Memes, movie tickets, splash parks, and pet cooling mats: Creatively engaging households on energy consumption

7 July 2019

New research from Monash University and RMIT is encouraging the Australian energy sector to become more creative in how they engage households in ways to understand and manage their energy consumption.

Households are already installing rooftop solar panels and battery storage, driving electric vehicles and participating in programs that reward them for reducing electricity demand during peak times. The aim of this new research is to prompt further participation from Australian households through the use of fun or interesting activities and incentives that complement their different lifestyles and help balance supply and demand in the future electricity grid.

Key household engagement strategies suggested in this research include:

  • Utilising memes to communicate the complexities of the electricity grid to young people
  • Including energy outlooks alongside the weather forecasts
  • Building community splash parks for hot weather leisure
  • Distributing vouchers to cinemas and museums during periods of grid stress
  • Providing low-energy incentives for technologies (e.g. cooling mats) that keep elderly or temperature-sensitive pets cool and warm during periods of peak electricity demand
  • Making better use of home automation, such as remote control of air conditioners, during periods of peak demand.

Following on from previous research, which identified energy sharing platforms as a way to engage households in Australia’s transition to new technologies and cleaner power, Monash University and RMIT researchers have released a report calling for a coordinated approach to engage households towards the Future Grid, which makes use of these innovative communication and engagement ideas.

The Future Grid is an electricity system characterised by increasing diversity and flexibility in how households source, use and trade energy, involving a range of new energy and automation technologies.

Lead author Associate Professor Yolande Strengers from Monash University Emerging Technologies Research Lab and Faculty of Information Technology says: “through our research, we’ve found that Australian households can often be confused and distrusting of current energy sector engagement programs, despite many people eager to change the way they access or use energy. The challenge is to identify best practice ways to engage households towards the changing energy future.”

The research, funded by Energy Consumers Australia, involved in-depth interviews with over 50 households, energy stakeholders and a review of existing engagement approaches. The report presents a Household Engagement Strategy for the energy sector as it moves towards the Future Grid, drawing inspiration from other related sectors, such as policing, bushfire management, water supply, and healthcare.

“Our research found consensus that the Future Grid will be characterised by increasing diversity and flexibility, presenting more options for households to engage with energy in the future. As a result, we also need diverse and flexible ways to engage households, in ways that are meaningful to their everyday lives and that help support a transition towards the Future Grid,” explains Yolande.

The report identifies a need for consistent messaging and clear leadership across the residential energy sector, in order to build trust and confidence in the future opportunities and challenges presented by distributed energy, demand response programs and market options.


The Future Grid Homes project was funded by Energy Consumers Australia Limited as part of its grants process for consumer advocacy projects and research projects for the benefit of consumers of electricity and natural gas. The views expressed in this document do not necessarily reflect the views of the Energy Consumers Australia.

ABOUT YOLANDE STRENGERS

Yolande Strengers is a digital sociologist and human-computer interaction scholar investigating the sustainability and gender effects of digital, emerging and smart technologies. At Monash University, she leads the energy futures theme in the Emerging Technologies Research Lab, which undertakes critical interdisciplinary and international research into the social, cultural and experiential dimensions of the design, use and futures of new and emerging technologies.

Yolande works with qualitative and digital ethnographic methods to understand how people (and sometimes their pets) are incorporating new devices and technologies into their everyday lives and homes. Her research is applied in focus and has involved a range of research partners to inform current visions, designs, platforms and policies for emerging technologies in the energy, sustainability and smart home sectors. Past and current partners include ANZ Bank, Ausgrid, AusNet Services, Energy Consumers Australia and Intel Corporation.

Yolande is the author of Smart energy technologies in everyday life (Palgrave MacMillan 2013), Social practices and dynamic non-humans (2018), and over 50 journal articles and conference papers. She holds a PhD from RMIT University (Social Science) a Masters in International Urban and Environmental Management (RMIT University) and a Bachelor of Arts (Deans Scholars Program, Monash University).


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