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Saving energy at home in the time of novel coronavirus

by Murray Hogarth
posted on Monday, April 20th, 2020

The rapid global spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, means most of us are spending a lot more time at home. So there’s never been a better time to get your household electricity under control and on to a better budget trajectory.

ON MY WATTS: MURRAY HOGARTH

 
I frequently wish it were otherwise, but one of the truths learned from over a decade in the energy management technology space is this: at least in normal times, not that many people want to spend significant amounts of their limited time on trying to save $1 a day off their electricity bills.
 
Of course most people would love to cut their electricity bills by nearly $100 a quarter, which $1 a day would deliver, but daily diligence on achieving this outcome tends to go missing in action for many of us.
 
Even those who start off enthusiastically, including equipping themselves with home energy management technologies, tend to plateau then drop off as the many distractions of our contemporary lifestyles draw attention elsewhere.
 
At least this has been true up until now. But will it remain so with our daily lives being reshaped by our new virus-induced reality? Might things change with a lot more people being at home most of the time, and using more energy there as a result?
 
I know this is every-cloud-has-a-silver-lining thinking, but there may never be a better time than the next few months to whip your home energy into shape, saving money and cutting carbon pollution at the same time.
 
There are simple steps that householders can take, without any investment being required, and genuine savings are available. For many homes, shaving 20 percent or more off regular electricity consumption is easily achievable with no loss of quality of life.
 
For those who want to be more ambitious about using data to advantage themselves as energy consumers, Wattwatchers has a model for ‘data-led energy empowerment’.
 

 

GETTING STARTED ON YOUR OWN DATA-DRIVEN ENERGY TRANSITION

 
You can get started with some simple but effective actions:
 

Home energy stocktake

 
Spend an hour or two creating a list of every electrical appliance in your home. It’s not unusual for Australian homes to have 50-100 such appliances, not even counting lights. If you do count the light fittings, make a note of any traditional-style halogen bulbs, because they use a lot of power and also generate heat, which can drive up electricity consumption and costs for cooling as well. Swapping them out for LED replacements can be as simple as a bulb switch, and in some jurisdictions is targeted by government-subsidised programs. Your stocktake helps you to understand the full spread of the energy ‘actors’ in your home, with the most important likely to be larger loads such as electric hot water, air-conditioning units and pool pumps. Record any gas appliances as well.
 

Slim down your baseline

 
Armed with your initial stocktake report, refine the list to identify any appliances or electrical circuits that are ‘always on’. Even fairly low-consuming appliances can add up to a lot if they are running 24/7/365, and are likely to more important than higher-draw, shorter-term loads like toasters and vacuum cleaners. Anything you can do to trim your home’s full-time operational baseline will pay dividends in terms of lower bills. Some appliances, such as refrigerators, have to stay on. But you never know what you’ll uncover, and can turn off, if you get a bit forensic (one of my favourites is a friend who found a heated towel rack, long forgotten after its power socket was plastered over in a renovation, which may have been invisibly wasting electrons for a decade or more).
 

Sanity check your bill

 
Take a bit of time out to read your power bill, or even a year’s worth of them, to test the question: does it feel right? It can be hard to analyse if all you’ve got is a utility bill, lacking more granular data, but it’s worthwhile familiarising yourself with whatever you can glean from it. In one case, a new Wattwatchers customer – who’d spent years being troubled by his family’s inexplicably high power bills – discovered that their electric hot water system had been incorrectly wired to their general use meter, rather than the off-peak, concessional tariff one. This was an expensive mistake, apparently made by an electrician several years beforehand.
 

Compare your tariff

 
At least once a year it pays to check that you are on a best-in-market tariff from your retailer, ideally using a free and independent site such as the NSW Government’s Energy Switch service, for which Wattwatchers partner company Accurassi provides the software engine room.  
 

Optimise your solar

 
It’s become the stuff of home energy folklore that people invest in rooftop solar systems, only to see their power bill stay stubbornly high, or even go up. Part of it is psychological, with people interpreting solar as ‘free energy from the sun’, forgetting that in the absence of storage, and certainly at night, they are still drawing power from the costly grid as well. A monitoring app from the inverter, or an independent source like a Wattwatchers device, will definitely help you to track your solar production curve and match time-of-use to maximise in-home consumption and minimise imports from the grid (remember your utility billing meter only sees solar exported to the grid, so doesn’t tell you what you are self-consuming). In 2017, Wattwatchers CEO Gavin Dietz more than halved his monthly power bills, from over $450 a month to under $200 on average, by optimising his home solar.
 

DO YOU WANT TO TAKE HOME ENERGY MANAGEMENT TO A NEW LEVEL FOR YOUR HOUSEHOLD?

While there’s a lot you can do to get started on your personal energy transition without any additional spending being required, a modest investment in Wattwatchers monitoring equipment can empower you as a consumer.
 
During 2020 Wattwatchers is stepping up deployments to homes, small businesses and schools under our My Energy Marketplace (MEM) project, which over three years is installing 5000 homes and small businesses, plus 250 schools, with smart energy management solution packages subsidised by grant funding from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).
 

Quick Q&A

Who is this for?

The MEM solution packages are recommended for non-solar homes with electricity bills >$250 a month ($750 a quarter); homes with rooftop solar and bills >$150 a month ($450 a quarter); small businesses consuming <100MWh of electricity per annum; and schools of all sizes.

What will participants get?

Energy management technology packages, installed by a qualified professional electrician, with access to software apps and data + device communications for 3 years. 

Find out more about the MEM and how to get involved

ARENA media announcement

ARENA webpage

Wattwatchers media announcement

Wattwatchers webpage

Sydney Morning Herald coverage

Register your interest in the MEM

Organisations (captures your details for Wattwatchers to follow up with you)

Individuals (adds you to mailing list to receive updates and offers)

 

*Acknowledgements

The My Energy Marketplace Project has received funding from ARENA as part of ARENA’s Advancing Renewables Program. The views expressed herein are not necessarily the views of the Australian Government, and the Australian Government does not accept responsibility for any information or advice contained here

 
 
 
 
 
 
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