Finance Your Budget Consumers fear energy bill blowout as virus forces people to stay indoors

Consumers fear energy bill blowout as virus forces people to stay indoors

Almost half of us are worried about our next energy bill. Photo: TND
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Almost one in two Australians are anxious about rising energy costs as the coronavirus forces people to stay indoors and work from home.

The fears are greatest among people who live in a rental property but also own an investment property.

Roughly two-thirds of this group of ‘rent-vestors’ fear a blowout in energy costs as Australians convert their kitchens and living rooms into temporary offices.

A survey of 1010 Australians by comparison site Finder found renters were the second-most fearful demographic, with more than half (58 per cent) expressing anxiety about their next energy bill.

The survey also found that millennials were more anxious about the cost of their next energy bill than baby boomers, with 58 per cent of the former expressing concern, compared to 26 per cent of the latter.

Energy retailers have promised not to disconnect households who miss payments as a result of the coronavirus, and many have also relaxed access to financial hardship schemes and offered to defer or rebate network charges.

But the Public Interest Advocacy Centre has warned that households could add $200 to their monthly energy bills as a result of increased electricity usage during winter.

And Finder insights manager Graham Cooke said increased energy usage was inevitable as COVID-19 forced people to work from home.

Mr Cooke said Australians could minimise the financial blow by relying on natural lighting as much as possible and turning off appliances at the switch when not in use.

Standby power often accounts for as much as 10 per cent of household electricity usage, Mr Cooke said.

“Roughly four million Aussies are now working from home and the nation is under strict instructions to only leave the house for essential purposes. This means we’re reliant on power for longer periods of time,” Mr Cooke said.

“Many Aussies are using the TV and computer more than usual, leaving lights on during the day, running their heater or air-con and using cooking appliances for three meals per day.

“Unfortunately, this comes at a price.”

Concerns about high energy bills are nothing new in Australia.

For the past two years, consumers have told comparison site Canstar that energy costs are their biggest financial concern (as the above chart demonstrates).

Analysts have often attributed Australia’s high energy costs to a lack of government policy on energy and climate change.

But last year, before the coronavirus, the Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) reported that increased investment in renewables would bring down the cost of electricity and save some Australians hundreds of dollars annually over the next three years.

The AEMC said in December that by the year 2022 almost all Australians should save an average of $97 on annual power bills – falling from an average of $1370 to $1273 by June 2022 – with many set to save hundreds more.

Finder’s tips for lowering energy bills

  • Upgrade to energy-efficient appliances – Given appliances account for roughly 30 per cent of our energy bills, investing in goods with higher efficiency-star ratings often pays for itself
  • Consider switching to time-of-use tariffs – If you use more electricity in the morning or early afternoon, ask your provider about switching to a time-of-use tariff, which charges consumers less during off-peak periods
  • Investigate energy hotspots – Make sure you aren’t burning through electricity by leaving appliances on standby; ensure heating, cooling and cooking devices are properly installed, well maintained and efficient
  • Be savvy with heating – Only heat the rooms you are using; shut blinds and doors, and use draught excluders to improve heating efficiency.