Australia Rewiring Australian households could save them up to $6,000 a year, research finds
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As Glasgow looms over the federal government's climate change goals, new research could help both the major parties embrace more aggressive emissions reduction targets by saving up to $6,000 a year on voters' household energy costs.
American-Australian engineer Dr Saul Griffith mapped the American energy system for the US Department of Energy. He advocates for rapid, mass-scale household electrification, through the organisation Rewiring America.
His new work focuses on "Rewiring Australia" and is co-authored by thinktank The Australia Institute.
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Dr Griffith told 7.30 that the "politics of climate in Australia [are] poised to change".
"The household is in the key position to drive that change because the household is where the savings will be realised," he said.
"If we electrify the two cars in the average household, we put oversized solar on their rooftops, we electrify their water heaters, electrify the kitchen and electrify any space heating in that household by 2030, we'll be saving [them] $5,000–$6,000 per year.
"[The household sector is] the easiest sector to decarbonise. They're ready to go right away, we have the right technologies.
"And, if we do that aggressively, this decade, we buy ourselves time to solve the slightly harder-to-solve problems, which is steel, beef, agriculture, aluminum, cement and our other harder-to-decarbonise sectors," he said.
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Around 42 per cent of Australia's emissions are linked to fossil fuels across our 10 million homes and, according to the Lowy Institute, 74 per cent of Australians say '"the benefits of taking further action on climate change will outweigh the costs".
'It has made a difference'
Linda and Neville Hicks are retirees on the pension who have lived in their public trust home for 27 years. Their home has recently been radically modernised to be a "virtual power plant" (VPP) with solar panels and a home battery.
"It has made a difference to us in regards to our power. Our electricity bills are lower, which is a bonus for us. And also we've got the battery, which if we have power cuts, then obviously we won't be without power," Ms Hicks told 7.30.
Part of Dr Griffith's approach is electrifying all the household "machines" as a matter of urgency.
"If you bought a natural gas water heater last year, it will have emissions for another 15 years. If you bought a petrol car last year, it will emit carbon dioxide for the 20 to 25 years that it lives for," Dr Gritthis said.
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The upfront costs for such an upgrade remain high.
However, the Hicks' VPP came with no upfront costs, paid for by a combination of state and federal grants — because they are participants in a Tesla VPP trial, which also feeds power to the electricty grid.
"There was no way that we would ever be able to afford to put the system in," Ms Hicks said.
"And there'd be so many pensioners out there that would benefit from this. Especially families, low-income families, they would benefit from it too."
Cars, home gas
While the Hicks family is ahead of the curve, they could also be taking advantage of other emissions and energy cost savings.
The biggest outlay in energy costs, and source of emissions for the Hickses, is their two cars.
"If you take a typical Australian vehicle, it's 15 to 20 cents per kilometre to drive it if you're buying $1.50-a-litre petrol," Dr Griffith said.
"If that same size, same shape car is electric and you're running that off solar on your roof, that will cost you about 1 cent per kilometre to drive."
The other major source of domestic emissions reductions and cost-cutting is gas cooking and gas heating, according to the research.
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"There's another technology, like the electric vehicle, that's a little bit magical — it's called a heat pump. Australians know them as their split systems," Dr Griffith said.
"That heat pump can produce three or four units of heat for one unit of electricity in, so it's enormously efficient, about four times more so than natural gas.
"I think we calculated natural gas running a hot shower, a long, eight-minute shower, might cost you about 80 cents. But if you're running that with a heat pump off the solar on your roof, it'll cost you about 10 cents."
Dr Griffith says the Hicks family could be proof of when policy, investment and technology align.
"The Hickses have taken the first couple of steps with the battery and solar that they've even been helped by the government to put on their roof," he said.
"And we need to go all the way with families like that by doing the same thing — electrifying the vehicles in their garage, in induction cooktops for their cooking, and electrifying their heating systems.
"They will very quickly start seeing those economic rewards."
It is research that may show both the major parties a pathway for more aggressive emissions reductions, through hip-pocket savings.
"We're trying to solve the problem of the culture war against climate change that's been going on for 20 or 30 years by showing that everyone can win," Dr Griffith said.
"It's a positive future that we're going towards and it's going to be savings for households, it's going to be huge numbers of jobs created, and that we need to do it with urgency to make those things come true."
It is logic that Mr Hicks, who claims to not fully "understand the technology", can understand.
"The more that we can get from the sun, any solar from the sun, on our roof, it's definitely going to help save everybody," Mr Hicks said.
Watch this story on 7.30 on.
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