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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2006  
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Contents >> Other Areas of Concern >> Environmental impact of household energy use

Environmental impact of household energy use

Between 1983–84 and 2003–04, household energy consumption increased by 3 gigajoules per person to an average of 21 gigajoules per person.

Most Australian households take for granted the energy delivered to their homes and used in their daily lives. In normal circumstances, its provision is convenient and reliable across urban and rural regions of Australia and the most common sources of household energy such as electricity and gas are inexpensive relative to energy prices in other developed countries.(EndNote 1)

Australians are becoming increasingly aware of the impact that the production and use of energy can have on the environment. Energy production and use contributed over two-thirds (69%) of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions in 2004. Australia's energy emissions are relatively high on a per capita basis, mainly due to our use of coal as the major source of electricity generation.(EndNote 2)

In 2003, Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors totalled 550 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Mt CO2-e), or 1.4% of global emissions.(EndNote 2,3) Australia has agreed to, but not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and is committed to meeting the Kyoto target of 108% of 1990 greenhouse gas emissions by the period 2008–12. The government committed $1.8 billion from 1997 to a number of initiatives in order to address climate change by the Kyoto period. With these initiatives in place, Australia is projected to reach the Kyoto target by 2010. Without these initiatives, 2010 emissions were expected to have reached 123% of 1990 levels by 2010.(EndNote 4)

In 2003–04, Australian households used 420 petajoules (PJ) of energy or 13% of the final energy consumed in Australia, with the vast majority of final energy used by transport and manufacturing.(EndNote 6) On average, Australians used 21 gigajoules (GJ) of energy per person – an increase of 3 GJ per person over 20 years from 1983–84. The average household's energy use produces about eight tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, the main greenhouse gas.(EndNote 7)

FINAL ENERGY CONSUMPTION IN THE RESIDENTIAL SECTOR(a)
GRAPH: FINAL ENERGY CONSUMPTION IN THE RESIDENTIAL SECTOR(a)


Energy use and units

The data presented in this article are mainly drawn from the March 2004 and March 2005 ABS publications Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices (ABS cat. no. 6402.0). Estimates on final energy consumption are from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) publication Australian Energy: national and state projections to 2029–30, October 2005, and ABARE data sets.

Residential energy consumption is based on total final energy consumption data, which is the amount measured by, for example, the gas and electricity meter for each home.

The basic unit of energy is the joule (J). The joule is a small unit. Heating 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius requires 4.18 joules. For this reason, energy is often measured in:
  • kilojoules (KJ): one thousand joules
  • gigajoules (GJ): one thousand million joules
  • petajoules (PJ): one thousand million million joules.

Megatonnes (Mt): one million tonnes. Mt is the unit of measurement used for greenhouse gas emissions. Technically, a tonne of emissions is one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e), which measures all the greenhouse gases. Saving 1 Mt of greenhouse gas emissions is equivalent to taking 200,000 vehicles off the road per year.(EndNote 5)


TRENDS IN ENERGY USE

Between 1983–84 and 2003–04, energy use in the residential sector grew by 52% or an average of 2.2% per year. Increased household energy use is predominantly the result of population growth, and an associated increase in the number of dwellings needing energy for power and heating. It is also related to an increase in average use per person, influenced by the increasing size of dwellings and the decreasing number of people per dwelling (see Australian Social Trends 2003, Changes in Australian housing). Changes in population and in average energy use are expected to continue to increase residential energy consumption in the future. Between 2003–04 and 2029–30, energy in the residential sector is projected to increase at 1.7% a year to around 650 PJ.(EndNote 6)

TYPES OF ENERGY USED

Electricity was the most widely used source of energy in Australian households in 2005. Almost every household (99%) used electricity for some purpose. Just less than half (49%) of the energy consumed by households in 2003–04 was from electricity.

Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, oil) are used to generate approximately 92% of electricity in Australia. Most electricity (78%) in Australia is generated by coal (both black and brown), and burning coal is the most emissions-intensive form of electricity. Some electricity is available from renewable sources (8%) such as wind-generated and hydro-electricity plants. Consumers can purchase electricity from renewable sources through the Green Power Scheme.(EndNote 7)

Gas was the second most important source of energy used in Australian households in 2005. Natural gas is considered to be environmentally preferable to electricity, producing about one-third the greenhouse gas emissions compared with conventional electricity. Fifty-eight percent of households in 2005 used gas for some purpose. In 2003–04, gas accounted for 31% of total household energy consumption.

Despite being one of the cleanest sources of energy, solar energy was used in less than 5% of Australian households in 2005. Solar energy is renewable and produces very few greenhouse gas emissions when operating.(EndNote 7)


RESIDENTIAL ENERGY CONSUMPTION

1983–84
1993–94
2003–04
2029–30(a)
Energy source
%
%
%
%

Electricity
42.6
42.4
48.7
50.8
Natural gas
23.9
28.3
31.2
33.7
Wood(b)
25.1
23.7
15.9
10.4
Heating oil
2.5
1.1
0.0
0.0
Solar energy
0.7
0.7
0.6
0.7
LPG
2.1
2.6
2.7
3.2
Other(c)
3.0
1.1
1.0
1.2
Total
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

PJ
PJ
PJ
PJ
Total
276.0
344.4
420.8
650.8

GJ/person
GJ/person
GJ/person
GJ/person
Total
17.7
19.3
20.9
26.3


(a) Projected consumption.
(b) Includes bagasse (EndNote 5) and woodwaste.
(c) Mainly coal and petroleum products.

Source: ABARE, Australian Energy, national and state projections to 2029–30, 2005; ABARE electronic datasets.


Green Power

Households can choose to source a proportion of their energy from renewable energy sources like wind, solar and hydro-power. This option is called Green Power, and consumers pay a premium for electricity generated from these sources. The more energy that households use from these sources, the less greenhouse gases will be emitted. Currently, Green Power products are available in all states and territories except Tasmania and the Northern Territory. However, electricity generated in Tasmania is mainly sourced from hydro-electricity.

Awareness of Green Power schemes varies across states, with the highest level (49%) recorded in the Australian Capital Territory and lowest (19%) in Western Australia. Overall awareness of the scheme increased in Victoria and South Australia between 1999 and 2005 – in Victoria, tripling from 12% to 38%. However, just under a quarter (23%) of households in all states, except Tasmania and the Northern Territory, not already attached to a scheme were willing to support Green Power by paying extra in their energy bill, a slight decrease from 2002 (26%).


MAKING LIFE COMFORTABLE

Energy is essential for household comfort. However, the source of that energy is important in assessing greenhouse efficiency. Despite new homes becoming more energy efficient, Australians are using more energy per person in the home. This may be partly due to an increase in the number, type and use of electrical appliances in households. Some household items, such as dishwashers and airconditioners, which may have once been seen as luxuries, have become more common in Australian homes.

...WHITE GOODS AND ELECTRICAL APPLIANCES

White goods and electrical appliances account for 30% of total energy consumption and the greatest proportion of household greenhouse gas emissions (53%).(EndNote 9) Most white goods and household appliances use electricity. Consequently, the number, type, frequency of use and energy efficiency of white goods and appliances in the home impacts significantly on the energy consumed and emissions produced.

In 2005, almost every household owned at least one fridge, television and vacuum cleaner. The number of households with two or more fridges in use increased from 24% to 33% between 1994 and 2005. In 2005, 42% of households had a dishwasher, an increase from 25% in 1994. The proportion of households with computers increased from 45% in 1999 to 68% in 2005.

As white goods and other appliances account for most household greenhouse gas emissions, people's decisions about purchase and use of these items is important. The introduction of energy ratings and labelling has helped consumers in their decisions. However, the reason people buy certain brands and sizes of appliances usually relates to the initial capital cost of the item and the long term decrease in cost of energy bills, rather than the reduction in environmental cost.(EndNote 10)


USE OF ENERGY IN THE HOUSEHOLD BY PURPOSE AND RELATED GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS – 2005

Energy use
Emissions
%
%

Appliances(a)
30.0
53.0
Heating water
27.0
28.0
Cooking
4.0
6.0
Heating and cooling
39.0
14.0
Total
100.0
100.0


(a) Includes lighting.
Source: Australian Greenhouse Office 2005, Your Home Technical Manual.



HOUSEHOLDS WITH SELECTED WHITE GOODS AND APPLIANCES(a)

1994(b)
1999
2002
2005
Household item
%
%
%
%

Refrigerator
99.7
99.7
99.9
99.9
Washing machine
94.2
94.7
95.2
96.4
Clothes dryer
51.7
53.0
55.4
55.1
Separate freezer
44.9
40.1
38.0
36.9
Dishwasher
25.1
30.1
34.7
41.5
Television(c)
n.a.
98.9
99.2
98.5
Vacuum cleaner(c)
n.a.
95.2
95.5
95.2
Microwave(c)
n.a.
82.9
87.3
90.6
Computer(c)
n.a.
44.8
59.8
67.8

(a) As a proportion of all households.
(b) Data for 1994 is June 1994. All other periods are March of that year.
(c) No data available for 1994.
Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, March 2005 (ABS cat. no. 4602.0).


Indirect energy consumption

In 2003–04, direct, or final consumption of energy by households was 420 petajoules (13%) of total final energy consumption.(EndNote 6) In addition to this direct consumption, household demand for products and services contributes indirectly to energy consumption, as energy is used in their manufacture and supply.

When fossil fuels like coal are burned, as part of the combustion process to convert fuel to electricity, the chemical reaction forms carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas responsible for the enhanced greenhouse effect. Therefore this 'combusted' energy is a good measure for greenhouse gas emissions and is used to look at how much different sectors of the economy contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

In 1994–95, 53% of energy combusted in Australia was due to household consumption. This comprised both energy used within the household (direct from the meter) and energy used via the household consumption and manufacturing of domestically produced goods and services (indirect).(EndNote 11)


...WATER HEATING AND COOKING

Water heating accounts for 27% of household energy consumption, and is the second largest source of household greenhouse gas emissions (28%) after the use of white goods and appliances (53%) in the household sector. Solar energy is by far the cleanest source of energy for this purpose, with the capacity to provide up to 90% of a household's hot water requirements, depending on climatic conditions.(EndNote 7) In 2005, 51% of households used electricity for water heating. In the same year, gas was used in 39% of households and solar in less than 5% of households.

In 2005, over half (54%) of households used electricity for cooking and 39% used gas. Cooking uses a relatively small amount of energy (4% of total household energy consumption), producing less greenhouse gas emissions (6% of total) than most other energy uses in the home. Gas cooktops and ovens produce less than half the emissions than comparable electric units.(EndNote 7)

...HEATING AND COOLING SPACE

In 2005, the proportions of homes using gas and electricity for heating space were similar (33% and 32% respectively). While the proportion of homes using gas for heating has remained constant since 1999, electricity use increased from 28% in the same time period. The amount of pollution produced by heating a home is dependent on the energy source. Electric systems may produce up to six times more greenhouse emissions than an efficient gas central heating system.(EndNote 7)

The number of homes with airconditioners increased substantially between 1994 and 2005 from 33% to 60%. Most cooling systems and appliances use electricity, with the type of airconditioner being an important determinant of the amount of electricity needed to cool a home. At their best, in conditions of low humidity, evaporative cooling systems can use one-quarter of the electricity required by a refrigerated system; reducing both household energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions.(EndNote 12) In 2005, 57% of households had a reverse cycle/heat pump as their main cooler, 22% had an evaporative cooler and 19% had a full refrigerated system.

BUILDING ENERGY EFFICIENT HOMES

Energy used by households varies with climate and lifestyle. One important factor impacting on household energy use is home design and insulation. The material used in the construction of the outside walls of a dwelling greatly influences its thermal properties.For example, brick dwellings can be more energy efficient than fibrocement or timber dwellings in cool temperate environments because of the way brick responds to outside temperature changes.(EndNote 7)

In 2005, 71% of dwellings across Australia had their walls constructed with double brick or brick veneer, 13% from timber and 6% from fibrocement. Between 1999 and 2005, the proportion of brick dwellings increased from 68% to 71%, whereas the proportion of timber and fibrocement dwellings decreased from 15% to 13% for timber and from 8% to 6% for fibrocement.

Many new homes are now built to maximise the passive use of solar energy. For example, large windows on the north side of the house let the sunshine in during winter, but can be shaded from the summer sun.(EndNote 7) The effect of the orientation of a dwelling is often reflected in the household energy bill.

Adequately insulated ceilings, walls and even floors can greatly reduce energy consumption, and therefore greenhouse gas emissions. The number of dwellings with insulation increased from 52% in 1994 to 61% in 2005.

In 1999, the Ministerial Council on Greenhouse and the building sector agreed upon a comprehensive strategy to make Australia's buildings more energy efficient.(EndNote 13) Energy provisions were introduced into the Building Code of Australia to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They aimed to reduce residential energy consumption and increase thermal comfort by encouraging improved building design. The strategy defined an acceptable minimum level of energy efficiency for new buildings and the House Energy Rating Scheme, which in many areas are a mandatory part of the development approval process.(EndNote 7, 13)

ENVIRONMENTAL ATTITUDES

In a range of surveys and past research conducted as part of The National Greenhouse Strategy, the environment has emerged as an issue of concern for large numbers of Australians. However, although people agree more can be done to help protect the environment, evidence suggests that adoption of environmentally friendly behaviours is greatest where it is convenient and where it does not require large investments of time or money. Also, it is possible that people may become complacent, feeling that they are "doing their bit" if they recycle, use unleaded petrol and buy the occasional energy efficient appliance. This complacency may be a barrier to further modifications of behaviour.(EndNote 10)

Households were surveyed on their attitudes to environmental issues and concern every 2–3 years between 1992 and 2004. In 2004, of all Australians aged 18 years and over, 57% stated they were concerned about environmental problems. The level of concern had decreased considerably since 1992, when three-quarters (75%) of Australians stated they had environmental concerns. The greatest falls in concern were in the younger age groups, such as the 18–24 years group where concern fell from 79% in 1992 to 49% in 2004. Of the 57% of people concerned about environmental problems, only 13% formally registered concern (through writing a letter, telephoning, participating in demonstrations, signing a petition or by some other means) and 29% donated time or money to help protect the environment.

Energy conservation in the home sometimes requires significant changes in behaviour. People generally understand that there are personal financial benefits from conserving energy in the home, but these benefits are sometimes outweighed by a desire to maintain quality of life and to save money in the short term. First home buyers, for example, often do not have the resources to invest in more expensive, energy efficient appliances, insulation or quality window coverings. Second and third home-buyers, however, are usually in a better position to consider more options when selecting or replacing major appliances and for house design.(EndNote 10) In 2005, 43% of households said they considered cost to be the main factor when buying a new white good, 44% nominated the energy star rating as a main consideration, and only 11% of households stated an environmental factor as their main consideration. Many households with insulation said their main reason for installing it was to achieve comfort (83%), rather than to save on energy bills (10%) or use less energy (4%).


ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN BY AGE(a)

GRAPH: ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERN BY AGE(a)


ENDNOTES
    1. Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet 2004, Securing Australia's Energy Future, viewed 21 February 2006, <http://www.pmc.gov.au/energy_future/index.htm>.
    2. Department of the Environment and Heritage, Australian Greenhouse Office 2006, National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2004, AGO, Canberra.
    3. International Energy Agency 2005, Key World Energy Statistics, 2005 edition, IEA, France.
    4. Department of Environment and Heritage and the Australian Greenhouse Office 2005, Tracking to the Kyoto Target: Australia's Greenhouse Emissions Trends 1990 to 20082012 and 2020, DEH, Canberra.
    5. State and Territory Greenhouse Gas Emissionsan overview, viewed 24 March 2006, <http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/inventory/stateinv/pubs/stateoverview.pdf>.
    6. Akmal, M, Riwoe, D 2005, Australian Energy, national and state projections to 202930, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Canberra.
    7. Australian Greenhouse Office 2005, Your Home Technical Manual, viewed 13 December 2005, <http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/technical/>.
    8. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2005, Population Projections Australia Series B, 20042101, cat. no. 3222.0, ABS, Canberra.
    9. Australian Greenhouse Office, History of the labelling program in Australia, viewed 19 December 2005, <http://www.energyrating.gov.au/history.html>.
    10. The Department of Environment and Heritage and the Australian Greenhouse Office, NGS Communications Strategy: Review of past research 26/07/2000. viewed 19 December 2005, <http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/government/ngs/community-awareness/pubs/literature.pdf>.
    11. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2001, Energy and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accounts 199293 to 199798, cat. no. 4604.0, ABS, Canberra.
    12. Government of South Australia, Take the Heat out of Home Cooling, viewed 19 December 2005, <http://www.sustainable.energy.sa.gov.au/
    pages/advisory/residential/energy_use/cooling/pdf/homecooling_web.pdf>.

    13. CSIRO Division of Building, Construction and Engineering for the Australian Greenhouse Office, 1999, Scoping Study of Minimum Energy Performance Requirements for Incorporation into the Building Code of Australia, viewed 21 February 2005, <http://www.greenhouse.gov.au/buildings/publications/s_study.html.>.

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