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Where does all the energy go?

By Emma Smith
27 MAR 2019
Have you ever wondered why your energy bills are so high? Is it the toaster, the washing machine or your flatmate, Kevin?

Are you the sort of person who leaves the lights on when you’re out all day or more the type to switch the toaster off at the wall when you’re not using it? While both can be the cause of much tension in a share house, they’re also responsible for the number at the bottom of your subsequent bill.

But do some appliances consume more energy than others, or are certain habits more to blame?

Energy consumption in Australia

If you have a tendency to leave the air conditioner on overnight, prepare to sweat. According to research by the Federal Government, our efforts to keep ourselves thermoregulated are the biggest contributing factor to a staggering energy bill.

‘Heating and cooling’ account for 30% of our total energy bill, followed by 20% for hot water and 12% for refrigerators and freezers. Lighting, cooking products and white goods appliances, and IT and home entertainment come in about equal at 8%.

While there are small discrepancies between states (because Queensland is hotter than Tasmania, obviously), the trends are mostly the same with heating/cooling and hot water systems always contributing the largest bite to the energy bullet (so much so that heating/cooling contributes over 40% in our cooler states—we’re looking at you Tasmania and Victoria).

Residential Energy Bills, Australia 2018. Picture: Australian Government

Understanding energy rating labels

Now that you’ve got a handle on your usage habits, what about the appliances themselves?

Have you ever seen those labels covered in stars on your white goods? That’s the ‘Energy Rating Label’ and it turns out, you should pay it more attention. The label indicates the energy efficiency of the product and tells you how many kWh it consumes (more on deciphering that term here). In short, the more stars, the more energy-efficient the product is compared to other models in its category.

Appliances with a higher star rating may cost more at the outset but they’ll probably save you more in the long run. For example, using an estimated energy price of $0.3 (30c) per kWh, a television with a seven-star label of 100kWh would cost you approximately $30 per year to run. A television with a three-star label of 400kWh, on the other hand, would cost $120 per annum. That’s a difference of $90 every year. Assuming your television lasts ten years, you could buy a pretty sweet new set with $900.

While this is just an example, the figures can be more substantial when dealing with larger, more energy-draining appliances like the fridge and washing machine. You can use your current price of energy (the rate found on your bill) to calculate exactly how much an appliance will cost you to run.

Don’t just look at the price when you’re shopping for appliances. Picture: Australian Government

So what can you do about it?

Aside from choosing energy-efficient products and opting for socks over central heating, there are a number of things we can do to reduce the price we pay for power.

Our energy bills are predominantly affected by two things: the price of energy and our consumption habits. To fix the former, read here. To fix the latter, there are a lot of small habits that can make a big difference.

How to save energy

In the kitchen:

  • Make sure there is plenty of space around the fridge, the seal is tight and you don’t overfill it
  • Wait until the dishwasher is full before setting it off
  • Cover pots and pans to reduce cooking time

In the bathroom and laundry:

  • Use cold water for washing — your clothes and you (in summer only!)
  • If you do use hot water, set it to 60°C
  • Use a clothesline instead of a dryer
  • Wait until the washing machine is full before putting it on
  • Put in low-flow showerheads (you can find these at your local hardware store)
  • Have shorter showers (aim for four minutes or less)

Turning the lights off when you’re not using them can go a long way. Picture: Getty.

In the living areas:

  • In summer, keep cool by closing windows, doors, curtains and blinds, and use fans instead of air conditioners
  • If you do use AC, set it to 26°C
  • In winter, reduce draughts by closing windows, doors and curtains, and rug up in blankets and warm clothes to avoid central heating
  • If you do use central heating, set it to 18°C
  • Put in LED lights and switch them off when they’re not needed
  • Turn off appliances at the wall—some keep using energy even if you don’t

For more ideas on ways to save energy, visit

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