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Exploring ways for renters to benefit from solar power and renewable energy transition is the focus of a new project at The Australian National University (ANU).
Led by Dr Lee White, Mara Hammerle and Dr Bjorn Sturmberg, the project, How can we involve renters in the renewable energy transition in Australia? has secured funding from Energy Consumers Australia.
Stemming from an increasing discussion in Australian policy circles of how to improve access to rooftop photovoltaics (PV) for renters, this project will assess existing barriers to landlords investing in rooftop PV and energy efficiency and will evaluate potential policy solutions.
RegNet Research Fellow and Project manager, Lee White is delighted that the Board recognises the importance and timeliness of the research.
“Receiving the grant means that we can use best-practice methods to address the question of how to involve renters in the energy transition. We’re excited to get the research underway, and grateful for the support that allows us to do this.”
The project aims to benefit renters, who currently make up over a third of Australia’s population. This means there is a large chunk of the community that lives in homes that are often less energy-efficient and may be locked out of access to rooftop solar. Rooftop solar is a technology that can reduce both electricity bills and emissions. By enabling renters to participate in the energy transition, they have the ability to reduce electricity bills by heating their homes at lower cost and getting electricity from their rooftop PV instead of from the grid.
“Our project would produce evidence-based policy recommendations to better involve this overlooked sector of the community in energy-transition, allowing renters to access financial benefits of solar, and supporting emissions reduction efforts,” says Lee.
A rooftop PV system
As of March 2021, around 29 percent of Australian dwellings had solar PV. However, the vast majority of these dwellings are owner occupied rather than tenanted. Crawford School of Public Policy PhD candidate Mara Hammerle, who will be leading the research, saw the opportunity to come up with novel ideas to support vulnerable households to ensure no-one is left worse off in the renewable energy transition. This tied in with Lee’s broader work on energy transition with a focus on understanding who is at risk of being left behind. This led them to focus on renters, a group that is at risk of not being able to access the benefits of energy transition – and a group that may even bear additional burdens without seeing any benefits.
“Energy transition is a chance to reform energy systems for the better, and to work to address existing inequities. However, if these questions aren’t raised and examined empirically at the start of transition, we could miss the opportunity to make things better,” Lee explains.
According to Mara, there is an increasing policy interest in improving energy outcomes in vulnerable households and government interest in improving energy efficiency and expanding access to solar panels for households who have traditionally been unable to get involved.
“We want to be able to understand how to improve the effectiveness of future policies. To do that, we will also be working closely with Better Renting to ensure that we can support their advocacy, and reaching out to policymakers at different levels of government,” says Mara.
Moving forward, the team will begin by interviewing key stakeholders including policymakers, landlords, and property managers, to understand current barriers to increasing energy efficiency and installing solar on rental properties. Next steps in the project include a large scale survey across several Australian states to examine how landlords would react to different policies designed to increase solar access and energy efficiency for renters.
In terms of ongoing research work for the team, they will be continuing work on this and other projects to understand who is at risk of being locked out of the energy transition, and developing evidence-based recommendations to support broader community opportunities.
Any landlords or property managers who are interested in being interviewed for the project are encouraged to reach out to the research team at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. The team will be asking people about experiences with solar and energy efficiency in rental properties, including barriers and opportunities.
Dr Lee White is a Research Fellow at the ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance with a research focus on understanding the mechanisms by which policy affects energy use behaviour. Her research into energy justice and energy poverty issues has been published in Nature Energy and has been sought by policymakers in Australia.
Mara Hammerle is a PhD student at the ANU Crawford School of Public Policy and an emerging expert in energy justice issues. Her PhD focuses on evaluating equity impacts of policies supporting solar and impacts of policies to improve energy affordability.
Dr Bjorn Sturmberg is a Research Leader in the Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program at The Australian National University where he works on research, development, demonstration, and commercialisation of low carbon electricity and transport systems.