The information in this article is derived from: a nationwide poll of 1,515 Australians aged 18 years and older, conducted by Galaxy Research in September 2017; and an online forum data analysis of around 54,000 posts on Energy, conducted by La Trobe University’s Research Centre for Data Analytics and Cognition.
Rising Energy Costs a Top Concern for Australians
Almost 3 in 4 Australians are feeling the pinch from rising energy costs, with 70 per cent saying that power bills are putting pressure on their household budgets. It is no surprise then that Energy Costs tops the list of issues that Australians want the federal government to make its priority (54 per cent), ahead of Terrorism and Security (48 per cent), Housing Affordability (46 per cent) and the Environment (28 per cent).
An analysis of online social forums also revealed that 44 per cent of Australians who were posting about Energy issues were concerned primarily with Affordability, more than the 30 per cent who were concerned with Alternative Energy and the one per cent concerned with Blackouts. Among the posts on Energy Affordability, only 17 per cent were associated with positive sentiments, while 40 per cent were associated with negative sentiments and emotions, such as fear, depression or hurt.
Many of these forum users were comparing their electricity and gas bills and asking fellow users for help with their ‘huge’, ‘insane’, ‘massive’ or ‘soaring’ bills. Many also displayed shock when they received their quarterly bill, confusion with bill increases and unawareness of how best to reduce their energy usage.
We often hear from the media that the reason for rising prices is due to the country’s transition away from coal to more renewable sources of power. Most Australians, however, do not buy this explanation, with 57 per cent still believe that rising costs are due to profiteering by energy retailers, far more than the 13 per cent who believe that it is due to the investment in wind and solar to replace coal and the 8 per cent who believed that it was due to investment in the poles and wires infrastructure.
Australians are not waiting for the government to solve the energy crisis. Almost all Australians (94 per cent) have taken steps to reduce their energy usage, with most switching off lights when not in that area of the home (91 per cent) and using energy efficient light bulbs (74 per cent). Australians are also looking around for better deals with a different energy provider, with 1 in 5 (21 per cent) saying they have switched energy providers in the last 5 years.
Although we are concerned with the impact that our energy policy would have on the environment, our burgeoning bills are a more pressing concern. Of those who have taken steps to reduce their energy usage, 81 per cent say they do so mostly to save money, compared to only 17 per cent saying they do so for environmental reasons.
Also, almost 2 in 3 of all Australians (65 per cent) see the priority for energy providers to keep prices down, far more than the proportion who want energy providers to meet targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions (17 per cent) and the 12 per cent who want energy providers to focus on preventing blackouts.
Yet, Australians are curious about the possibilities of alternative energy. Although there were more people taking part in the discussions on Energy Affordability, there were more posts focused on the topic of Alternative Energy, with 66 per cent of all energy posts touching on this issue. Clearly, Alternative Energy is of greater interest to a narrower group of people.
Almost 6,000 forum posts were devoted to solar power alone and most of these discussions involved debating the pros and cons of solar energy – its reliability, output and whether going off-grid is indeed a good investment. Other issues discussed were the “causes and solutions to renewables crisis in South Australia” and the possibility of nuclear power in Australia.
Finally, although most Australians blame energy retailers for rising costs (39 per cent), more than those who blamed the federal government (23 per cent) or state governments (15 per cent), most believe that the federal government is ultimately in the best position to fix the problem. 42 per cent say that it is up to the federal government to bring the cost of energy down, more than the 37 per cent who believe that it up to energy retailers to do so.