It pays to find out how much electricity you use.
Right now, it’s tricky for householders to know exactly how much power we’re consuming at any given moment – and how much it’s costing us. But that’s all set to change as smart electricity meters are rolled out across the state.
Peter Clements, from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries, says the new devices will help us understand our energy use. “Courtesy of these smart meters, you will know far more about the costs of turning on your heater or air conditioner,” he says.
Our current spinning wheel meters will be replaced with digital technology that allows energy retailers to read your meter remotely and offer price deals that vary throughout the day. While that will mean steeper metering fees and higher rates at peak times, it can also help you save money.
A recent trial conducted by Integral Energy in NSW found that consumers paying variable tariffs saved an average of $100 per year. Under one pricing model, consumption fell by 40 per cent during peak periods.
The smart meters can connect with an in-home display that gives real-time information about your consumption and costs, but it’s not compulsory to install one. Depending on the services offered by your energy retailer, updates on power use and prices may also be available via the Internet or SMS.
“Smart meters are a tool to help people better manage the inevitable energy cost increases due to climate change,” Mr Clements says. If you want to cut your bills and your eco-footprint, opt for an in-home device – try to get all the information you can, as clearly and simply as possible.
The new meter roll out will begin slowly; about 15,000 have been installed so far, mainly in northern and eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Under the state government’s timetable, all Victorian households will receive one by the end of 2013.
Happily, you don’t have to wait years to learn more about your energy consumption. Jason Bond, from EnviroShop in Thornbury, says there are gadgets already available that give you the knowledge you need.
The Power-Mate Lite is an Australian-made gizmo that plugs in between the socket and an appliance and tells you exactly how much power the appliance is guzzling. “It allows you to work out where you are using energy,” Mr Bond says, “so you can reduce it, and reduce the associated environmental impacts.”
The device can be set to display energy consumption, costs or carbon dioxide emissions, and can also extrapolate the results to produce an annual figure.
“Every time someone uses a Power-Mate, they always find weird things they never thought would need much energy,” Mr Bond says. He’s been surprised to learn that some gas wall-heaters also churn through electricity to run timers and thermostats. A heated towel rack is another serial offender, especially when it’s left running night and day.
“You can also find out how much your TVs and stereos are consuming when they are on standby,” he says, “Those phantom loads can be substantial – around 10 per cent of your entire energy usage.”
A Power-Mate Lite will set you back $115, so it’s a good idea to split the cost with family or friends. Alternatively, some public libraries have Power-Mates available to borrow, or you can rent one from EnviroShop for $35 per week.