RMIT research provides compelling evidence of the cooling crisis facing Australian households

The recent release of an RMIT University report, which identifies heatwaves and extreme heat as significant risks to household health, offers compelling evidence which should force politicians to address this ‘national disgrace’ by helping people to access energy-efficient products around the home.

Seeley International Executive Chairman, Mr Frank Seeley AM FAICD, says the most alarming aspect of the report is confirmation that elderly Australians and other vulnerable Australians are too scared to switch on air conditioners or fans in heatwaves because of spiralling electricity costs, while families are forced to go without groceries or school books so they can afford to stay cool.

“In response to this crisis we see calls to establish dedicated free "heat refuges" in public spaces and extended library hours in sweltering conditions, which ignores the fact that some of the community’s most vulnerable people – the elderly and very young – will get heat stressed in sweltering conditions trying to reach these ‘safe’ havens,” Mr Seeley said.

“We have also seen calls for authorities to excuse the elderly and unwell from public alerts that try to conserve electricity use in extreme heat to avoid shortages and blackouts, when we know they are not using their cooling anyway. As we head into another hot summer our leaders continue to tinker at the edges of what is a very broken energy system to keep pressure off the energy grid – and the frail, elderly, and those suffering chronic health conditions made worse by extreme heat, continue to be in danger,” he said.

“Here we are, living in modern Australia, with a number of energy-efficient air conditioners readily available, and yet we have 78 percent of respondents to this RMIT research who do not have any cooling at all, and of those that do, a staggering 89 percent are reluctant to use it – findings which are nothing short of a national disgrace.”

Mr Seeley recently called for a national rebate scheme to encourage people to invest in energy efficient air conditioners and to replace inefficient cooling options that bring the power grid to breaking point on extreme weather days.

“What the RMIT report shows is that a rebate scheme should target those most at risk as a first priority. The current system, which sees funds made available to try and partially offset high energy bills, isn’t working. We need to see funding that allows households to invest in more energy efficient cooling which not only protects them on extreme days, but reduces the demand on the system too,” Mr Seeley said.

“Heatwaves kill more people in Australia than all other natural hazards combined, and on the back of Australian households facing longer and hotter heatwaves, the shortcomings in Australia’s approach to housing and energy efficiency must be addressed because power price increases are showing no signs of slowing,” he said.

“Right across the nation, our leaders must support investment in energy-efficient appliances to allow our most vulnerable to stay cool even on the hottest days, and reduce the strain on the national energy grid by encouraging investment in premium evaporative air conditioners, some of which are up to 90% cheaper to run than ducted reverse cycle air conditioning, while still offering similar cooling relief.”

The RMIT research report involved research with 70 health and social services sector professionals, and from 36 potentially heat vulnerable households living in Cairns, Dubbo and Melbourne. The report follows a recent Canstar Blue survey which found that 62%* of Australians cut their air conditioning usage to save money, with most having reverse cycle air conditioning rather than energy efficient evaporative air conditioning.

A copy of the RMIT research report can be downloaded from  cur.org.au/project/heatwaves-homes-health/

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