With a little bit of thought and time, consumers can save big dollars on their energy bills. Energy Live’s David Walker explains how.

Electricity costs you. A family of four can easily spend more than $2000 a year on electric power.

You can cut spending with extra insulation, a solar power system, double-glazed windows, zoned heating and lighting. But if you haven’t the money or time to redo your whole home, a few quick and easy fixes can save almost as much.

Many of this list’s biggest savings come from tasks that take a few minutes: make a phone call, drop in at a hardware store, visit a website. In our competitive electricity system, providers do much better when you push them for a better price. Others savings come from knowing the lower electricity use of newer appliances.

AEMO’s job is to manage Australia’s electricity markets. We’re providing this assistance because markets work best when customers are well-informed.

Shop around

Every electricity retailer has a number that customers can call to enquire about their current electricity package. If you think your current electricity package may not be competitive, call your retailer and tell them you want their best offer. 

Use an energy-comparison site

If you’d rather see all your options laid out, online comparison sites offer an alternative to a phone call. Enter in some details, and they’ll give your their assessment of the best deals on offer.

Victorians can use the state government’s Energy Compare site

In other states, use the federal government’s Energy Made Easy site

These sites can be a little more confusing than a conversation on the phone. For the best results, you may have to upload an electricity bill and/or provide the number on the front of your electricity meter. But they will show you many different options for switching your electricity provider.

Look at buying off-peak power

Many retailers offer off-peak power. You may be able to save a three-digit sum of money each year by switching some of your electricity usage to off-peak, if you have devices which can run off-peak. Appliances like washers, dryers and dishwashers may have a time-delay functions to let you take advantage of off-peak power. 

Make changes at home

Rob Jackson, a Principal Analyst in the Operations team at AEMO, says many people assume that they have to make substantial changes to their home in order to cut their power bills. Yet Jackson says that in fact the majority of savings are available from just five big sources:

Manage your swimming pool

If you have a pool, the filter is probably your single largest household electricity consumer, with many consuming more than $1000 worth of electricity each year – much more than many people expect.

Yet pool manufacturers suggest that to keep your pool clean, pool filters usually need to run for less than the full 24 hours each day, and often as little as eight hours. Consult you pool filter’s manual or manufacturer for the minimum settings that will still keep your pool clean. And turn off the filter when you know no-one will use the pool. You may still need to run the filter heavily in busy periods, but you may be able to save $400 on a $1000-a-year pool filter energy bill.

And if you’re building a pool or replacing your filter, check this list of energy-rated filters.

Retire your old second fridge

Not only are our refrigerators big machines, but they run 24 hours a day. So inside our houses, refrigeration probably eats up more electricity than any other function. 

Few people realise it, but newer fridges use far less electricity – so much less that the official star-rating system had to be rejigged a few years back. That 3-star fridge from 1997 is at best a 1.5 star fridge today. It might be even worse: Jackson notes that older fridges also frequently have faulty seals and deteriorating motors.

So a new fridge may use little more than one-third the electricity of a similarly-sized unit from 20 years ago, Jackson estimates. That means almost anything that limits the use of an old fridge will save money:

  • If you run a second fridge that only stores non-perishable items – like, to use a random example, beer – retiring it or limiting its use can create big savings. That big old 1990s fridge storing your party drinks in the garage might use more than $600 of electricity each year. Even just turning off for the cooler months will save plenty.
  • If you replace a 20-year-old fridge with a more energy-efficient model, you may halve its electricity consumption. Again, this can save you several hundred dollars a year in electricity. Just watch out for energy-sapping extras, particularly ice-makers.

Replace an old air conditioner

Like refrigeration, reverse-cycle air conditioning is far more efficient than it was. Jackson says it can now be a cheaper way to heat your house than gas, and its cooling uses less power too. If your air conditioner is more than 10 years old, says Jackson, it is likely to be worth replacing with a new one, such has been the pace of improvement.

If you have an evaporative cooling system, though, it will still be cheaper to run than other air conditioners.

Whatever your system, the less you use it, the less it will cost. Jackson recommends tweaking your settings to let things get a little warmer or cooler before the air con kicks in. Just pushing down the winter maximum and putting on a jumper can make a difference to your bill.

Avoid plasma TVs

An LED television screen watched for four hours a day may cost you about $30 per year in electricity, an OLED screen about $45. An old plasma screen of similar size may cost more than $100 a year, however. If you’re thinking of replacing an old plasma with a similar-sized LED screen, Jackson says, the power savings alone may justify much of the cost.

Just remember that if you go from a 45-inch plasma to a 70-inch OLED, you’re almost doubling your screen area, which will slash the power savings.

You can also get savings from putting the TV in a darker area and turning down the screen brightness.

Replace halogen lights with LED globes

You’ve probably eliminated those old incandescent globes from your light sockets. But technology has now given us a new way to cut lighting expenses: replace old-style halogen lights with LED lamps that go into the same fittings, no electrician required. A 12-volt LED uses just a quarter of the energy of a halogen; if you have a dozen of these fitments, switching them to LEDs could save $150 a year.

Other things that will help

All of these will save you at least a few dozen dollars every year: 

  • Turn lights off when you leave a room.
  • Install a clothesline in your laundry or outside, or use a laundry rack for casual clothes-drying. This will help your clothes last longer than always putting them through a dryer.
  • Lower the temperature of your washing. Most energy in a washing machine goes to heat the water. Cold washing does just as well at killing germs and does less damage to clothes. But if you don’t like that, try a warm wash and a cold rinse.
  • Make sure your computers and screens go into sleep mode when you’re not using them.