Smart Cooling in the Tropics: Low Income Energy Efficiency Program

 Smart Cooling in the Tropics: Low Income Energy Efficiency Program


Glenn Evans, Maxine Atkinson and Jessica Steinborner

Organisation of Presenter:

Environment Centre Northern Territory, Australia


In the tropical climate of Northern Australia, heat and humidity are the largest contributing factors to thermal discomfort, making space cooling a major component of electricity consumption. Smart Cooling in the Tropics, delivered by the Environment Centre NT through its popular sustainable living program Cool Mob, conducted a large trial to identify the successful elements for improving the dual outcomes of thermal comfort and energy efficiency. The project aimed to trial different approaches targeted at low income households to enable them to better manage their energy use and overcome the most common barriers to energy efficiency identified.
A case-management approach to engagement was selected to overcome the most likely barriers to energy reduction experienced by our participants including: cost, knowledge, and motivation. Each household was engaged as a unique case study. This included the provision of personalised home energy assessments, individual energy reports, follow-up and monitoring by skilled project staff. Cost subsidies and equipment purchase and installation were utilised by the project as tools for engagement and motivation.
82% of participants reported improvement in thermal comfort with no increase in electricity consumption. Additional benefits, such as improvements in health, reduced heat stress, and a greater sense of environmental responsibility all rated highly. Education was a cornerstone for improving participants’ energy efficiency and energy literacy. Knowledge of how small changes in behaviour lead to energy savings without sacrificing comfort was critical to success. The report outlines proven approaches to engage and support low income households, particularly urban Indigenous, refugees, the elderly, and those living with chronic health conditions or disabilities.
Personal engagement was a strong factor of success in making meaningful change for these communities. The trial provides a unique evidence base for ongoing research, policy, and program development for tropical Australia. The data gathered and the knowledge gained about comfortable and affordable housing for the tropics is a major outcome for the project. The outcomes of this project provide an opportunity to inform national and local energy policy, and influence the development and modification of building codes and other rating systems to make them appropriate for Australia’s northern tropical environment.