Owning good quality and efficient household appliances is something that many take for granted. Owning a new fridge, or one that is less than 10 years old. Running efficient heating and cooling in the form of a reverse cycle air conditioner. Even installing solar panels on your roof to reduce the cost of your energy bill!
For those in our community who are on the lowest income, those on Centrelink payments, living often in rented housing, these luxuries are sometimes out of reach. This group pays a disproportionate amount of their disposable income on electricity. Why? Because they cannot afford to invest in the more expensive housing upgrades and technologies that will save them in the long run. The purchase of an oil heater is roughly $50+, or a small reverse cycle air conditioner may cost upwards of $600 (after discounts). The oil heater can cost up to $1 an hour to run, the aircon – somewhere between $0.08-0.38 an hour (depending on size and energy prices). Likewise, many people on low incomes are gifted hand-me-down fridges from well-meaning friends and family – old fridges that work harder to keep cool and increase the energy bill.
A 2022 trial funded by SA Power Networks and being delivered through utility literacy program ConnectEd is shifting this energy equity needle. With an initial investment of $50, 000 ConnectEd worked with its wider South Australian network of energy professionals and financial counsellors to improve the energy affordability situation for vulnerable and low-income households. Over an initial 6 months the program has approved grants for over 70 individuals and households to purchase new fridges, washing machines, low-cost heating appliances and pay down energy debt.
“SA Power Networks was happy to support this trial and partner with ConnectEd to support customers in need to improve their energy efficiency or reduce their energy debt” said Kylie Kerrigan, SA Power Networks Sponsorship Manager.
“Following on from the initial success, we extended the trial for an additional six months to assist those in need given the rising costs of living” she said.
The program has also taken it a step further, and for two applicants, coordinated the installation of small reverse-cycle air conditioners. Both clients came through ConnectEd partner UnitingCare Wesley Bowden’s Financial Counselling program. Fatima lives in a Housing SA property with her three children, and was dependent on portable, costly heaters to keep warm after several years of chemotherapy impacted her sensitivity to cold and drove up her power bill. Janet lives on her own in a Housing SA property and was also reliant on portable heaters to maintain warmth in her breezy unit.
Janet at the front of her unit with the Trade Services installers unloading the new 2.5kW air conditioner behind. Housing SA will soon also be replacing Janet’s termite-damaged front window, removing her window box air-conditioner, and leaving her with new glazing to properly seal her lounge room from the elements and draughts. Janet and her friend Richard are also embarking on a task to replace her old curtains with new ones that cover the whole window, shading her lounge room from the harsh western summer sun.
ConnectEd Coordinator Alex is especially excited about Fatima’s new air conditioner. Fatima’s bills in the past couple of years have peaked in winter due to her need to keep warm and stay healthy, but this has also left her with significant energy debt. Fatima’s use of heating is a necessity, but even still said “you had to be in front of it (radiant heater) to feel any warmth, it didn’t heat up the area“. She is now ‘really wrapped about the aircon’ and looking forward to improving her internal air temperature and quality. ConnectEd have followed up the installation of these reverse cycle air conditioners with site visits at installation and education around efficient ways to use the air conditioner and drought sealing.
The success and impact of this small grant program can also be attributed to the State Government administered Retailer Energy Productivity Scheme (REPS). For the 29 fridges purchased, the program sought appliance rebates through Your Energy Saving Solution (YESS) which was credited back into the grant pool. For clients receiving a new fridge, they were encouraged to recycle it through yet another YESS program which could see them receiving a gift voucher of up to $150. The reverse cycle air conditioners were heavily discounted under Trade Services’ REPS package, allowing their cost to fit to the $1, 200 upper limit for the grant.
SA Power Networks have committed to a funding extension for this pilot small grant program through ConnectEd until June 2023. The partnership are also seeking feedback from clients who have participated, hoping to confirm that the intervention of the grant has positive energy affordability outcomes. It is expected to see the reduction and stability of energy bills, and a positive impact on household finances and mental stress for clients who have been funded.
The SA Power Networks Community Grant Program delivered through ConnectEd can be accessed through South Australian Financial Counsellors. Enquiries should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.Back to News