Rethinking Energy Efficiency

A team of researchers from Macquarie University and the University of Wollongong surveyed close to 1000 low-income residents aged 60 and over in the Illawarra, Southern Highlands and Shoalhaven regions of New South Wales to find out their knowledge, attitudes and practices toward energy efficient living. The team also conducted focus group research in the community that found older Australians were equipped with a wealth of thrifty behaviour to save energy.

The research is being conducted to inform the Energy+Illawarra program that features social marketing efforts, community workshops, newsletters, web-resources, retrofits to people’s houses, and energy use support packages among other activities to open up conversations of what is energy efficiency, and to help older Australians improve energy efficiency without compromising their comfort and wellbeing.

Energy+Illawarra social marketing project lead, Dr Ross Gordon, from Macquarie University, said the research reveals that dominant understanding around energy efficiency amongst low-income older household is thrift – that is not being wasteful of money. In most instances, turning on heaters for long periods of time and turning lights on during the night was understood as wasteful. Other people told us how they wrap themselves up in a blanket in winter because they thought this was the sensible thing to do to stay warm and thrifty. Many older low-income participants spoke of growing up in an age of austerity, and understood being thrifty with money, and energy, was integral to how they thought of themselves as different from younger generations. Indeed, they pointed out how younger people were often wasteful of money and energy by not turning off lights, heaters or unplugging television sets and microwave ovens.

The conundrum is that many low-income older households are already saving energy because of practices of thrift learnt during their lifetime. Saving energy as not being wasteful is an integral part of how these people think about themselves. However, some of these thrifty practices may pose health and safety risks to low-income older households.