Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Energy insecurity during temperature extremes in remote Australia


Indigenous communities in remote Australia face dangerous temperature extremes. These extremes are associated with increased risk of mortality and ill health. For many households, temperature extremes increase both their reliance on those services that energy provides, and the risk of those services being disconnected. Poor quality housing, low incomes, poor health and energy insecurity associated with prepayment all exacerbate the risk of temperature-related harm. Here we use daily smart meter data for 3,300 households and regression analysis to assess the relationship between temperature, electricity use and disconnection in 28 remote communities. We find that nearly all households (91%) experienced a disconnection from electricity during the 2018–2019 financial year. Almost three quarters of households (74%) were disconnected more than ten times. Households with high electricity use located in the central climate zones had a one in three chance of a same-day disconnection on very hot or very cold days. A broad suite of interrelated policy responses is required to reduce the frequency, duration and negative effects of disconnection from electricity for remote-living Indigenous residents.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Get just this article for as long as you need it


Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: NT compared with other Australian regions.
Fig. 2: Timeline of the complex history of Indigenous policy in Australia.
Fig. 3: Daily electricity use by temperature and month.
Fig. 4: Probability of a same-day disconnection by temperature, day and month.

Data availability

The data used in this paper are not freely available and were sourced from the data custodians. The electricity data were sourced from Power and Water Corporation ( and the Australian BOM ( We note that access to data will be a key part of local communities helping to develop appropriate policy responses to the challenges outlined in this paper. The Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap calls for the greater sharing of, and access to, data and information at a regional level noting that “disaggregated data and information is most useful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organizations and communities to obtain a comprehensive picture of what is happening in their communities and to support decision-making”60.

Code availability

The code used to estimate the regressions (in Stata MP 16.1) and create the graphics (in R v.4.1.1) is available on request. The ‘xtpcse’ and ‘xtprobit’ commands in Stata MP 16.1 were used for the regressions. The regression estimates were graphed using the ‘ggplot’ command in R. Statistical tests for normality and autocorrelation were performed in Stata MP 16.1 using the ‘xtsktest’ and ‘xtserial’.


  1. Bouzarovski, S. & Petrova, S. A global perspective on domestic energy deprivation: overcoming the energy poverty-fuel poverty binary. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 10, 31–40 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Day, R., Walker, G. & Simcock, N. Conceptualising energy use and energy poverty using a capabilities framework. Energy Policy 93, 255–264 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Standen, J. C. et al. Prioritising housing maintenance to improve health in indigenous communities in NSW over 20 years. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 17, 5946 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bednar, D. J. & Reames, T. G. Recognition of and response to energy poverty in the United States. Nat. Energy 5, 432–439 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Hernández, D. Understanding ‘energy insecurity’ and why it matters to health. Soc. Sci. Med. 167, 1–10 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Walker, G. & Day, R. Fuel poverty as injustice: Integrating distribution, recognition and procedure in the struggle for affordable warmth. Energy Policy 49, 69–75 (2012).

  7. Dobbins, A., Fuso Nerini, F., Deane, P. & Pye, S. Strengthening the EU response to energy poverty. Nat. Energy 4, 2–5 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Carley, S. & Konisky, D. M. The justice and equity implications of the clean energy transition. Nat. Energy 5, 569–577 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Sovacool, B. K. & Dworkin, M. H. Energy justice: conceptual insights and practical applications. Appl. Energy 142, 435–444 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Memmott, T., Carley, S., Graff, M. & Konisky, D. M. Sociodemographic disparities in energy insecurity among low-income households before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nat. Energy (2021).

  11. Anderson, W., White, V. & Finney, A. Coping with low incomes and cold homes. Energy Policy 49, 40–52 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Bouzarovski, S., Petrova, S. & Sarlamanov, R. Energy poverty policies in the EU: a critical perspective. Energy Policy 49, 76–82 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Snell, C., Bevan, M. & Thomson, H. Justice, fuel poverty and disabled people in England. Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 10, 123–132 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Frank, D. A. et al. Heat or eat: the low income home energy assistance program and nutritional and health risks among children less than 3 years of age. Pediatrics 118, e1293–e1302 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Cook, J. T. et al. A brief indicator of household energy security: associations with food security, child health, and child development in US infants and toddlers. Pediatrics 122, e867-75 (2008).

  16. Nord, M. & Kantor, L. S. Seasonal variation in food insecurity is associated with heating and cooling costs among low-income elderly Americans. J. Nutr. 136, 2939–2944 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Reames, T. G. Targeting energy justice: exploring spatial, racial/ethnic and socioeconomic disparities in urban residential heating energy efficiency. Energy Policy 97, 549–558 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Alola, A. A. et al. Cooling and heating degree days in the US: the role of macroeconomic variables and its impact on environmental sustainability. Sci. Total Environ. 695, 133832 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Shin, M. & Do, S. L. Prediction of cooling energy use in buildings using an enthalpy-based cooling degree days method in a hot and humid climate. Energy Build. 110, 57–70 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. De Rosa, M., Bianco, V., Scarpa, F. & Tagliafico, L. A. Heating and cooling building energy demand evaluation; a simplified model and a modified degree days approach. Appl. Energy 128, 217–229 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. O’Sullivan, K. C., Howden-Chapman, P. L. & Fougere, G. Making the connection: the relationship between fuel poverty, electricity disconnection, and prepayment metering. Energy Policy 39, 733–741 (2011).

  22. Healy, J. D. Excess winter mortality in Europe: a cross country analysis identifying key risk factors. J. Epidemiol. Commun. Health 57, 784–789 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Robinson, C., Lindley, S. & Bouzarovski, S. The spatially varying components of vulnerability to energy poverty. Ann. Am. Assoc. Geogr. 109, 1188–1207 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  24. O’Sullivan, K. C., Stanley, J., Fougere, G. & Howden-Chapman, P. Heating practices and self-disconnection among electricity prepayment meter consumers in New Zealand: a follow-up survey. Util. Policy 41, 139–147 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Jessel, S., Sawyer, S. & Hernández, D. Energy, poverty, and health in climate change: a comprehensive review of an emerging literature. Front. Public Health (2019).

  26. Flaherty, M., Carley, S. & Konisky, D. M. Electric utility disconnection policy and vulnerable populations. Electr. J. 33, 106859 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Dobbins, A., Pye, S., De Miglio, R. & Brajkovic, J. Measures to Protect Vulnerable Consumers in the Energy Sector: An Assessment of Disconnection Safeguards, Social Tariffs and Financial Transfers Vol. 8 (Insight-E, 2016).

  28. Regulation—unregulated networks. Power and Water Corporation (2021).

  29. Climate Change in the Northern Territory – State of the Science and Climate Change Impacts (NESP ESCC Hub, 2020).

  30. Kovats, R. S. & Hajat, S. Heat stress and public health: a critical review. Annu. Rev. Public Health 29, 41–55 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Longden, T. The impact of temperature on mortality across different climate zones. Climatic Change 157, 221–242 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Patz, J. A., Campbell-Lendrum, D., Holloway, T. & Foley, J. A. Impact of regional climate change on human health. Nature 438, 310–317 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. Mora, C. et al. Global risk of deadly heat. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 501–506 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Nussbaum, M. C. & Sen, A. The Quality of Life (Oxford Univ. Press, 2004).

  35. Sen, A. Inequality Reexamined (Oxford Univ. Press, 1992).

  36. Nussbaum, M. C. Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (Harvard Univ. Press, 2011).

  37. Zahurul, S. et al. Future strategic plan analysis for integrating distributed renewable generation to smart grid through wireless sensor network: Malaysia prospect. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 53, 978–992 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Fraser, N. Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the ‘Postsocialist’ Condition (Routledge, 1997).

  39. Schlosberg, D. Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements and Nature (Oxford Univ. Press, 2007).

  40. Council of Australian Governments National Indigenous Reform Agreement (Closing the Gap) (CAG, 2009).

  41. Department of Families Community Services and Indigenous Affairs National Indigenous Housing Guide: Improving the Living Environment for Safety, Health and Sustainability 3rd edn (DSS, Australian Government, 2012).

  42. National Energy Retail Law (South Australia) Act 2011 (Government of South Australia, 2011);

  43. Australian Energy Market Commission National Energy Retail Rules Version 27 (AEMC, 2021).

  44. Prepayment Meter System Code: Draft Final Decision (Essential Services Commission of South Australia, 2005);

  45. Prepayment Meters: Discussion Paper (Energy and Water Ombudsman NSW, 2014).

  46. McKenzie, M. Pre-Payment Meters and Energy Efficiency in Indigenous Households (Centre for Appropriate Technology, 2013);

  47. Electricity Retail Supply Code Review Issues Paper (Utilities Commission of the Northern Territory, 2021);

  48. Thomson, M. Review of the Retail Supply Code—further information. Utilities Commission of the Northern Territory (2019).

  49. Vyas, D. Topping-up or Dropping-Out: Self-Disconnection Among Prepayment Meter Users (Citizens Advice Bureau, 2014);

  50. O’Sullivan, K. C., Howden-Chapman, P. L., Fougere, G. M., Hales, S. & Stanley, J. Empowered? Examining self-disconnection in a postal survey of electricity prepayment meter consumers in New Zealand. Energy Policy 52, 277–287 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Wagner, O. & Wiegand, J. Prepayment metering: household experiences in Germany. Renew. Sustain. Energy Rev. 98, 407–414 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Brutscher, P.-B. Self-Disconnection Among Pre-Payment CustomersA Behavioural Analysis (Univ. Cambridge, 2012);

  53. Submission 165.2 to the Inquiry into Homelessness in Australia (Tangentyere Council, 2021);

  54. Households in the Dark II: Mapping Electricity Disconnections in South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and South East Queensland (St Vincent de Paul Society & Alviss Consulting, 2019);

  55. Retail Performance Data Snapshot 2018−19 (AER, 2019);

  56. Empowering Remote Communities (Queensland Council of Social Service, 2014).

  57. Prepayment Power Meters (Power and Water Corporation, 2021);

  58. Walker, G., Simcock, N. & Day, R. Necessary energy uses and a minimum standard of living in the United Kingdom: energy justice or escalating expectations? Energy Res. Soc. Sci. 18, 129–138 (2016).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Kingsley, J., Townsend, M., Henderson-Wilson, C. & Bolam, B. Developing an exploratory framework linking australian aboriginal peoples’ connection to country and concepts of wellbeing. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 10, 678–698 (2013).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Priority Reforms. Closing the Gap (Australian Government, 2021);

  61. Rocha, M., Baddeley, M., Pollitt, M. & Weeks, M. Addressing self-disconnection among prepayment energy consumers: a behavioural approach. Energy Econ. 81, 273–286 (2019).

  62. NTCOSS Cost of Living Report—Issue 26 (NTCOSS, 2019).

  63. Memmott, P. et al. NATSISS Crowding Data: What Does it Assume and How Can We Challenge the Orthodoxy? (Australian National Univ., 2019);

  64. Memmott, P., Long, S. & Thomson, L. Mobility of Aboriginal People in Rural and Remote Australia Research and Policy Bulletin (AHURI, 2006);

  65. Memmott, P., Long, S., Bell, M., Taylor, J. & Brown, D. Between Places: Indigenous Mobility in Remote and Rural Australia (The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute, 2004).

  66. Public Utility Commission (PUC) Rules Ch. 25 (Public Utility Commission of Texas, 2021);

  67. Victorian Energy Market Report 2019–20 (Essential Services Commission, 2020).

  68. National Energy Retail Rules—Current (AEMC, 2021).

  69. Hunt, J., Riley, B., O’Neill, L. & Maynard, G. Transition to renewable energy and indigenous people in Northern Australia: enhancing or inhibiting capabilities? J. Hum. Dev. Capab. (2021).

  70. Coghlan, D. & Brydon-Miller, M. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Action Research (Sage, 2014).

  71. Adams, T. E., Ellis, C. & Jones, S. H. in The International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods (ed. Matthes, J.) (2017).

  72. Climate maps: temperature archive—twelve-monthly highest maximum temperature for Australia. Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (2019).

  73. Australian climate zones. Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (2005).

  74. Climate maps: temperature archive—twelve-monthly lowest minimum temperature for Australia. Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (2019).

  75. Climate maps: temperature archive—maximum temperature anomaly. Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology (2021).

Download references


We acknowledge and thank the Power and Water Corporation for providing the electricity data. We acknowledge the Australian BOM and thank them for providing temperature data and maps. A range of people provided useful advice that helped to shape this paper and they include E. Ings and J. Hulcombe. We thank the Board and staff of Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) and the Board and staff of Julalikari Council Aboriginal Corporation in Tennant Creek. Our research methodology was informed by the principles underpinning ethical Australian Indigenous research outlined in the AIATSIS Code of Ethics for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Research (AIATSIS 2020): Indigenous self-determination, Indigenous leadership, impact and value, sustainability and accountability. We acknowledge and thank colleagues at the Australian National University. T.L., B.R. and L.V.W. thank their colleagues from the ANU Grand Challenge Zero-Carbon Energy for the Asia-Pacific and the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



All authors contributed to the conceptualization of the research. We especially note the contributions of N.F.J. and V.N.D. in shaping our understanding of the key issues faced by Indigenous communities in the NT. S.Q. acquired the key data, and T.L performed the analysis. T.L., S.Q., B.R., L.V.W. and M.K. wrote the initial draft of the manuscript, and all authors contributed to the review and revision. N.F.J. and V.N.D. were engaged in discussions on key issues with the other members of the authorship team and their selected quotes are provided to highlight those themes and the issues that they raised as being the most important (refer to autoethnographic data section for more information).

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael Klerck.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Energy thanks Kimberley O’Sullivan, Sangeetha Chandrashekeran and Stefan Bouzarovski for their contribution to the peer review of this work

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–14.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Longden, T., Quilty, S., Riley, B. et al. Energy insecurity during temperature extremes in remote Australia. Nat Energy 7, 43–54 (2022).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing