Quarterly bill shock could become a thing of the past – if you can pay attention instead.
WHEN a smart meter was installed at Tim Forcey’s house in Sandringham in March, he decided to turn the extra expense into information.
He signed onto the free ‘Energy Easy’ web-portal offered by electricity distributor United Energy.
Mr Forcey is a chemical engineer and a member of the Bayside Climate Change Action Group. With his family, he’d already made some changes – installing insulation, external awnings, double-glazing and solar panels, and switching halogen lights for LEDs, among other things.
But the portal helped the Forceys understand even more about their bill. “You can compare your electricity use hour-to-hour, day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month. And you can also compare your use against a neighbourhood average,” he explains.
Their usage in May – about 16 kilowatt-hours per day, for four people – was about average for their suburb. But in the details, they found motivation to do better. With the help of hourly consumption data, Mr Forcey twigged that he’d been running two modems day and night. He switched one off, and put the other on a timer.
The new information also gave him a reality check. While he’d been “hunting for watts here and there”, he figured out that the family’s spa accounts for half their energy use. “People with pools would find similar things,” he says. “Those luxury items use a lot of electricity.”
Smart meters will be installed in every Victorian household by the end of the year. Retailers are beginning to offer flexible pricing, where you can choose to pay different rates at different times of the day. Depending on your capacity to understand and alter your habits, it will prove an opportunity or a threat.
Dr David Byrne, from the University of Melbourne, says most of us don’t have a good idea of how much we electricity use.
“People tend to underestimate their own energy consumption, relative to others’,” he says. “But there’s significant error on both sides. There’s a decent number who overestimate as well.”
He expects our knowledge will improve, as better billing information becomes a matter of competition between retailers. “We’re going to be more informed about our bills – there’s going to be much less scope for bill shock,” he says.
So far, several electricity retailers and distributors have launched web portals, of differing quality. You can find more information and links on the state government’s Switch On website.
Together with his colleagues in the economics department, Dr Byrne has been studying the way householders use Billcap, an electricity information portal used by retailers Click Energy and Australian Power and Gas.
Drawing on smart meter data, Billcap allows customers to view their usage, set energy budgets, estimate bills and compare consumption with similar and efficient households. It can also offer tailored conservation tips, as well as incentives to help shift peaks in demand.
Dr Byrne says that the households who were offered the service reduced their daily usage by 3 per cent, on average.
Those customers who used the site regularly did even better. “If you’re actively looking at the information, we found a 7 per cent reduction in daily energy usage,” he says.
The researchers are working to identify exactly how the participants cut back their usage, and who engaged most. “We’re digging further into the data, but these estimates are consistent with what has been found internationally,” he says.