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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1998  
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Contents >> People & the Environment >> Use of Resources: Household energy use

Use of Resources: Household energy use

Between 1974-75 and 1995-96, household energy consumption increased by 46% and is projected to increase a further 14% by 2009-10. Per capita household energy consumption also increased between 1974-75 and 1995-96 but is projected to stabilise at current levels by 2009-10.

The total amount of energy consumed by Australian households has increased over the past two decades and is forecast to continue increasing. Per capita household energy consumption has also increased over this period. The amount and type of energy used in the home has considerable implications for the environment as some forms, particularly fossil fuels, deplete natural resources and generate greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. Growing awareness of these problems has led to moves towards less harmful energy sources, such as natural gas and solar energy, and energy conservation practices in order to reduce the environmental impacts of household energy use.


Energy sources and their impact on the environment

Mains electricity is a derived source of energy, generated from primary energy sources such as non-renewable fossil fuels, e.g. coal and natural gas. These fuels produce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants when converted into electricity, although coal is, by far, the main contributor. Therefore, it is not the use of electricity in the home but its generation that has, when compared to other energy sources, the largest impact on the environment.1

Natural gas is a non-renewable, naturally occurring fossil fuel. It is seen as a 'clean' energy source compared to wood, heating oil and electricity generation as it produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Gas is used for cooking, heating and hot water in the home.

Wood is a naturally occurring, renewable fuel and is most commonly used for heating in the home. The burning of wood produces large amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.

Heating oil is a non-renewable, naturally occurring fuel which generates pollutants when burned. It is used for space heating in the home.

Solar energy is a renewable and non-polluting form of energy. It has a very low impact on the environment. It is mainly used for hot water in the home, but is also used as a passive energy source for space heating and drying clothes.

Energy units

In this review, energy units are measured in joules (J).

Gigajoule (GJ): one thousand million joules of energy.

Petajoule (PJ): one thousand million million joules of energy.


Energy consumption
Total household energy consumption in Australia has increased by 46%, from 246 petajoules (PJ) in 1974-75 to 360 PJ in 1995-96. Household energy use per capita has also increased, from 18 gigajoules (GJ) per person in 1974-75 to 20 GJ per person in 1995-96.

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 the increasing size of dwellings and the decreasing number of people per dwelling (see Australian Social Trends 1997, Environment and the home, for more details on household energy consumption and energy conservation methods used in the home).

Household energy consumption is projected to increase to 412 PJ in 2009-10, a 14% increase on 1995-96 levels. Per capita energy consumption in the home is projected to increase slightly, peak at 21 GJ per person early in the new century and return to 1995-96 levels (20 GJ per person) by 2009-10.1

RESIDENTIAL ENERGY CONSUMPTION

1974-75
1995-96
2009-10(a)
Energy source
%
%
%

Electricity
32.3
42.5
42.9
Natural gas
11.4
29.1
34.8
Wood
29.0
22.8
17.1
Heating oil
13.2
1.0
0.5
Solar energy
0.1
0.9
1.1
Other(b)
13.9
3.7
3.6
Total
(c)100.0
100.0
100.0

PJ
PJ
PJ
Total
246.3
360.4
411.8

GJ/capita
GJ/capita
GJ/capita
Total
17.7
19.7
19.7

(a) Projected.
(b) Mainly coal and petroleum products.
(c) Percentages do not add to the total due to rounding.

Source: Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Energy Consumption and Production, 1997.


Energy source and use
Energy consumption in the home involves the use of various energy sources for power and heating. The most common energy sources used in the home are mains electricity, natural gas, wood, heating oil and solar energy.

Electricity is the main source of energy used in the home. In 1974-75, electricity accounted for 32% of household energy consumption, and by 1995-96, this share had increased to 43%. The increased use of electricity can be attributed to its widespread availability, convenience and low cost. Electricity is forecast to remain the main source of energy used in households over the next decade.

Wood accounted for 23% of household energy consumption in 1995-96, down from 29% in 1974-75. Although it has decreased as a proportion of total household energy consumption, the actual amount of wood used in the home has increased over this period. In 1974-75, 71 PJ of wood was consumed by households and in 1995-96, this had increased to 82 PJ.1 This increase could be due to wood historically being a relatively cheap and abundant fuel, especially in areas where other energy sources are less readily available. As most wood used in the home is for heating, this increase could also be due to slow combustion wood heaters being relatively inexpensive and popular appliances.

The use of wood, however, has a number of adverse impacts on the environment, with air pollution being a major concern. Growing awareness of these impacts, and the increasing competitiveness of other energy sources, is reflected in the projected decline in household use of wood over the next decade to 70 PJ, or 17% of total household energy consumption, in 2009-10.1 Like wood, heating oil has declined as a proportion of total household energy consumption and is projected to continue declining.

While wood and heating oil are decreasing in importance, the use of less harmful energy sources like natural gas and solar energy is increasing.

Natural gas
Household use of natural gas as a primary source of energy has increased substantially over the last two decades. Households used 105 PJ of natural gas in 1995-96, which was 29% of total household energy consumption. This is up from 28 PJ, or 11% of total household energy consumption, in 1974-75. Natural gas is mainly used for heating and hot water in the home. In 1994, 28% of all households used gas for heating and 31% used it for hot water.2

The increase in natural gas use can be attributed to its environmental advantages, declining cost and growing availability to households. However, while the availability of natural gas is growing, it is still quite limited. Of those households which do not use natural gas, 64% did not have access to it in 1994. Access to natural gas also varies between the States. In 1994, over 90% of households in both the Northern Territory and Tasmania did not have access.2

Household use of natural gas is projected to increase to 143 PJ, or 35% of total household energy consumption, in 2009-10. However, there is potential for the use of natural gas to increase even further as more gas pipelines are built and it becomes more widely available to households.1


RESIDENTIAL USE OF NATURAL GAS(a)

(a) Data refers to the financial year ending 30 June. Data for all years following 1996 is projected.


Source: Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Energy Consumption and Production, 1997.

Solar energy
Like natural gas, solar energy is increasing in importance as an energy source for households. Household use of solar energy in 1995-96 was 3.4 PJ, more than 30 times the amount used in 1974-75 (0.1 PJ). While this increase seems very large, solar energy accounted for only 1% of total household energy consumed in 1995-96. However, this figure is likely to be underestimated as the passive uses of solar energy for space heating and clothes drying are not measured. These uses are too difficult to quantify but are estimated as being high.3 For example, 56% of all households used solar exposure as a form of space heating in 1994.2

The recorded 3.4 PJ of solar energy used in households in 1995-96 was mainly for hot water systems. The relatively low usage of solar energy as a household energy source is reflected in the small number of households with these systems - only 5% of households in 1994, although this figure varied substantially between the States and Territories. The Northern Territory (58%) and Western Australia (21%) had the highest proportions of households with solar hot water systems.2

The main barrier preventing solar energy from being a more common household energy source is the cost. The installation costs of solar energy for households are high as expensive equipment is required to collect the energy. It takes time, usually years, to recoup these costs but it has been proven that solar energy is a very cheap energy source in the long run. It is predicted that household solar energy use will grow as the costs of solar energy equipment reduce over time. These costs are expected to fall by as much as 80% in the next 20 to 30 years.4

Household use of solar energy is projected to increase to 4.3 PJ in 2009-10. While this will still represent only 1% of total household energy consumption, there is great potential for household, and total, solar energy use to increase further as its costs fall and environmental advantages become more significant.


RESIDENTIAL USE OF SOLAR ENERGY(a)

(a) Data refers to the financial year ending 30 June. Data for all years following 1996 is projected.


Source: Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, Australian Energy Consumption and Production, 1997.

Energy conservation
As well as using less harmful energy sources like natural gas and solar energy, many households use strategies to save energy, thereby reducing their impact on the environment. Household energy conservation methods include: insulation to prevent heat and cooling loss; window treatments like curtains, outside awnings or tinted windows; solar exposure for space heating and drying clothes; using cold water for washing clothes; reducing clothes dryer usage; and consideration of energy ratings when purchasing appliances. Households also conserve energy by using appliances and hot water more efficiently, and by installing energy-efficient light fittings.

Concern about the adverse impact energy use has on the environment may motivate many households to conserve energy but this is rarely the main reason. Taking household insulation as an example, it can be seen that considerations such as comfort and savings on energy costs outweigh environmental concerns.

Achieving interior comfort was the main reason for having insulation installed (76%) in 1994. Saving on energy costs was the next most common reason (16%) and couples with dependent children were most likely to report it.2 This could be because these families have higher living costs than most and want to reduce them. Only 5% of all households installed insulation to reduce energy use.

Regardless of the motive to insulate and conserve energy, whether it be due to environmental concern or spurred by cost incentives, reduced energy use is of benefit to the environment.

Of those dwellings that were not insulated, 33% of all households said the cost of installation was the main discouraging factor. Climate is another reason for not insulating. This was the main reason given by 17% of all households. Around 30% of households in both the Northern Territory and Queensland said they did not have insulation because it was not needed in those climates.2 Other reasons for not insulating were: not interested (19%); haven't got around to it (13%); and dwelling construction not suitable (7%).

INSULATION, 1994

Main reason for insulating
%

Achieve comfort
76.4
Save on energy costs
16.3
Reduce energy use
4.9
Other
2.4
Total
100.0
Main reason for not insulating
Cost of installation
33.2
Not interested
18.8
Not needed (climate)
17.3
Haven't got around to it
13.4
Dwelling construction
7.3
Other
9.9
Total(a)
100.0

(a) Percentages do not add due to rounding.

Source: Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, Australia, 1994 (cat. no. 4602.0).


Endnotes
1 Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 1997, Australian Energy Consumption and Production, ABARE, Canberra.

2 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1995, Environmental Issues: People's Views and Practices, June 1994, cat. no. 4602.0, ABS, Canberra.

3 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1996, Energy Accounts for Australia 1993-94, cat. no. 4604.0, ABS, Canberra.

4 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 1997, 1997 Year Book Australia, cat. no. 1301.0, ABS, Canberra.

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