I have been living a fantasy life….a life with low energy prices. Well I was (in the UAE we paid 10 fils per kWh which is about 2.7 cents), until I moved back to Sydney.
When I moved back my mum was forever telling me to turn lights off because ‘this is not Abu Dhabi’. Even in Abu Dhabi I thought I was energy efficient. We usually turned off our air conditioner at night and in the cooler months – out of comfort as well as to conserve energy. I do know many people though that had their AC on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year! I was never one to do that!
When I was in the UAE, my energy bills were usually around 300 dirhams (approx$ 83 AUD) per quarter for water AND energy. So you can imagine my surprise when this landed in my post box.
Suddenly all of my mother’s warnings came to fruition. I thought I was somehow immune because we have gas for hot water, cooking and space heating (in lounge room only). I can only imagine the bill if we had electricity for those things also. So has the economic factor changed my behavior? Am I less wasteful in my energy use? Well before I go through what I do, I thought I’d talk about the Carbon tax. Now, anyone living in Australia has heard about the ‘Carbon Tax’. It is being blamed for everything from my sore knee to the whole Australian economy being on the brink of collapse.
It has been introduced as a way to undertake action regarding climate change, by placing a monetary value on carbon. There have been education campaigns and other ways to change behavior – this one is about using financial incentives, or disincentives to reduce carbon emissions. I’m not going to go into the politics of the Carbon tax, but suffice it to say that there are people with strong opinions on both sides of the debate. For more info on carbon taxes, go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_tax
In Australia, energy providers are being taxed as polluters and are passing on this financial burden to the consumer (i.e. you and I).
The Australian carbon tax is directly aimed at major emitters (top 500 polluters in the country) as they are expected to have capital investment capabilities to improve technology and reduce carbon creation. The income tax threshold has been increased for all individual taxpayers as a compensation for price increases to all end users, although middle range tax rates were increased to the point where only individuals earning less than $80,000 per annum received any income tax relief (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_tax)
In preparation for the possibility of paying higher energy bills and before the solar rebates were further scaled back, I decided to invest in a 1.8 kW photovoltaic system. Now that Sydney is sunny once more it is working, but during winter when I would use energy more for heating, the solar system ends up being shaded for a lot of the day.
So why was my bill so high? And has the high bills changed my behavior. In short, yes! I was good at conserving energy, but now I try to be REALLY good. These are some of the things I do at home:
- Have compact fluorescent lights for most lights, which I now turn off as soon as I leave the room. I was led to believe that it is best to leave these on rather than turn them on and off frequently, as the energy it takes for a compact fluorescent to start up means it is best left on. Now however, there is evidence that if you plan on keeping the light off for more than 5 minutes, then it is best to turn that light off, rather than leave it on (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=turn-fluorescent-lights-off-when-you-leave-room)
- Try and use energy ‘off peak’. This doesn’t mean I use less energy, it just means it is not in peak times, so technically, by shifting some of this use to off peak times, it will mean that there isn’t such a demand for energy in peak times and should result in less strain on existing power infrastructure. My energy contract has allowed for lower prices for ‘shoulder peak’ and ‘off peak’ times, but not all do. Check with your provider.
- Investing in solar. This now ties into the point above. I was trying to do things like washing and what not during off peak times, but now that I have solar, I have re-adjusted my behavior to take advantage of the ‘free energy’ my solar panels are producing. Due to the feed in tariffs being so low, I choose to use my grid-connected solar panels while they are generating energy (in the day time – usually peak times), rather than sell and buy back at night.
- Switching off appliances at the power point. Many appliances like televisions and microwaves still use energy when turned off, so they are still sucking up energy. If you turn these off overnight, then you reduce energy wastage.
- Being smart when we use heaters by closing doors and windows to ensure there is no heat loss. However I was given these oil heaters as gifts and they may be one, if not the main reason for the high energy bill. Our house has tiled floors, so it is actually cold. Being double brick I thought it would be warmer (more thermal mass), but it is cold my bedroom is like a freezer, so heating overnight is essential – particularly for the kids’ rooms as they will inevitably kick off blankets overnight. I do wear warm clothes and they both have flannel sheets and pyjamas. Earlier in the year I invested in goose down doonas and they have been a little life saver.
I think my terrible windows are also letting in a lot of cold draughts and I have not figured out a curtain solution that would look nice in my house, but also address heat gain and loss (depending on the season).
So they are some of the things I do. Of course there is a lot more that we can all do. I am fearfully looking forward to my next bill because I want to see whether my heighted vigilance plus my solar panels will yield results. I hope so!