Despite energy disconnections becoming increasingly common in many parts of the country, the average Australian household still has much to learn when it comes to saving energy and keeping the cost of their electricity bills down.
Electricity is the number one household expenditure item voters are concerned about – ahead of private health costs, fuel, mortgages and groceries, according to a survey commissioned by the Energy Efficiency Council, Property Council of Australia and Australian Council of Social Services.
The rate of electricity disconnections remains high in a number of states according to statistics from the Australian Energy Regulator. In South Australia, the number of residential electricity customer disconnections has been rising steadily since 2013-14, from 10148 to 10902 disconnections in 2016-17. In NSW, the numbers have dropped marginally in the same period from 32,940 to 27,380 disconnections in 2016-17.
Although soaring prices and other macro factors are largely responsible for the increase in energy bill stress, many consumers are yet to realise how much money they can save on their electricity bills by making more informed decisions and simple behavioural adjustments.
Fortunately, digitisation is creating many new opportunities for educating consumers on saving energy and relieving electricity bill stress.
Forward-thinking governments are taking advantage of these new channels. For example, the NSW government has launched the “Charge Up Your Energy Savings” online portal, which provides individuals and businesses with access to tools and educational materials aimed at helping consumers become more energy-savvy.
This includes a link to the Energy Rating Calculator, which allows users to estimate how much energy each of their appliances is using. The calculator has been developed as part of the cross jurisdictional Equipment Energy Efficiency (E3) program.
Gamification also shows promise as an innovative way to change behaviour and educate consumers on how to conserve energy.
In Queensland, CitySmart has collaborated with university partners to develop a digital game called Reduce Your Juice.
- See our article Brisbane’s CitySmart is scaling up
Critically, the game teaches players that many energy-saving measures only require small changes in behaviour that don’t adversely impact their lives, such as closing doors when entering or leaving a room.
The game uses many of the triggers people have been exposed to from early childhood, such as competition, scoreboard and interactions with others. Certain energy-saving behaviour changes have to take place before players can progress to the next level.
According to CitySmart chief executive Neil Horrocks, the game was a success, with 78 per cent of people who started the game completing it. On average, it helped each player save $219 for the year on energy.
There is also a push to give consumers better access to their information from utilities so that they can compare offers, access cheaper products and switch service providers with ease.
The federal government announced in November 2017 that it would introduce new consumer data rights legislation to allow individuals to access data relating to banking, energy, phone and internet usage.
Under the new laws, energy providers will be required to provide “standard, comparable, easy-to-read digital information that third parties can readily access”, assistant minister for cities and digital transformation Angus Taylor stated when announcing the legislation.
The Commonwealth already provides a comparison tool though the Energy Made Easy portal that allows consumers to compare their energy plans.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is using an app to send out “mini-surveys” to citizens about their energy use that will be used to increase energy efficiency, and subsequently help cut power bills.
The CSIRO Energise app will collect data from the “citizen scientists” that download the app. Intended as a two-way channel, in return users will receive tips for energy efficiency in the home.
A similar tool has been developed in Victoria. Through the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning’s Victorian Energy Saver online platform, consumers can compare electricity, gas and solar rates against other offers.
Australian Capital Territory
In the Australian Capital Territory, the government has partnered with ActewAGL to lower energy bills in the public housing sector. The program involves replacing 200 inefficient heaters in public houses with better systems, including electric reverse-cycle air conditioners.
The initiative builds on the ACT’s existing Energy Efficiency Improvement Scheme (EEIS), which requires electricity retailers to provide energy saving equipment to households and businesses.
More traditional methods for educating consumers on energy saving are still common.
In Tasmania, Home Energy Audit Toolkits (HEATs) can be borrowed by Hobart residents at no charge from the Hobart Council Centre. The kits provide practical and inexpensive suggestions to help reduce energy use, and tools to help identify where money is being spent.