December 4, 2013

Participants involved in a trial designed to change the way Australians use electricity say they have a greater understanding of how to reduce their electricity bills and use, a new survey has found.

The information comes as EnergyAustralia celebrates the first anniversary of the official launch of the retail trial of the Australian Government's Smart Grid, Smart City project.

The retail trial, involving more than 3400 households in Newcastle, Sydney and the Upper Hunter, is looking at how customers respond to new technology and products as a way of giving them more understanding and control of their electricity use.

The project also involves trials of products and technology by network company Ausgrid.

While the trial will continue until February 2014, an initial survey has found that about 70 per cent of participants in both the network and retail trials felt that their ability to reduce their bills had improved since taking part in the trial.

Seventy five per cent of participants believed their participation in the trials had resulted in them reducing their energy use.

EnergyAustralia's Group Executive Manager of Retail Adrian Merrick said these were only initial results but showed that participants were responding well to the products being tested.

"We wanted to take part in the Smart Grid, Smart City project as we believe it's important to find new ways to support households cut their electricity use and reduce their bills, as well as provide information to give customers a better understanding of how they use energy," Mr Merrick said.

"“"The retail trial has provided an interesting insight into how people have responded to different products and technology. This data will help shape what products and technology retailers rollout for consumers in the future."

The products being trialled are:

  • PriceSmart — Customers enjoy lower rates throughout the year and are notified before a high-rate peak price event so they can better manage their energy use. The peak events last from one to four hours, and participants are notified before events via SMS;
  • BudgetSmart — Customers pay in advance and are rewarded with a 12.5 per cent discount off their whole bill when they keep their account in credit. Customers are notified via SMS when it is estimated they'll run out of credit within seven days; and
  • SeasonSmart — customers receive a substantially lower rate in Spring and Autumn, and are given insights on how to manage their costs in the higher-priced Summer and Winter period.

Some participants in each product group are provided with an online portal or smart phone app that accesses real-time data about their household electricity consumption, while others are also provided with smart plug devices to give them the ability to turn their appliances on and off remotely.

The new data shows that 79 per cent of PriceSmart customers who completed the survey believed they had reduced their electricity consumption. Figures also revealed 68 per cent of SeasonSmart and 62 per cent of BudgetSmart customers felt they had cut their electricity use.

The percentages for most products increased when participants were provided access to online portals and other technology, highlighting the complementary role of real-time usage information in changing customer behaviour. Two peak price events have been held as part of the PriceSmart product, with initial indicative results revealing consumers reduced their energy use during these events by an average of 34 per cent.

Further peak price events will be held during the next few months.

"The technology and online portal is easy to use and we have found there has been a strong interest by customers," Mr Merrick said.

"While there is another three months until the trial ends, the first year has given us a great understanding of what consumers want and how they respond to different products and technology."

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About Smart Grid, Smart City

Smart Grid, Smart City is a three-year, $100 million Australian Government initiative focussed in Newcastle, Sydney and the Upper Hunter. Smart Grid, Smart City creates a testing ground for new energy technologies to help shape the future of energy use across the country.

Ausgrid delivered the project, with a consortium, on behalf of the Australian Government. EnergyAustralia is the project's retail partner.

Smart grids provide instant information about the electricity network to make it more efficient, reduce interruptions, support more renewable energy and give households more information and control over their energy use.