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ANU-ActewAGL project seeks to better understand electricity use in poorly insulated homes

Friday 15 May 2020

A unique research project at The Australian National University to explore home insulation and electricity use has been named the 2020 winner of the Icon Water and ActewAGL Perpetual Endowment Fund.

Dr Lee White, a Research Fellow with the ANU Energy Change Institute based at the ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), will spend 12 months collaborating with ActewAGL to determine the impact of housing energy efficiency on bill changes, driven by time-of-use rates.

The project aims to support the development of modernised electricity billing systems in a way that improves, rather than exacerbates existing inequities.

“This project would test the hypothesis that households in well-insulated homes will see greater bill savings when changing to time-of-use compared to households in poorly-insulated homes,” Dr White said of her novel project.

“If the hypothesis is supported, then there’s a clear case to focus on insulation improvements for older homes. Vulnerable groups are more likely to live in these less insulated homes, and it’s important to ensure these groups have at least an equal ability to lower bills on time-of-use rates compared to better off households.”

The ActewAGL study will build on Dr White’s earlier published research about demand-side electricity use and time-of-use rates by households in the United States. Dr Emma Aisbett will assist Dr White in an economic advisory role, while Christa Shen will help with various research tasks.

“Prior research suggests that housing efficiency will limit ability to cut back on heating or cooling costs, but this question has not yet been addressed with rigorous empirical analyses,” Dr White, an ANU School of Regulation and Global Governance-based scholar, said.

“It’s a great opportunity for an early career researcher like me to be able to work so closely with industry, this will allow us to make a really unique contribution to analysis in this area.

“I’m glad to have the support at ANU to pursue these kinds of opportunities.”

ANU Energy Change Institute Director, Professor Ken Baldwin, said it was a tough decision for the Endowment Committee to select the winner, but ultimately the committee was impressed by Dr White’s research proposal and the potential that her study holds.

“We’re excited by the project and look forward to communicating its findings, because they may be able to benefit residents in many poorly-insulated dwellings not just across the ACT but globally,” Professor Baldwin said.

Dr White’s project was chosen following a competitive process which included a short pitch to ActewAGL representatives and other key stakeholders at the 2019 Energy Change Institute Open Day on 17 February.

First awarded in 2009, the $2m Icon Water and ActewAGL Endowment was established between the ANU and the two local utilities to create a community partnership, and help ANU researchers address major industry challenges in water sustainability and renewable energy, particularly in relation to local utility needs.

Dr Lee White and Lahiru Hapuarachchi
Left to right: Dr Lee White, Lahiru Hapuarachchi, ActewAGL Lead Product and Innovation Engineer

“ActewAGL is proud to provide funding which supports new research and greater engagement between industry and academia,” said Lahiru Hapuarachchi, ActewAGL Lead Product and Innovation Engineer.

“The research outcomes from this project have the potential to inform how we deliver energy efficiency programs, and assist us with developing innovative data-backed tariffs.

“This unique research will also provide a better understanding of the vulnerable population in Canberra and how we can best respond to their needs.”

Criteria for the 2019 round focused on three priorities:

  • Data driven energy consumer psychology to understand and predict behaviour in the ACT.
  • Advanced hydrogen generation and storage techniques from an academic and technical perspective including considerations to generate “greenly” and “cheaply”.
  • Regulatory, legal and technological challenges to hydrogen distribution, including consideration for development of future regulatory frameworks.

Endowment funding of up to $115,000 is available each round, with the research projects ranging from six to 18 months.

The Icon Water and ActewAGL Endowment is managed by Innovation ANU, who oversee the University’s strategic projects and partnerships, including with industry and government.

ANU is committed to leading initiatives to break down barriers between universities, society and industry.

To achieve this goal, Innovation ANU is supporting the University to become more actively engaged with business and industry and to develop, encourage and reward entrepreneurial activity.

Dr Lauren DuFall from Innovation ANU said there is significant potential for the ANU to more broadly engage with industry through cross-disciplinary energy research that will have high impact in areas of national importance.

This media release was first published on 05 May 2020 by the Australian National University

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