Brisbane City Council’s sustainability agency CitySmart has announced that its trial of a new interactive app has helped low-income residents reduce their power bills by more than 18 per cent.

The Reduce Your Juice program uses an interactive mobile gaming app in conjunction with a social media community, email and SMS to effect behaviour change.

It is thought to be the first time this type of learning method has been trialled in Australia for energy-saving purposes.

App details

Funded by the Department of Industry and Science as part of the now-scrapped Low Income Energy Efficiency Program, the app (available for download on Apple and Android devices) delivers a series of mini-games that aim to help players learn about energy use in the home, the impact of their behaviour on energy consumption, and their ability to make real-life behavioural changes to become more efficient and to save money.

It comprises three games: one that requires users to turn off lights and appliances, one that seeks to boost efficient home heating and cooling, and one that focuses on efficient washing and drying practices.

The app also includes “powerhacks” – tips that help reduce energy consumption. For example, one “powerhack” states that residents can save energy by charging mobile devices while they get ready for work rather than overnight, while another suggests that showers should be restricted to the playing time of a song.

A trial of the program commenced in June and asked 1000 young-adult renters (aged between 18 and 35) on low incomes to play the app for five minutes a week over a period of six weeks.

Preliminary results have shown that not only did the app help reduce energy bills by up to 18 per cent, participants also played the app six times over what was required.

It has since won the National Energy Efficiency Awards for Best Residential Energy Efficiency Project.

Energy Efficiency Council chief executive Luke Menzel said that the program was recognised for “the behavioural change achieved in some of Queensland’s most marginalised communities” and for its efforts in connecting with a group that is “notoriously difficult to engage with”.

Mr Menzel added: “Reduce Your Juice is a cutting-edge program that shows how we can promote sustainability outcomes using the tools of the 21st century. Brisbane is leading the way on this one, and it deserves to be emulated around Australia.”

CitySmart chief executive Neil Horrocks commented: “The implications of this award are significant. It is a national tick of approval for our work and acknowledgement that we are doing something incredibly special here in Brisbane that could potentially assist many households across Australia.

“We’re very encouraged by the preliminary findings which show a substantial impact on household power usage in our target market and, while there is still some way to go before the trials and results are finalised, I think the early signs suggest we have taken the correct approach, using the latest behavioural research to create an unconventional and inventive approach to tackle a costly issue for householders in today’s digital generation.”

The full report detailing the results of the trial will be released in February 2016.

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