The rollout of an energy efficiency education program in rural NT looks to ‘demystify’ power consumption to the indigenous population. Paul Skelton reports.
In the wide expanse of the Northern Territory, small indigenous communities are quite a common feature of the landscape. Most adhere to a traditional way of living, using their own language, and have very few ties to ‘mainstream’ Australia.
One of these ‘ties’, of course, is electricity.
Around 20 years ago, many of these remote communities shifted from having power provided as a government service to having meters installed and the people paying for power, which was being delivered across small diesel-powered mini grids. However, this perhaps wasn’t explained properly to residents who quite often suffer power outages simply by poor consumption habits.
Recently, a consortium partnership led by power, water and sewerage services provider, Power and Water Corporation, completed an extensive energy efficiency education program throughout six remote communities in East Arnhem Land.
The Manymak Energy Efficiency Project, or the Dharray Manymakkung Pawaw Ga Gapuw project as it was known locally, was designed to help local communities to improve energy and water efficiency outcomes as well as building capacity within those communities.
It was one of 20 projects across Australia to receive funding through the Federal Government’s Low Income Energy Efficiency Program (LIEEP), which was a competitive merit-based grant program established to provide grants to consortia of government, business and community organisations to trial approaches to improve the energy efficiency of low income households and enable them to better manage their energy use.
“From very early on in the project we were told that if we wanted to educate people in these communities about water and power consumption, it needed be done in the right way, by their own people and in the local language for it to mean anything,” says Power and Water Corporation remote operations manager – demand management Sam Latz.
“In these communities there are a lot of people living quite traditionally, with varying levels of education in English. They don’t necessarily subscribe to the Western ways of thinking about the world and when coupled with low levels of English literacy and numeracy, it can be quite difficult for them to understand mainstream government systems and why things have to happen in certain ways.
“Out of this grew the need to recruit and employ local people, to train them to then be able to provide education to their community. That was the cornerstone of this project.
“So we adopted a very respectful approach. We wanted to help residents to make sure they were using their money the best way they could. We weren’t telling them how to spend their money; we just wanted to make sure they were getting the best value on their power costs.”
Recently, the Manymak Energy Efficiency Project was announced as the winning entrant in the Community Engagement category at the 2016 Australian Clean Energy Council Awards.
The trial program was recognised for its achievements working with local people to educate more than 500 residents throughout East Arnhem Land on the benefits of using power and water more efficiently.
This is the first time a Northern Territory project has won a Clean Energy Council Award in this category.
“More than 80 local community members were employed as part of the project and provided with the education tools and technologies to help Yolngu households make informed choices about using power and water in their homes,” says Power and Water Corporation general manager – regions and remote Len Griffiths.
“The program engaged with up to 620 homes across East Arnhem, to provide energy efficiency advice as well as retrofits such as more efficient light bulbs and solar hot water systems.”
Launching in Milingimbi, the project also rolled out into Galiwinku, Gapuwiyak, Yirrkala, Gunyangara and Ramingining.
“Many of these communities are actually very water stressed, running off limited water sources, and it costs a lot more money to ship in water than it does diesel,” Sam says.
“For that reason, the technology we used was very important to ensuring we delivered a system that would work for local residents.”
A big part of that came in the form of the BEEBox, an energy display device that was developed specifically for this project.
In total, 250 homes across East Arnhem Land had a BEEBox installed at no charge to the householder.
The BEEbox shows a daily budget target readout and a ‘power speedo’, Sam says.
“The unique BEEbox technology was developed by the Centre for Appropriate Technology and provides real time feedback to residents about their electricity consumption,” he says.
“The BEEbox gives householders real time information about their energy use so they can make choices about budgeting and managing their own electricity consumption.”
BEEbox stands for ‘Bushlight Energy Efficiency box’. It consists of a controller installed at the meter box and the inside display unit which is typically mounted to an internal wall.
“The findings of the project showed that the households that only got education didn’t make any particular savings in power consumption,” Sam says.
“Ultimately, power consumption really depended on the appliances people could afford to buy in addition to the number of bedrooms in their home. So the best results came from installing higher efficiency appliances.”
But the biggest benefit would appear to have come from workplace training.
“The education and employment were highly valued by residents. Already there are reports that the workers who were part of this project have moved into other positions,” Sam says.
“This project gave many of them a first opportunity to phase into the work force and learn skills like , filling in time sheets and working to a plan in a supportive environment and in their own language..
“Moving forward, we would be keen to partner with other organisations that are interested in social outcomes. We can’t do this alone.”
The Manymak Energy Efficiency Project was delivered by Power and Water Corporation in association with Centre for Appropriate Technology, Charles Darwin University, NT Department of Housing and East Arnhem Regional Council.