27 January 2012 – Stockland has claimed the energy costs of its new homes can shave more than $2000 a year off the energy bill for an average four bedroom suburban home in Sydney’s outer western suburb of Penrith. A new three bedroom home can cost $1787 a year less to run, it says. But are these figures right?

According to leading Australian energy expert Alan Pears, there may be a few questions over methodology but in general it’s true: the energy costs of running a comfortable suburban house have fallen dramatically if the house is fitted with the latest efficient appliances ­– even a 100 cm flat screen television.

Professor Pears, adjunct professor at RMIT and director of Sustainable Solutions Pty Ltd told The Fifth Estate that the savings starting to come through on homes fitted with modern electronic appliances and fittings are “pretty impressive”.

For example, “the best 420 litre family fridge is now rated 318 kWh compared with about 1200-1400 kwh in the mid-late 1980s,” Professor Pears said.

“Efficient lighting is giving 80 per cent savings. A good solar hot water service is cutting hot water bills by 70 per cent plus. The latest Samsung 100cm TV uses 30 watts – older flat screen TVs that size use 200-450 watts.

“Even a large old CRT TV (say 76 cm) uses around 130 watts. Also the best aircons [airconditioning units] are twice as efficient as 1980s technology. So if you put everything together, it all adds up.”

The stunning turnaround in outlook is recent, professor Pears said.

“I suspect [the energy efficiency of new appliances] are part of the reason for the decline in residential electricity consumption, plus a bit of behaviour change due to the big price rises recently.”

Stockland attributes its savings in part to inbuilt energy savings appliances but also to better design which general manager corporate responsibility and sustainability Siobhan Toohill said have led to reduced need for heating and cooling.

Table showing average energy consumption costs for suburban housing.

Souce: Stockland

LocationAverage energy  (consumption) costs for a three bedroom, two bath, two garage homeAverage energy (consumption)  costs for a four bedroom, two bath, two garage home
OldNewSavingsOldNewSavings
Sydney (Penrith)$2277$490$1787$2775$578$2197
Melbourne (Mernda)$2032$753$1279$2460$886$1574
Perth (Averly)$2005$557$1448$2366$618$1748
SE Qld. (North Lakes)$1535$629$906$1744$670$1074
North Qld (Townsville$1623$696$927$1973$802$1171

According to Stockland an average four bedroom older style home with two bathrooms and a two car garage in Sydney’s Penrith costs around $2775 in energy a year to run. But a new home with the same facilities costs an average of $578 a year, showing a savings of $2197.

For a three bedroom home the claims are similar: $2277 a year for an older style three bedroom, two bath, two car garage in Penrith; $490 for a newer version.

In Melbourne, the costs for a three bedroom house are $2032 a year for an older home and $753 for a new home. In North Queensland the comparable costs are $1623 and $696.

Professor Pears said that the Australian Bureau of Statistics household expenditure survey in 2009-10 found average Australian household annual energy bills were $1690. “If we allow for say 30 per cent increase since then, the average would be around $2200. So Stockland’s ‘standard’ existing home energy bills sound reasonable.”

However, he said that Stockland’s figures probably related to consumption of energy rather than total costs including fixed energy charges.  (Stockland has since clarified that this is the case.)

“For example, if the home is connected to both gas and electricity, the annual fixed supply charges could be $200-$280 for electricity and $150 or more for gas – total $350 or more before you use any energy.

“A pretty good household would use … around $300 or more for electricity and $150-$250 for gas.”

Interestingly, however, he said that although it would be a challenge to get under $800 for total energy costs it is possible with solar power.

In a new home fitted with a solar photo voltaic system even total costs might fall within the ranges shown in the Stockland table and the figures might even be “on the low side,” Professor Pears said.

“One kW of PV will generate 1200-1500 kWh a year. Even just offsetting actual usage would save $300-$400, and with the feed-in tariffs it would save even more. And most people now install 1.5kW to 2 kW.”

Stockland’s study does not include PV systems in the homes.

Mr Pears said a counterweight to the sharp fall in energy consumption of appliances, however, had been that energy companies were pushing up fixed price charges.

“The big worry is the way the energy supply industry is cranking up the fixed charges, which you can’t avoid without getting off the grid.”

Stockland said modelling was based on “a sensible approach to operating household appliances, items including those that are either legislated or a necessity to occupy a home.”

Calculations are based on 2-3 occupants.

“Predicted thermal performance has been calculated with BERSpro version 4.2 (which was recently recognised as the first software package that fully complies with the NatHERS accreditation procedures.”

Typical construction methods have been assumed.

Stockland recently introduced an incentive to market house and land packages – a $6000 Visa Energy Card to go towards paying the household’s energy bills for up to three years.

tperinotto@thefifthestate.com.au