Friday, November 24, 2006

electricity matters

I’m writing this piece for my own benefit and for my co-op. It’s about energy saving, and it’s based on a ‘background briefing’ radio program on electricity usage. A while back I got an electricity bill that rather shocked me, and made me determined to properly monitor and reduce my consumption of electrical energy.

Domestic electricity usage is measured in kilowatt hours (kwh). My ‘green earth’ electricity bill from Origin, described for some reason as an estimated account, covered a 92 day period from July 4 to October 4 2006. During this period I apparently switched from ‘saver choice’ to ‘green earth’ tariffs (I can’t remember doing so, but, hey, sounds good).

For the first 67 days I was on ‘saver choice’, and was charged at two different rates. I used about 220.5 kwh at the low rate – 14c per kwh, and 349.5 at the slightly higher rate of about 15c per kwh. Total usage was 570 kwh for the period, at about 8.5 kwh per day.

For the remainder of the period, 25 days, I was on ‘green earth’ tariffs, at 3 different rates, 16.2c per kwh, 16.3c per kwh and 17.5c per kwh. I’m not sure what these different rates correspond to, but the real shock, to me, was that I was charged for 587 kwh for that period, at a daily rate of 23.5 kwh, almost three times my usage for the ‘saver choice’ period. This made no sense to me. I have lived alone for this entire period, and haven’t upped my usage in any way. It is extremely suspicious.

I meant to contact Origin, in writing, about this matter, but never got round to it. However, I became interested in checking the meter. Even more suspicious was the reading I made on October 14, which covered the ten days of the new billing period. My meter had ticked over to the tune of another 59 kwh. That’s a mere 5.9 kwh per day, much much less than the 23.5 kwh per day for the immediately preceding period. This cannot be right. I’ve since, through careful monitoring and usage, reduced my usage to an average of just on 4kwh per day for the last 40-odd days.

I’ll try to get an explanation out of Origin. I’m well aware that air-conditioner usage is more costly than all other household usages put together, by and large, but I have no reason to believe that the weather of the ‘green earth’ period, which covered mostly the month of September, caused me to use the air-conditioner more than the earlier period, and there are no other appliances that could obviously be the culprit.

So it was with this heightened interest in electricity that I listened to the background briefing program.

The focus was primarily on air-conditioners. A retailer interviewed on the program said that domestic air-conditioners varied in size, from 2.5 kilowatts to a more commercial size of up to 10 kilowatts. Later, a critic of the large air-conditioners installed in modern ‘macmansions’ claimed that some of these had a 30 to 50 kilowatt size. Which raises the question of how La Luna tenants can find out the size of their air-conditioners. I’ll have to look around for the instruction manual.

One of the main problems with electicity-guzzling air-conditioners is that they tend to get switched on at the same time, during very hot periods, creating peaks which ultimately increase the cost of electricity to all consumers.

Some 45% of electricity cost is absorbed in distribution, including the upgrading of networks to cover increasingly sharp or high usage peaks. Considering that the users of those big electricity-guzzling air-conditioners are paying no more for the cost of upgrades than others, some are arguing that a user-pays system be introduced.

There have been some interesting innovations of late, called demand-side response programs, designed to reduce electricity demand. The first of these is called a smart meter, and I’ll write about that in my next post, which I promise will be v v soon.

Finally, some very interesting data. Adelaide is the air-conditioner capital of Australia. Some 92% of South Australian homes have air-conditioners, compared to only 50-60% in NSW, 40% in Queensland, and a minuscule 30% in neighbouring Victoria. Now why would this be?



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