July 2019 update
The EnergyMate pilot has been now running for two months, so it’s a good time to share some initial observations.
EnergyMate is a free in-home energy coaching service for families at highest risk of energy hardship, powered by electricity retailers, lines companies, the Government, and community organisations.
EnergyMate coaches work with whānau to help cut bills and increase warmth by getting on the best electricity plan, implementing simple tips to become more energy efficient and heat their home in the cheapest way possible, and connecting with other services like budgeting support.
To date the pilot has received 103 of 150 referrals, across Porirua (39), Rotorua (29), and South Auckland (35), with most referrals coming from our community budgeting partners (who employ the EnergyMate coaches) or from the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Homes Initiative.
The makeup of households referred into EnergyMate reflects New Zealand’s wider poverty challenge, with Māori and Pasifika families being overrepresented.
Positive feedback from families visited suggests EnergyMate is a valuable service for whānau at risk of energy hardship, helping to improve energy literacy, getting them on the best power plan, and connecting them with other services like budgeting support.
We’ve been particularly pleased with the collaboration between lines companies, retailers, EECA, and community budgeting providers in designing the programme and in helping drive EnergyMate forward.
Observations from initial visits include:
The three-person phone call between the family, EnergyMate coach, and electricity retailer is proving to be particularly effective, with retailers often able to offer tailored payment terms or debt management plans that work for the family.
Sub-standard housing and heating options present a key challenge, even in Housing New Zealand houses, and makes it difficult for some families to heat their homes to the healthy minimum temperature of 18°C.
Families are keen to be energy efficient but often don’t know what to do to achieve that.
Families are very receptive to cheap energy efficiency tips to save money even if underlying issues around insulation and heating aren’t resolved. Free LED lightbulbs have been very well received.
More often than not the challenges families face aren’t limited to electricity. This underlines the importance of EnergyMate coaches having wider financial and budgeting skills.
We were initially planning to help families move onto the best plan across all retailers, but have found many families in debt to their power company, restricting their ability to switch providers.
Even where families are already on the best plan for them, often they can benefit from different payment options like smoothing payments across the year.
A full evaluation will take place upon pilot completion. Many of these observations are reflected in the following four case studies.
South Auckland family of six in a Housing New Zealand home
When Manukau Urban Māori Authority visited this family of six they found the family unable to pay their power bill, having an income of only $300 per week after housing costs. A wall-mounted electric plug-in heater in the living room was their sole heat source. Shower flow of 18 litres a minute (double the recommended rate) meant the family kept running out of hot water. With gas-powered hot water and cooking, the family also pays a second daily fixed charge, further straining their budget.
With the EnergyMate coach, the electricity retailer agreed to work with the family and WINZ to resolve the outstanding bill and confirmed the family wouldn’t be disconnected. MUMA provided a food parcel and organised for budgeting services to visit the family. Being stretched financially, EnergyMate’s energy efficiency advice, and the LED light bulbs, were well received by the family.
South Auckland single mum and four kids in a Housing New Zealand home
When Manukau Urban Māori Authority visited this family, two kids were sick at home with a Strep A throat infection, a precursor to rheumatic fever. A wall mounted electric heater in the living room was the main heat source, with one small fan heater shared between bedrooms. When the coach visited just before midday the room temperature was at 12°C (the recommended temperature being 18-22°C). The family relied on whānau to pay missed bills.
With the EnergyMate coach, the retailer waived some fees and reduced outstanding debt. The coach shared advice on keeping warm using their existing heating, with a particular focus on keeping healthy. Having witnessed the family’s heating issues and draughty windows around the house, the coach referred the family to the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Homes Initiative.
Porirua sole-occupant in a Housing New Zealand home
Porirua Whānau Centre visited this home and found the hot water cylinder and pipes unwrapped, along with a dripping hot water tap. A heat pump was installed but the tenant was unsure how to use it, setting it at 31°C to heat the room as quickly as possible.
With the EnergyMate coach, the electricity plan was switched to low fixed charge, saving around $14 a month. Advice on heat pump cleaning and correct usage was taken on board, along with advice on ventilating the home to reduce condensation. Following conversations with Housing New Zealand, the dripping tap was fixed and the hot water cylinder and pipes wrapped. Porirua Whānau Centre brought the tenant into their budgeting service, offering them additional help.
Rotorua solo mum in a private rental
Family First Rotorua’s EnergyMate coach Kelly found this family’s home uninsulated. The household’s power account was held by the landlord, not the family, so they had no authority over their plan. With Kelly’s help they gained authority on the account, switched their plan to the low fixed charge, and set up smooth pay to avoid higher winter bills. They were connected into the Healthy Homes Initiative for help with insulation.