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Temperature extremes exacerbate energy insecurity for Indigenous communities in remote Australia

For remote Indigenous communities prepaying for electricity in Australia’s Northern Territory, temperature extremes increase reliance on the services that energy provides and the risk of disconnection of those services. Policy should focus on reducing the frequency, duration and negative impacts of disconnection, within the context of a warming climate.

Messages for policy

  • Electricity disconnections among households with prepayment meters are more frequent during temperature extremes, curtailing access to essential services.

  • Households with high electricity use experience more disconnection events, so policy responses should account for household structure and occupancy, as well as the opportunity to use rooftop solar.

  • Greater visibility and understanding of data on disconnections in these communities is needed to determine the extent of their energy insecurity.

  • Policy should seek to reduce the frequency and duration of involuntary self-disconnections in remote communities, particularly during extreme temperatures.

  • To account for the multifaceted nature of energy insecurity, policy responses need to be informed by residents, local councils, healthcare professionals and other relevant organizations.

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Fig. 1: Temperature anomalies and the impact of temperature on disconnections and electricity use.


Further Reading

  • Klerck, M. Tangentyere Council, Submission to the House of Representatives Inquiry into Homelessness in Australia (Tangentyere Council Aboriginal Corporation, 2020); This investigation of data for 570 households prepaying for electricity in Mpwartne/Alice Springs revealed that 420 homes (74%) were disconnected from electricity between April and June 2019.

  • 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). This study finds a connection between fuel poverty, electricity disconnection and the use of prepayment metering for vulnerable older people in New Zealand.

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  • Hernandez, D. Understanding ‘energy insecurity’ and why it matters to health. Soc. Sci. Med. 167, 1–10 (2016). This article describes the multidimensional nature of energy insecurity, which includes economic, physical and behavioural dimensions, and identifies the types of adverse environmental, health and social consequences that can occur.

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  • Flaherty, M., Carley, S. & Konisky, D. M. Electric utility disconnection policy and vulnerable populations. Electr. J. 33, 106859 (2020). This paper explores the differences in utility disconnection policies that have the potential to protect vulnerable populations from exposure to excessive heat or cold.

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  • Longden, T. The impact of temperature on mortality across different climate zones. Clim. Change 157, 221–242 (2019). This study shows how exposure to extreme temperatures is associated with higher death rates in the three hottest climate zones in Australia, which correspond with the Northern Territory.

    Article  Google Scholar 

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Correspondence to Michael Klerck.

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Longden, T., Quilty, S., Riley, B. et al. Temperature extremes exacerbate energy insecurity for Indigenous communities in remote Australia. Nat Energy 7, 11–12 (2022).

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