What helps households transition to clean energy?

At ZapCat our mission is to help households transition to clean energy. One of the questions we’ve been grappling with over the last few months is what tools and resources would be most useful for households.

So we decided to find out.

We conducted 8 in-depth interviews with households in Sydney, and used that to create a survey that was completed by 50 homeowners in NSW. All homeowners were over 30 years old and had an average household income over $60k. 48% of homeowners were male and 52% were female.

This is what we found.

There is strong interest in clean energy products. 

46% of respondents in our survey already had solar panels installed, which is higher than the national average of 1 in 3. 

The prevalence of other products such as EVs and hot water heat pumps was significantly lower, although many people could still see themselves getting these products in the future.

Chart showing household interest in clean energy products.

More people are motivated by energy bill savings than environmental benefits.

In our conversations with households we’ve had some people tell us they would pay more for products that are environmentally friendly. But we’ve also had people tell us they’ll only make the switch if it’s financially worth it. 

We wanted to know how common each type of motivation is. What we found was that the largest group (46%) was primarily motivated by bill savings, with another 28% motivated equally by bill savings and the environment. Only 16% of homeowners were primarily motivated by environmental benefits.

Chart showing household motivation for clean energy products.

Most people only feel moderately confident researching options and making informed decisions.

One of our hypotheses was that there would be a group of early adopters who felt very confident researching and choosing options, but that the majority of people would feel less confident.

This hypothesis turned out to be true. 24% of homeowners felt very confident, and we’ve dubbed these people the eco nerds and optimisation geeks. There was an equal proportion of men and women in the confident category, although they were more likely to be younger.

The majority of homeowners (60%) said they feel moderately confident and prefer simple, clear explanations. 16% did not feel confident at all and preferred to get advice from a trusted advisor. 

“I find a lot of the information confusing”

Homeowner
Chart showing household confidence in researching clean energy products.

Most people only have a moderate amount of time to devote to researching options, and some have very little time.


As expected, the people who felt most confident in researching options were also more likely to say they had lots of time to invest in learning about options.

Most people (56%) would only invest a moderate amount of time – just enough to be able to make a decision. 

There was also another category of homeowner that we have come across in our interviews, which we have dubbed the guilty time-poor. These people care about clean energy, but have very little time available to research it or take action. In our experience they are often busy working professionals or parents who feel guilty that they haven’t had time to take action.

It’s important to distinguish between the 20% of people who care about clean energy but don’t have time from the sceptics. The sceptics are the 8% of people who don’t invest time in clean energy because they don’t care about it, and based on their answers to other questions in our survey they actively oppose it or don’t believe that it brings any benefits.

Chart showing household time commitment to learning about clean energy products.

The initial up-front cost is the biggest barrier to transitioning.

When asked about barriers to getting clean energy products, 74% identified the initial upfront cost as being a barrier. We expected the up-front cost to be a barrier, but this was higher than we expected compared to other barriers.

This strongly supports initiatives like Rewiring Australia’s proposal for a HECS type scheme to support households to transition, and the importance of making green finance and green loans more accessible and understandable 

“Upfront costs are too high, unaffordable”

Homeowner
Chart showing household barriers to getting clean energy products.

Following price, there were a range of barriers, including not knowing which installers do quality work, scepticism of promised savings, and not knowing if the savings and government rebates make it financially worthwhile.

“Finding someone trustworthy to install the products is always an issue”

“There are so many sales reps from solar companies saying they are the best.. they all sound dodgy to be honest.”

“I need to know what is best for my home and what rebates I qualify for from the government”

Homeowners

Many people felt that accurate online calculators for costs, savings, and rebates would make it easier for them.

We want to focus our efforts on things that are most helpful to homeowners, so we asked them what would make it easier for them to get clean energy products. We can’t change the price of products, or government rebates, so we just focussed on ways we can make an impact as a social enterprise.

62% of people said that accurate online calculators for costs, savings and rebates would make it easier for them. This was the highest rated resource for all types of people, 

Following this 46% said that an independent advisor would be useful and 38% that informative articles and videos would be useful.

Chart showing things that would make it easier for households to get clean energy products.

Very few people felt that a community meeting would make it easier for them.

One of our hypotheses was that there are a group of homeowners who would not be interested in attending grassroots community meetings, even though many grassroots groups run great meetings in their community which are well-attended.

This hypothesis was confirmed – only 12% of people felt that a community meeting would be helpful. This suggests there is a large group of homeowners who need to be reached using other methods, such as calculators and online advice.

How does this change our priorities?

This research has confirmed many parts of our strategy, while showing that we need to make some adjustments. The only way to accelerate the transition to clean energy is to meet people where they are, not where we would like them to be. 

Based on these results we are going to:

  • Double down on our efforts in reducing barriers to taking action. We’ll expand our range of instant cost, savings and rebates calculators to more products and locations and ensure seamless booking with quality local installers.
  • Take a more holistic approach to electrification. We’ll create tools to help households understand the benefits & cost savings of electrifying everything for their homes and build their own customised transition plans.
  • Continue offering our free virtual consultations where people can speak to an advisor, and allowing people to book online to make it more convenient.
  • Work with councils and grassroots community groups to provide digital tools they can use to reach people that are less likely to attend their meetings.
  • Produce a range of simple, easy to understand articles and videos.
  • Run outreach campaigns online, so that we can reach the large number of people who are unlikely to attend community events or proactively research options.
  • Partner with finance providers who can help people address the high upfront costs associated with transitioning.