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Gill Owen essay prize launched, linking energy efficiency and social justice

The Guardian/28 August 2017

A new essay prize has been set up in the name of Dr Gill Owen, the energy efficiency expert and social equity campaigner who died last year.

Supported by the Guardian Australia and University of Technology Sydney’s Institute of Sustainable Futures, the essay prize will address the future of energy efficiency and social justice. The winning essay will receive $3,000, while two runner up essays will each be awarded $1,000.

In a statement Prof Stuart White, director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures said: “Gill made an important contribution to the empowerment of the disadvantaged, and highlighted the often overlooked importance of improving energy efficiency. This essay prize is about recognising Gill, but equally it provides an opportunity to build on her legacy.

“Social equity and energy efficiency are important issues in their own right, but they are also essential elements in a successful transition to a sustainable and fair energy system.

Throughout her career Owen, who worked in Australia and the UK, helped bring the voice of the consumer and the disadvantaged to the energy policy debate.

As a researcher and consultant, she advised government and regulators on energy efficiency, fuel poverty, economic regulation and sustainability in energy and water, smart meters, distributed energy and demand response.

In the UK, she was the founding chief officer of National Energy Action, and went on to become the deputy chair of the UK government’s Fuel Poverty Advisory Group. She worked closely with environmental think tank Sustainability First for 15 years, and she was also on the board of UK’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) and Water Services Regulation Authority (Ofwat).

Former deputy Victorian premier Prof John Thwaites worked with Owen when he was minister for environment and climate change. He says the introduction of the Victorian energy efficiency target in 2007 was due in part to advice from Owen and David Green, her husband and the former CEO of the Australian Clean Energy Council, based on the UK experience of energy efficiency programs for households.

When Owen moved to Australia, she took up a senior role at Monash University’s Sustainable Development Institute alongside Thwaites, working on projects looking at the impact of electricity and energy on low income households. “I always found Gill to be a really wise counsellor on energy efficiency and the impact of the electricity prices on households,” said Thwaites.

He said Owen, who died in August 2016, had a far reaching impact on energy policy in Australia and the UK. “Her great achievement was over many years to highlight the importance of energy affordability and energy efficiency for low income households and to use robust research to back energy efficiency programs that targeted low income households.”

Owen was also a senior member of the Consumer Challenge panel within the Australian Energy Regulator, set up by former prime minister Julia Gillard to tackle the cost of power networks in Australia.

Uniting Communities energy advocate Mark Henley worked with Owen on the panel.“[The business people] were arguing that we need to invest more here and more there and it will be the consumers who will be better in the future. Gill would say ‘Yes it’s always been ‘jam tomorrow’ for consumers. Tomorrow never comes but it’s always ‘jam tomorrow’.”

Henley said: “There was a twinkle in her eye when she said it but it did capture the way so many businesses behaved, of promising the world but it’s in the future.”

The required themes for the essay are social equity and energy efficiency. Owen encouraged emerging voices to take part in the discussion around social equity and energy efficiency. In that spirit the prize is open to authors aged 35 and younger. It will be open for entries until 10 November 2017.

The essays should be between 700 and 1,500 words long. Subject to editorial guidelines, the Guardian Australia will publish the winning essay once the awards are announced. Entries can be submitted through the UTS Institute of Sustainable Futures website.

The Gill Owen essay prize is also supported by AGL, Uniting Communities and the Association for Environmental and Energy Equity.


News Source: The Guardian

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