Protections need to keep up with the new energy market Analysis

Protections need to keep up with the new energy market

Australia is ranked 54th out of 61 countries on the Climate Change Performance Index. This indicates that, on a national level, we are not responding to climate change adequately, nor capitalising on the opportunities presented by our rich array of renewable resources.

However, most Victorians are on board with the need to avert catastrophic climate change.

They’re not waiting around for national leadership, but rather plowing ahead improving their homes, upgrading their car, signing up to offset schemes and many other mitigation measures.

Guest author Cynthia Gebert, Victoria’s Energy and Water Ombudsman, warns consumer protections must keep pace with this rapidly evolving energy market.

A smiling woman with blonde hair and a black top

At EWOV, we want to understand the issues people face with these products – things like home batteries, electric vehicles, home energy management systems, microgrids and virtual power plants – so we can prepare for the coming energy system transition and for our role in it.

In August 2021, research we jointly commissioned with the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning to better understand Victorians’ experiences of new energy products was released.

Among the many take-aways from the ‘VOICES‘ report, we learned that consumers have leaped ahead of government and regulators.

They understand the necessity of the energy transition and are ready and willing to engage with new energy products and services.

But many are concerned that the energy sector, as it’s currently set up, doesn’t provide adequate support for people who take up new energy products and services. And they’re right to be concerned, and to expect more.

Recent coverage of the issues on the ABC’s 7.30 identified gaps in consumer protections for customers of new energy technology. At EWOV we can help customers with complaints related to businesses that are current EWOV members. This might be for issues such as high bills, the need to set up payment plans, concerns about disconnection, supply delays or quality, or broad customer service issues.

But when it comes to businesses supplying newer products and services like solar batteries, peer-to-peer trading and electric vehicles, there is no compulsion for them to be licensed or become EWOV members. So we’re much more limited in the help we can provide their customers.

At EWOV, we want to understand the issues people face with these products so we can prepare for the coming energy system transition and for our role in it.

The VOICES report tells us that, despite their take-up of new energy technology, householders have a range of concerns about it, often driven by a feeling that the energy sector’s motivations are not in line with their own. Many Victorians are concerned about the complexity of information available about these products, and data privacy, and about their ability to control aspects of their energy use and technologies.

The report recommends expanding ease and equity of access to cheap, clean electricity in a way that doesn’t place undue responsibility on individual consumers and households, especially those who might be facing disadvantage.

The energy sector needs to provide more supports to these consumers. There’s also an opportunity to strengthen the consumer protection framework; for example, by providing access to an external dispute resolution service. Currently, consumers to do more ‘work’ than they should have to, and this can deter people at a vital stage when we need to be ramping up the energy system transition.

You can read more about the VOICES report here.

To find out more, email EWOV Head of Communications and Policy, Janine Rayner.