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How greater ‘energy literacy’ would benefit consumers

By Stuart Layt – The Sydney Morning Herald – 1 June 2019

Increasing the “energy literacy” of average consumers would benefit the whole country, a Queensland academic argues.

Peta Ashworth, who is the University of Queensland chair in sustainable energy futures, produced a report exploring what people from households to governments understood about where their energy came from.

Professor Ashworth said the majority of people had some stance on whether they supported renewable energy or fossil fuels, but they usually weren’t informed opinions.

“Generally understanding the supply chain of energy – how we get electricity, what happens when you put solar panels on your roof, renewable energy certificates, I don’t think people understand all these things,” she said.

“Sometimes it can be quite confusing. I think people are genuinely interested, especially when they want to make an investment, like buy solar panels for their roof.

“They want to do something for the environment or save money but I think we have a long way to go to understand the ramifications of that.”

Most people were generally supportive of the idea of more sustainable power generation but didn’t understand what needed to be done to make that happen.

“People are concerned, but they don’t want to put a price on the environment right now,” she said.

“Because the cost impacts are felt all the time, I think people can say ‘not in my lifetime’.

“That’s not everyone, there are some people who’ve really been doing their bit to try to reduce their overall footprint, so there’s a mixed bag.”

As an example, Professor Ashworth pointed to people who proactively installed solar panels on their houses but also accepted government rebates to help offset the cost.

She pointed out those rebates functioned as carbon credits companies could purchase from the government to offset their own carbon emissions.

Being aware of that might cause some people to refuse to take the rebate, she said, but on the other side of the debate, more information was needed about the take-up of solar panels more generally.

“The one thing I’m thinking about right now is what happens in 20 years time when all the solar panels on people’s roofs need to be recycled because they’re not putting out power any more,” Professor Ashworth said.

“Are we ready for that transition? Who’s going to pay for it?”

“Everyone’s entitled to their view, but I see my role as a social scientist to give the facts and allow people to make informed decisions.”

The key recommendation from the report is to set up an initial workshop featuring industry and government representatives to figure out the best way to provide the most accurate information on the issue to the public.

Professor Ashworth said the goal was to identify where gaps in knowledge existed and plug them where possible.

“We’ve got to be able to answer those questions, we’ve got to be able to work with communities,” she said.

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