A long-overdue investment to raise the energy efficiency of homes in Victoria has denoted the state a “clear leader” in climate solutions, but a climate change think tank has called on the government to aim even higher – for net-zero all-electric homes.

A nearly $800 million home energy saving package was unveiled yesterday by the Andrews Government in a bid to cut power costs and greenhouse gas emissions. 

“This level of investment in energy efficiency is unprecedented from any state government and makes Victoria a clear leader on this critical issue,” Environment Victoria campaigns manager Dr Nicholas Aberle said. 

With measures to replace old wood, gas and electric heaters with efficient electric heaters, and a mandate on minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties, including insulation and draught-sealing, the announcement has been hailed as a monumental step forward – especially for renters on low incomes. 

“Bills have become front and centre in Victoria as people were forced to work at home through the pandemic,” chief executive of Australian Energy Foundation Alison Rowe said. 

The costs of running a home office didn’t exist for the majority of people before COVID-19. And the distress of energy poverty has been felt en masse among people on low incomes for years. 

“People on low incomes usually have a high proportion of their weekly wage paid on energy,” Ms Rowe said. 

“Upgrading hot water systems will make a massive difference, insulation will make a massive difference, [the Australian Energy Foundation] has done a lot of work on energy poverty and it is quite devastating to see how people are living.” 

According to Dr Nicholas Aberle, by international standards, Australia is way behind on household energy performance. “Many of our homes are glorified tents, freezing in winter and sweltering in summer,” he said. 

“More Victorians die from living in cold homes than they do in Sweden – a much colder country. The heatwave before Black Saturday in 2009 was responsible for more deaths than the fires themselves. 

“Energy efficiency is a smart form of economic stimulus in our post-pandemic recovery because it lowers bills and cuts greenhouse gas pollution while also creating many local jobs in a range of trades across the state.” 

Energy use within homes contributes to around 20 per cent of Victoria’s greenhouse gas pollution. 

Energy minister for the Andrew’s government, Lily D’Ambrosio, said in a statement the new policy suite will help “Victorians make their homes more efficient and fight climate change.”

The announcement includes $112 million to seal windows and doors, upgrade heating, cooling and hot water in 35,000 social housing properties and expand the Solar Homes and Solar Batteries rebate schemes. 

A call for all-electric homes

Beyond Zero Emissions research lead, Michael Lord, has called on the government to go further and aim to create net-zero all-electric homes.

“A net-zero energy home generates at least as much renewable energy as the total energy it consumes, over the course of a year. It is all-electric, efficient to run and powered by renewable energy,” he said. 

He notes that electricity for heating, hot water and cooking is far more efficient and cheaper to run compared with the most efficient gas-powered appliances.

“The closer to net-zero energy we build new homes and retrofit existing homes, the lower the running costs for the Victorians living in these homes.”

Challenges on the road ahead

As an immediate response, the Andrew’s government is providing a one-off $250 payment for eligible concession card holders, expected to help an estimated 950,000 Victorian households that would otherwise struggle to pay the bills. 

But some welfare groups have flagged wider challenges on the road ahead. 

According to Nicholas Proud, PowerHousing Australia chief executive, despite a recession, the housing market is going “gangbusters”. 

“The challenge will be getting a tradie,” he said. 

Additionally, good, quick planning and training will need to be provided to the construction industry to ensure upgrades are delivered safely, adds Alison Rowe. 

“Minimum standards for rental properties are critical in the transition to an equitable zero carbon society,” she said. 

“We know energy efficiency contributes significantly to lowering the costs of running a home and the health and wellbeing of the tenants. In addition, it adds value to the property for the landlord.

“But the complexities around upgrades are important.” 

Insulation and draft proofing typically falls to smaller family businesses, she said. 

“There are concerns over adequate training, we just want to make sure this is all done in a safe environment.”

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  1. While I realise that electric hot water would be better, I live in an area where there are frequent power blackouts. My gas hot water continued to work throughout a recent five day outage in bitterly cold weather.
    Solar panels are not the answer either, as:
    – I rent
    – I have very little light, as I am surrounded by mature mountain ash trees
    – the mountain ash trees constantly drop small to medium branches, which would shatter any solar panels.

    The biggest impediment to rental house standards is that rent is managed by the local state or territory, while tax deductions on improvements to rental houses are managed at a federal level. Bringing a rental house up to a decent standard shouldn’t be subject to depreciation over years; it should be able to be claimed immediately. Because of this, my landlord wouldn’t even replace a broken central heating thermostat with one with a timer.