My name is Seb Crangle, I'm the Head Energy Coach at Enova Community.
In this blog I'm going to help you understand Time of Use (TOU) electricity plans and how you can save money, by being careful with your energy use.
The benefits of moderating WHEN you use electricity
There are potential environmental and financial benefits for us when we're careful about when we choose to use energy in our home or business.
Most people don’t want to think about when they use energy, yet I want to show you some of the advantages of scheduling and moderating your use (especially high-level use), whether you do it actively and consciously, or automatically via technology.
🌏 Environmental motives
Put simply – the reason coal and gas fired power stations are till used at such scale is: when there are periods of high power demands on the grid these resources need to be fired up to meet that demand.
When the country wakes up and everyone turns on their kettles, toasters, heaters and other appliances at roughly the same time, the energy grid needs to be ready to meet that demand for electricity.
The higher the anticipated demand for power, the more resources are deployed, whether it 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 modern-day peak power demand (evenings and early mornings).
However 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.
💸 Financial motives
If you struggle to pay your energy bills, or would rather they be lower, you have the capacity to pay less for energy just by being mindful of when you use it.
Note, this assumes that you are on a ‘Time Of Use’ (TOU) power plan rather than a flat rate. If you’re not sure if you are on TOU, or want to change, see notes further below.
If your energy is billed by TOU, you are paying radically different prices 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. For example, with some retailers the shoulder rate varies very little from the peak rate. It is worth the effort to find out the TOU rates on your plan.
If your household can be aware of when each of these rates apply (particularly the peak rates) you can moderate how much power you use in these times, and thereby save money.
⚡ How to start
Here are the basic steps:
- Learn the times of TOU that apply to your house or account
- Think about what household activities that use electricity you can shift, or moderate, in peak periods
- 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 & 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 do 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. However, heating and cooling are huge contributors to energy bills and to grid demand spikes, so there is the opportunity to make a difference.
To moderate the impact of heating or cooling on your bill - and on demand spikes - I suggest utilising off-peak periods to get your home to the desired temperature, and then turn your appliance down (not necessarily 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 my last blog which you can read here).
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 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 is even colder outside, I will once again turn the heater up to get back to a comfortable 20 degrees (with warm layers of clothes).
💡 Are you on a Time Of Use electricity plan?
If you don’t know if you’re on a TOU plan, have a look at your energy bill in 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 effects on your bill can change.
☀️ 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 solar 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. For example, if you have a 6kWp solar system that’s producing say 2.5 kW at 8:30am, you may still be drawing grid power, at peak rates if you turn on too many appliances at once. 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 be able to use mostly off-peak energy from the grid, with some peak from non-solar hours (unless you also have a battery!)
🕙 Learn the times that count
The times of peak, shoulder and off-peak vary, depending on where you're located (because that will decide which energy distributor you're connected to).
Find out who your distributer is (this is likely to be different to your energy retailer which sends you your electricity bill), and then look up on-line what their Time of Use periods are.
Distribution Network Service Providers, often simply referred to as ‘distributors’, are responsible for maintaining the electricity network, including the poles, wires, stations and substations that deliver the electricity to your home.
In Australia for example, Essential Energy’s evening peak period is 5-8pm weekdays (unless you have a smart meter), whereas Ausgrid's (e.g. Sydney) is 5-9pm. Further still, Ausgrid times change depending on the time of year.
The network distributors in NSW are: Ausgrid, Essential Energy and Endeavour Energy. The distributor in South East Queensland is Energex.
Beware that the times may vary depending on what time of meter you have (e.g. ‘basic’ vs smart/interval). If you want to be sure, check with your energy retailer.
I suggest then writing those times down, or printing it out to put on the fridge, for the whole household to see and learn.
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, so 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 reduce your energy costs and save the planet. 😊
We can help you!
If you’re interested in learning more about the areas where you can improve the energy efficiency in your home, we can help.
Enova Community’s team of volunteer energy coaches will be available to households again this year to give you guidance on improving your home’s energy efficiency. We’re passionate about this because finding ways to use less energy allows everyone to take immediate action on reducing their carbon emissions.
You can book a session with us here.
BONUS Energy Efficiency resources from our Energy Coaches
We have some excellent resources available to help guide your energy efficiency knowledge and efforts. Check them out here!