Curtin University study uncovers energy inequality in WA

By Addie Thomes

Western Australia’s Curtin University has shed light on the province’s energy provision, revealing that a quarter of citizens live in energy poverty.

The Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre’s (BCEC’s) latest report, Power to the People: WA’s Energy Future, examines the state of play of WA’s energy industry, and the key challenges, risks and policy issues facing the industry.

The major cause of inequality revolves around the use of solar to combat rising energy prices from conventional sources like gas. While solar provides cheap power, the upfront cost of installing panels is out of the reach of many Western Australians.


“West Australian households are now spending an average of $1,791 on energy each year, which can account for more than 10 per cent of household spending for low income families,” Professor Duncan said.

“While roof-top solar power is a solution for many households seeking to deal with rising electricity costs, low-income households are only one quarter as likely to have roof-top solar as those with median wealth.

“There is some evidence to support the claim that high energy costs lead to compromises in other life aspects. While average household energy costs have increased since 2010-11, spending on health and groceries have both reduced in this same period.”

The report also found that WA has been slow in adopting large-scale renewable energy technologies, with the majority of renewable energy generated by roof-top solar installed on homes.

Some quick-fire stats from the report include:

  • Total energy consumption in WA has almost doubled in the last 25 years.
  • Gas is the main source of energy in WA, accounting for more than 50% of WA’s net energy consumption in 2014-15.
  • WA’s utility sector has grown to $6.2bn in Gross Value Added, up from $2.5bn in 1990, and currently employs around 20,000 people.
  • 2.1 per cent of WA’s total energy consumption is sourced from renewables, with electricity generation from renewables increasing from 2.9 to 7.1% in the six years to 2014-15.
  • Two-thirds of WA’s renewable electricity generation is sourced from wind compared to one-third nationally.
  • One in four suitable WA dwellings have roof-top solar, however only 7.4% of suitable dwellings in the lowest socio-economic areas have solar PV installations.
  • Mandurah is the top solar postcode in WA with over 10,000 installations.
  • Total current capacity from roof-top solar PV in WA is around 730MW. Capacity is expected to reach a potential of 2,000MW by 2022, making it the second largest combined power source in the State, after Muja Power Station.
  • Electricity prices in Perth almost doubled between 2008 and 2014.
  • Household expenditure on energy rises beyond 10% of total spending for those families with the lowest 10 per cent of income distribution. This compares with 3% of expenditure for typical families on middle incomes and below 2% for those families with incomes in the top quarter of income distribution.
  • Western Australian households rank fifth nationally in energy spending at an overall weekly average of $40.64.
  • Around a quarter of single parents commit at least 10.2% of their income towards energy costs, and one in 10 spend at least 15.1%.

Be sure to read October’s edition of Business Review Australia magazine to see an exclusive interview with Curtin University’s Chief Information Officer Chris Rasmussen.


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