Panel session, including Senator Christine Milne at centre

7 December 2012 — The Energy Efficiency Council Conference held in Sydney on Wednesday and Thursday this week was strong on practical application of energy efficiency as the way to drive change.

Speaking at the event were a host of high level politicians and influencers, both from Australia and the US.

Dian Grueneich, a registered Democrat previously appointed to manage California’s energy system by Republican Governor Arnold Schwazenegger, said Californian energy utilities spent $1 billion a year on energy efficiency, putting back “over $2 billion straight into people’s pockets”.

She said efficiency didn’t mean going without – it meant getting more out of each dollar.

“If you don’t have price signals, you won’t get action, but on its own it won’t drive the energy savings that you need – people just don’t respond to basic time-of-use on its own,” Ms Grueneich said.

She also said an alternative approach for households was offering energy bill discounts for people who voluntarily signed up to have their airconditioning “cycled”.

This means that a chip is installed in their airconditioner which allows it to be synchronised with others across suburbs so that its compressor peaks at a different time to the other airconditioners.

This keeps homes cool but can cut energy peaks by 20 per cent.

“If you’re doing it across thousands of homes businesses, nobody really notices, but you have a lot of savings,” Ms Grueneich said.

  • See video of Ms Grueneich speaking on energy at another recent event.

Kenneth Schisler, a former Republican legislator and chair of the Maryland Public Service Commission, said offering households and businesses incentives to save energy worked much better than time-of-use.

In the US, incentives for businesses to reduce demand during super peaks had saved hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Energy Efficiency Council chief executive officer Rob Murray-Leach said the lesson from the US was clear.

“The prime minister and the premiers must make energy efficiency a major priority for the Council of Australian Governments [meeting on Friday] if we’re going to make energy more affordable,” he said.

Delegates, between sessions

“We need to get serious on peak and we need a national Energy Savings Scheme.”

Mr Murray-Leach said in Australia, electricity prices had risen over 50 per cent in the past three years.

The main driver of energy price rises in recent years has been massive spending on the poles and wires, partly caused by rising ‘super-peak’ demand on a few very hot or cold days of the year, he said.

Other speakers included Greens Leader Christine Milne, Stanford University professor and director of the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, James Sweeney, global leader in energy efficiency and former Californian regulator Dian M Grueneich, NSW Parliamentary Secretary for renewable energy Rob Stokes and NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage Robyn Parker.