DER), this project hopes to accelerate the transition to a resilient, low carbon energy system in an economically efficient, socially equitable and inclusive manner.  

Energy Consumers Australia often talks about the  two energy system transitions  that are currently occurring:

  1. The first is the shift from fossil-fuelled generation to a system that is powered by renewable energy, allied with storage. 
  2. The second transition, which is being driven by millions of Australian households and businesses, is about the shift to consumer and community-owned generation and storage (including rooftop solar, batteries and electric vehicles). 

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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