For most in our community, the concept of energy goes no further than the price they pay to keep the lights on, but in reality, the majority of Australian households, businesses and industries are still in the dark when it comes to understanding how and why energy is fundamental to our way of life.
Confusion around key energy issues continue at a societal level with concern about energy pricing, reliability and renewable versus non-renewable generation masking a deeper misunderstanding about the sources of power generation, grid electrification and pathways to a low-emissions future.
With little to no nationally coordinated effort to enhance Australia's energy knowledge, there has been no improvement to levels of community energy understanding – known as energy literacy – over the last 10 years.
These findings are part of the new Building Australia's Energy Literacy report, released by NERA (National Energy Resources Australia), the Australian Government's Industry Growth Centre for the energy resources sector. The report provides an independent definition of energy literacy and offers recommendations to coordinate under a national framework what is currently a fragmented landscape driven by sectoral agendas.
NERA commissioned The University of Queensland to produce the report as a key action to support an independent, collaborative and evidence-based approach to improving the understanding of energy across Australia.
The report defines an energy literate person as someone 'with the appropriate level of knowledge which empowers them to make informed, rational energy decisions and actions which have a positive outcome for the individual and ultimately society at large'.
The research was led by Professor Peta Ashworth, Chair in Sustainable Energy Futures and one of Australia's leading experts in sustainability, energy literacy and public perceptions of climate and energy technologies.
The importance for developing deeper knowledge of energy has never been more important, yet the low rates of energy literacy amongst members of the Australian public is juxtaposed with the important role the energy resource sector plays in our nation's continued prosperity. Australia's energy resources sector remains one of the principal sources of revenue underpinning the nation's economy, directly employing approximately 98,000 full-time workers. In addition, ten times that number of jobs are supported through the supply chain and broader economy.
NERA CEO Miranda Taylor said NERA is pleased to collaborate with The University of Queensland to produce this report and, through it, to develop an action plan for what an energy literacy project can look like in Australia, as well as to identify potential collaborators for this work.
"Through our deep engagement across the sector and our own independent research, we know that a low societal level of energy literacy and reliance on factional sources for information represent a real risk for Australia's energy future," Ms Taylor said.
"Importantly, this risk has the potential to become a commercial impediment for industry as well as expose Australia to an uncertain domestic energy future if left unaddressed."
"We know that informed communities and empowered consumers are key to Australia's successful transition to a low-carbon future. However, more needs to be done both to fully understand the concerns of the community and to respond with information that engages and educates. The building of community and stakeholder trust – and maintenance of a social licence – is a complex and multi-faceted challenge requiring collaboration and action by all parties in the national energy debate."
"We believe this report will complement the work already being done, and we look forward to continuing to work across the community with industry partners, research communities and Australian businesses to continue to improve energy literacy in Australia for the benefit of the sector as a whole."
Professor Ashworth said: "I have been working in this area for many years now and despite the growing interest in energy as prices have risen, combined with the need to mitigate carbon emissions, there has been little change in overall energy literacy levels. The challenge is around building understanding of how to manage the transition to a sustainable low carbon society."
"While there are small pockets of groups working in this space, much of the work focuses on electricity bills. There is certainly room for a more coordinated approach to broaden the scope of energy literacy as well as building the required skills."
"Most efforts to build energy literacy internationally has occurred at the school level. While this is not surprising and remains important, it is not a one size fits all approach that is required. We need to work together to fill the gaps to ensure individuals and groups have access to the information they need, in the format they would like, at the times they need it, to help raise literacy levels more broadly."
"I think there is a great opportunity for collaboration both domestically and internationally on this topic."
The major recommendation from the Building Australia's Energy Literacy report is the establishment of a facilitated national workshop that will bring together a range of stakeholders who deliver activities that relate to building energy literacy.
The workshop will seek to:
• Coordinate the current offerings into a more coherent story
• Develop an Australian Energy Literacy Steering Committee
• Identify the gaps in energy information
Other key recommendations include:
• Developing a plan to address the gaps
• Undertaking a national survey to establish the baseline for Australia's energy literacy
Click here to access the full report.
For more information about NERA's activities across Australia's energy resources sector, visit nera.org.au.