Australian Social Trends Podcast
Episode 9 - Household energy use and costs
Highlights from an article of the same name from the
September 2012 issue of Australian Social Trends.
Kerry: Hello listeners and welcome to the 9th episode of the Australian Social Trends podcast series, coming to you from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. My name's Kerry, and I'm filling in for your regular host, Dave, who's off enjoying his honeymoon.
Today we're going to be talking about how much energy Australian households use, and how much it costs, based on an article from the September issue of Australian Social Trends. So if you get to the end of the podcast and you'd like to know more, you can read the full article at the ABS website - www.abs.gov.au/socialtrends
Now, we've got Michael here today to discuss this topic with me. How are you going Michael?
Michael: I'm well, thanks Kerry. How are you?
Kerry: Yeah, not too bad, thanks. So, Michael, when we talk about household energy consumption and costs, are we really only referring to electricity and gas?
Michael: No, we include other things too, like wood and heating oil, and fuels used for transport such as petrol and diesel.
Kerry: Well that would seem to cover most things. So, how much energy does Australia actually use?
Michael: In 2009-10, Australia's net energy consumption was 3,962 petajoules. Households used about a quarter of this, with industry using the rest.
Kerry: 3,962 petajoules, hey? Now, you'll have to excuse my ignorance here, but what exactly is a petajoule?
Michael: It's not a term you hear everyday, but you've probably heard of kilojoules as a measure of energy. Well, a petajoule is a thousand million million joules, so it's like, you know, a lot of joules!
Kerry: It's a veritable treasure trove of joules!
Michael: Yes, you could say that!
Kerry: So household use was about a quarter of net consumption, and industry the rest, but what I'm also interested in is which energy sources we use the most. What can you tell us about that?
Michael: Well, including transport fuels, the energy sources households use the most are petrol, electricity and gas. Petrol makes up nearly half of all household energy use.
Kerry: And are we using more energy than we used to?
Michael: Yes, we are. We looked at data from the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, and there has been quite an increase over the last decade. Australian households are using about 25% more electricity and 22% more gas than they were in 2000-2001.
Kerry: So, what about the cost of energy. We hear a lot these days in the media about rising energy prices. Are we really paying more for energy?
Michael: Yes we are, Kerry. We found that between June 2007 and June 2012, Australia's retail electricity prices rose by 72%, and the price of gas and other household fuels rose by 45%. This was well above general inflation over the same period, which was only 15%.
Kerry: So the price rise isn't just because of inflation then?
Michael: No, it's been more than that.
Kerry: OK, so what about the Government's recently-introduced price on carbon? Is that affecting what we're paying?
Michael: Well actually we don't know yet what effect, if any, the price on carbon will have on energy prices. It was only introduced in July 2012, which was after the data we're talking about here was collected.
Kerry: So, you say prices have gone up over the last 5 years. How much are we actually paying, and are we spending more on energy and less on other things?
Michael: Well, no actually. While energy prices have gone up, and we're paying more, the proportion of our household expenditure spent on energy has remained roughly the same over the last six years. So, in 2003-04 about 2.6% of our household expenditure was on energy, and in 2009-10 it was still 2.6%, which was about $32 per week in 2009-10.
Kerry: OK, but surely where you live makes a difference in how much you pay. Have prices risen more in some areas than others?
Michael: Yep. If we look at capital cities, between 2007 and 2012, the biggest electricity price rises were in Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne prices rose by 84% and Sydney's by 79%. Retail prices of gas and other household fuels increased the most in Perth, up 88%, and Canberra, up 48%.
Kerry: OK, so we've talked about using energy, and paying for energy, but what about saving energy? Are people trying to use less energy these days?
Michael: Yeah, some people are concerned about climate change, so they may be trying to reduce their energy consumption for that reason. Other people may simply be trying to use less to reduce their energy bills.
Kerry: Right. So, Michael, can you tell us what kinds of things people are doing to reduce their energy consumption?
Michael: Well, there's a range of things. There's been a huge increase in the number of solar energy units installed in Australian households over the last decade. In 2001, there were 118 units installed. In 2011, there were nearly 640 thousand units installed.
Kerry: Wow, that is a big increase!
Michael: It is, and it probably has a lot to do with the range of government grants and rebates available to encourage householders to take up solar energy.
Kerry: But not everyone can afford solar panels. What else are people doing?
Michael: Well, for example, more people are insulating their homes, but there's a difference between houses and apartments. Three quarters of separate houses had insulation compared with less than a third of flats, units and apartments.
Kerry: Well, I suppose insulation has the benefit of keeping you warm in winter and cool in summer, as well as reducing power bills and greenhouse emissions.
Michael: Yeah, comfort was the main reason people gave for installing insulation. 70% of people said that, and about 4% said they installed insulation to reduce their energy use.
Kerry: OK, and what about those energy rating stickers you see on fridges and other appliances. Do people actually take notice of them?
Michael: Yep, Kerry, they do. We found that these days when people are buying new household appliances, they're just as concerned about energy ratings as they are the price of the appliance.
Kerry: Well, thanks Michael. That's explained a lot about Australians' energy use.
Michael: You're welcome Kerry, and if people want more detail they can check out the full article on the Australian Social Trends page on the ABS website at www.abs.gov.au/social trends
Kerry: That's right, and there's some other great stuff there as well - more articles and podcasts on a range of social issues.
Thanks for listening today folks. If you have any feedback on our podcast series, feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
We'll be back soon with another episode in the series, but bye for now.
Michael: See ya!