Reducing electricity bills is not a topic I would usually cover on our shop blog. In the past two months there have been two free State Government energy education workshops in Tamworth, Demystifying Energy for Households, and Introduction to Energy Management and I went along to boost my energy literacy. No one likes opening up an electricity bill and feeling deflated to spend a large chunk of money, only to forget about conserving energy until the next bill. In line with the waste hierachy Reduce, Reuse, Recycle we try to be conscious of simple energy conservation, turning off lights when we aren't using rooms, installing heavy drapes to keep out the winter cold and shading western windows from summer heat, but now we are ramping up our knowledge a notch. We're taking steps to install solar to power efficient heating and cooling, and improve the comfort levels of our 125-year-old shop building.
If you think electricity bills have been increasing, you're right. Both courses, offered by the Office of Environment and Heritage talked about electricity bills doubling in the last 10 years, up 115%. When it comes to saving money on electricity bills, the presenters suggested looking at and understanding electricity bills, specifically the kWh charge, and whether it is a flat, or time of use rate. If you pay on a time-of-use basis it's suggested you plan your energy use when possible during the less expensive part of the day, off-peak mornings and late nights. This might mean running the dishwasher late in the evening, or doing a load of washing first thing in the morning, or buying a timer for a pool pump to operate during the day. Another simple idea is to shop around for a better deal. Compare your kWh against other retailers using energymadeeasy and then call your existing provider and ask for a discount. In our situation there wasn't a great difference among retailers on the energymadeeasy website, but contacting Energy Locals resulted in a combined saving of about $100 for our home and business bills, so a $400 annual saving. This will have the added benefit of contributing $10/quarter to support Manilla Solar, aiming to establish a community solar farm at Manilla, near Tamworth (if you're interested in doing the same, just mention you'd like to support Manilla Solar community partnership).
Heating water is a major user of electricity, accounting for about 40% of our bills, and some simple changes to reduce hot water use are washing clothes in cold water, taking shorter showers, installing low flow shower heads, and repairing leaking taps. Another major energy consumer is heating and cooling our homes, so closing doors to rooms not in use, turning off heating and cooling at night or when leaving the house, insulating, blocking draughts, and using ceiling fans when heating and cooling can reduce bills. In summer, shading external windows, making use of cross ventilation, and using fans instead of air conditioning can all save money. Buying energy efficient appliances (some 70% more efficient than 10 years ago), using table lamps, upgrading to LED lighting, and switching off appliances not in use are also recommended.
Household solar was another cost saving measure that participants were asked to consider. One slide outlined, "If you don't already have solar, you are missing out." We don't have solar so I was all ears. The benefit of solar is displacing grid sourced energy and receiving feed in credits for energy produced and not used. The take home message was if you can afford the cost, consider solar, Government rebates are not running out. Other key points were: source multiple quotes, read the contract fine print, use Clean Energy Council accredited installers and approved products with good warranties, and buy a premium inverter.
The upshot of sitting through hours of discussion about what can be a confusing topic, is being more aware of what our electricity bill means, gaining confidence to shop around, coming home with ideas to conserve electricity, and encouragement to take the plunge with solar. And being able to share this information with others so we can all be happier when we open that next electricity bill.