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Energy efficiency basics

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By guest blogger Peta Lewis, communications manager for Todae Solar and environmental enthusiast.

With winter firmly set in, most of us are scrambling for the heaters and reverse-cycle air conditioners to combat the cold. Yet increasing energy costs have made electricity bills – especially this season – a terrifying thought.

Contrary to circulating sentiments blaming the carbon tax’s contribution, a more detailed breakdown in
Electricity Prices: The True Impact of a Price on Pollution
by the Climate Institute (TCI) reveals network infrastructure is actually causing electricity prices to increase.

“Most of the current network expenditure is needed to replace ageing infrastructure, but a large share is also needed to ensure the network can cope with rising demand for electricity,” according to the TCI policy brief (this link is a pdf download).

More price increases look to be on the horizon with the Australian Energy Market Commission estimating that, nationally, the aggregated distribution network price will increase six per cent annually, from 2013 to 2015.

Some of us around the country will feel much greater increases. Those in Queensland have been hit with a 22 per cent increase from this July – which equates to around an extra $268 per year. Western Australia is suffering as well, with July seeing an increase of approximately 10 per cent in electricity costs and next year could bringing another rise of about seven per cent.

Don’t despair; there are ways to keep cosy without increasing your dependence on the grid. Energy efficiency around your home – from small adjustments to hassle-free investments with year-on-year returns – will provide relief from the chill of quarterly bills.

Add some insulation
While insulating your home is not a new idea, it remains a simple and easy way to reduce your need for air-conditioning or heating. You can fit a seal to your window or door, which minimises temperature loss through door and window gaps and increases your home’s energy efficiency. Many hardware stores stock a wide range of seals and can help you make the right choice.
While it may seem insignificant, using seals around your house will make a big difference to the warmth of your home, and has extra benefits such as minimising light, sound, dust and insects.

Track your energy use
For a relatively low cost ($100-$200), you can buy an energy monitoring kit that will enable you to see exactly how much electricity is being used in your home – online as it happens. This will give you the information you need to reduce your electricity bills as well as your carbon footprint.
These monitors are installed by an electrician and are easy to use. Efergy’s Engage Hub Kit, for example, includes a small sensor that is clipped to the supply cables in your meter box. The sensor is connected to a transmitter that sends data in real time to a hub connected to your Internet router. You can then access the information via your Smartphone, tablet or computer.
By monitoring your usage, you will be able to accurately understand how much various appliances use, and alter your habits within your home to help reduce your electricity bill.

Free electricity
The sun provides us with endless energy, day after day. Installing a solar power system will reduce your electricity bill significantly, and can save you tens of thousands of dollars over its lifetime. Not only will solar cut your energy expenses, it will also protect you against future rising electricity tariffs. Unlike many other investments, solar power provides a guaranteed year-on-year return for up to 25 years. The more energy prices increase, the more you save with solar.

Solar requires little to no maintenance or ongoing costs, and comes with long-term warranties, making it a low-risk investment that continues to grow as electricity prices do. Installing a solar system also has environmental benefits – saving 8.25 tonnes of carbon per year with a 5kW system is the equivalent of taking three cars off the road for a year.

While the bite of winter is well and truly in full swing, taking the bite out of your electricity bills is not as daunting as it may seem. Making your home energy efficient is a great way to keep comfortable and save. Do you have some inventive ways to save money on bills during winter you’d like to share below?