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Critically assessing energy hardship in Aotearoa New Zealand for strategising its eradication

Energy hardship is a condition relating to the lack of energy access and affordability, with the latter being the most relevant aspect to New Zealand. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Kiwis are struggling with the condition, causing financial and health issues. This doctoral thesis, with publications, uses transition management as the framework to guide the study towards answering the main research question: What are the best interventions needed to eradicate energy hardship in Aotearoa? The first step, (known as the strategic one, according to the transition management framework) was a systematic literature review conducted to understand the recent and relevant international literature on fuel poverty, energy poverty, and energy hardship, all terms that get used in the literature Additionally, semi-structured interviews were carried out with five energy experts in New Zealand to find patterns in their perspectives on the meaning of fuel poverty and energy hardship. For the second step, tactical, sixteen people employed by sixteen organisations in Aotearoa participated in semi-structured interviews about their current interventions against energy hardship. The themes found in their responses were compared to the energy hardship framework proposed by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) in 2021 to see if the interventions from the interviewed organisations were effective. In the operational step, a quantitative study was divided into two parts: one survey with 773 customers from a low-cost electricity retailer (OurPower) in the Waikato region and another survey with 505 respondents in a nationally representative sample. Seventeen energy hardship indicators proposed by MBIE were used and correlated to household and dwelling characteristics and energy behaviours to understand better the causes and consequences of energy hardship in Aotearoa. In the last step, reflexive, three follow-up surveys were conducted: one with organisations seeking feedback from their operations and plans, another with the nationally representative sample and the OurPower customers, which sought their opinions on survey rewards and other energy interventions they engaged in recently. All the follow-up surveys asked respondents about the role of each type of organisation (such as local government, national government, non-governmental organisations, and energy sector) in reducing energy hardship. It was found that the best practices mostly related to reducing the energy bills of households. When linking the respondents’ suggestions to the concept of energy democracy, it became clear that more democratic and decentralised decision-making in the energy sector (e.g. community-owned infrastructure) can reduce energy costs, which is a priority for households. Increasing dwelling standards for insulation and overall energy efficiency and ensuring construction companies and landlords follow them is also of essential need. For Aotearoa to achieve energy wellbeing, we need to focus more on collaboration at the community level, not only the household level.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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