There are environmental and financial implications for when and how we use energy in our homes and businesses. Most households don’t want to think about when they use energy, yet I would like to explain some of the advantages of scheduling and moderating your energy use (especially high-level use), whether you do it actively and consciously, or automatically via technology.
Essentially the reason we still need coal and gas-fired power stations at such scale is this – when there are large demands on the grid for energy at any point, these power stations need to be fired-up to meet that demand. When the country wakes up and everyone turns on their kettles, toasters, heaters etcetera, at roughly the same time, the grid needs to be ready to meet that demand. The higher the anticipated demand for power, the more power generators are deployed, whether they be the (slow-to-respond) coal stations, or the more instantaneous gas plants.
And, although solar is now a big contributor to the grid, until we have adequate large scale batteries to store that power, its ability to contribute is out of sync with the times of peak power demand (evenings and early mornings).
And so! We can individually and collectively contribute to reducing the need to deploy large quantities of non-renewable resources by being mindful of the power demands we are putting on the grid, particularly during ‘peak’ times. Some ideas for how to do this are outlined later on.
If you struggle to pay your energy bills, or would just rather they be lower, you have the capacity to pay less for energy just by being mindful of when you use it.
If your energy is billed by Time of Use, you are paying radically different amounts for energy at different times of the day. For example, in peak times I currently pay 36 cents / kWh, but only 18 cents in Off-Peak times and 25 cents in Shoulder periods. These tariffs vary according to your Electricity Retailer and your plan. With some retailers the Shoulder rate varies very little from the Peak rate…
If your household can be aware of when each of these rates applies (particularly Peak..) you have the option to moderate how much power you draw in these times, thereby saving you money.
Please note that the follow section assumes that you are on a ‘Time of Use’ (TOU) energy plan rather than a ‘flat rate’/ single tariff. If you’re not sure which type of plan you’re on, or want to change to TOU, see notes further below.
How to start!
Here’s the basic steps:
1. Learn the times of TOU that apply in your area
2. Think about what activities you can shift, or moderate, in Peak periods
3. Do it! – whenever you remember to, and when it’s comfortable/ healthy to do so.
Whether your motives are environmental and/or financial, your approach to moderating the time of your power use is pretty much the same. For both, it is advantageous to use less energy in Peak times, and more in Off-Peak and Shoulder periods.
This is especially true for activities that use a lot of power, and that don’t have to be done at a particular time. Examples could include: cooking with an electric oven, ironing, using power tools, charging batteries, washing your clothes in hot water.
Example: Heating and Cooling
This topic gets trickier when considering activities that can affect the comfort and health of your home, particularly heating and cooling. By no means to I advocate for people to ‘ration’ their energy to the point where they are cold or overheated, and/or create conditions that are adverse to their health. Heating and cooling are a huge contributor to energy bills / grid demand spikes, so to moderate their use I suggest utilising off-peak periods to get your home to the desired temperature, and then back them off during Peak times. And of course, do whatever you can to make your home more energy-efficient (improve its thermal performance) by making improvements to insulation, drought proofing, shading and the like (as per many other posts in this Group).
A personal example: the weekday mornings where I live are off-peak until 7am, and then suddenly Peak from 7 – 9am. So in winter I get up by 6:30am and turn on the AC to get the house warm. While I’m at it, I boil the kettle to make tea (including a thermos for lunch at the worksite), make toast and so on. Come 7am (Peak!) I turn the heater down to very low, just to maintain a reasonable temperature (19-20 degrees C.). Once it gets to 9am (Shoulder), if the house is still on the cold side, and it’s even colder outside, I will once again turn the heater up to get back to a comfortable 20 degrees (with decent clothes).
If you have solar
If you are fortunate enough to live in a home with solar power, the most beneficial times for ‘load shifting’ as I’m describing here shifts to times of the day when you are producing sufficient power to meet those energy demands. On a sunny day that is likely to be between 9am and 3pm, and particularly between 11-1pm. Be careful not to overdo it, if you have a 6kWp solar PV that’s producing say 2.5 kW at 8:30am, if you turn on too many appliances at once you may still be drawing grid power, at Peak rates.
Even a kettle will push you over when added to the base load of a fridge. And yet, come 11am you could probably get away with simultaneously putting on a load of washing and a dishwasher. The good news is that by having solar you are much more likely to have mostly off-peak energy use, with some Peak from non-solar hours – unless you also have a battery!
Are you on TOU?
If you don’t know if you’re on a TOU plan, have a look at your energy bill to the section which spells out how much energy you used and the price you paid per kWh. If there are 3 or more lines with different prices you’re most likely on a TOU plan. If there is just one line, plus perhaps “controlled load / CL” for hot water, you are probably on a flat rate. If you want to make sure, call your energy retailer and ask. If you’re on a flat rate and are considering switching, ask your retailer to work out for you if your previous bills would have been lower if you were on TOU. Ideally they should check a couple of bills from different times of the year, because the affects on your bill can change.
Learn the times that count
The times of peak/shoulder/off-peak vary depending on who your distributor is. In Australia for example, Essential Energy’s Peak periods are 7-9am and 5-8pm weekdays (unless you have a Smart meter), whereas Ausgrid (eg Sydney) have a peak of 5-9pm and a longer shoulder period which I suspect is at a higher rate than the shoulder periods of other distributors. Further still, with Ausgrid the times change depending on the time of year! (see pie graphs attached or go to their website.
So the first step is to find out who your distributor is (not always the people who send your energy bills!), and then look up on-line what their Time of Use periods are. Beware that the times may vary depending on what time of meter you have (eg ‘Basic’ vs smart/interval). If you want to be sure, check with your energy retailer.
I then suggest then writing those times down, or printing it out to put on the fridge, for the whole household to see and learn.
But Please Remember, this approach to managing your energy use only needs to be as much work as you’re willing to put in. Over time, it can become habit as your awareness grows and behaviours change, such that it requires very little effort at all. In any case your motivation may be strong enough to be willing to make energy management a part of your daily efforts to:
a) reduce your energy costs, and/or
b) save the planet.