In wealthy countries, soaring energy prices have left many households struggling to heat or cool their homes. Energy poverty is no longer restricted to a few older or low-income householders. In poorer countries, energy poverty means that people find it difficult to procure energy even to cook food or light their homes.
A study into energy justice in Australia in 2018 found there were vulnerable householders right across the social strata. Smaller and larger households, tenants and older or disabled householders could be at particularly high risk, but so were working families in draughty, unrenovated private rental dwellings. Tenants were likely to be paying more for heating and cooling because rented homes tend to have less insulation and fewer solar photovoltaic systems than owner-occupied homes. However, apartment-dwellers might also be missing out on the opportunity to save electricity costs because they have limited access to solar microgeneration, and little freedom to choose their energy retailer. We found that two thirds of the homes were too cold for good health, but that many householders were not aware of the risks. Living in cold homes may indeed be common in Australia and not restricted to low-income households. If people feel that being cold in winter is normal, they may not ask for extra help in heating their home. And this is not just a matter of comfort; being cold can pose significant health risks.
Surprisingly very few frail householders in our research had been advised by their doctor to keep their home warm in winter. If we raise awareness about energy poverty among the medical profession and provide links to home energy advice services, as is done in the UK and France, this will promote preventative action by emphasising links between health and home.
On a positive note, we found that adult children could play a supportive role in checking that their parents were heating adequately and helping their parents get a fair deal with energy contracts.
However, relations with landlords proved challenging. Protection by minimum energy efficiency standards is recommended, as already being implemented in the UK and New Zealand.