Last week’s record-breaking heatwave, which saw Victoria and South Australia endure a record stretch of 40-plus degree heat, has been costly for the states, businesses and individuals.
The drain on energy resources of keeping us in air-conditioned comfort has been excessive, according to the Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA).
During the heatwave, average energy consumption increased in New South Wales by 12 per cent, in Victoria by 36 per cent, and in South Australia by a staggering 52 per cent compared to the summers of 2012-13.
How much did it cost you?
A ducted evaporative air conditioning system running for an average size house, running 18 hours a day over five days, would add about $48 to the next power bill.*
A split refrigerative system in a room up to 36 square metres could add an extra $42 to your next power bill, while a ducted refrigerative system cooling an entire house over five days could add as much as $225 to an electricity bill.
By contrast, running a ceiling fan for 24 hours a day over five days would add less than $4 to your next bill.
While the recent surge in usage will translate to higher energy bills for consumers, it was far from good news for energy companies. The national electricity system was put under enormous strain according to communications manager at the ESAA Jiin-Wen Ewe.
“While forced outages have been avoided, we have seen a number of mostly isolated network faults, caused mainly by extreme demand and high temperatures,” said Ms Ewe.
Vast amounts of water were also guzzled in the heat, with water consumption per Melburnian up by 30 per cent in the past week, according to the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA).
By contrast, Adelaide’s average water consumption so far this month has been modest, only increasing an average of 53 megalitres per day in comparison to past years, which executive director of WSAA Adam Lovell attributed to “permanent water wise rules”.
Given the anticipated electricity bill pain, consumers will be thankful to hear that water bills are unlikely to see a similar spike. This is because prices are low and usually over half of the cost per household is fixed regardless of use.
“Around Australia the price of water is around $2 to $4 for a thousand litres. This means that even significantly higher use during the heatwave is unlikely to materially affect a family’s annual water bill,” said Mr Lovell.
Compared with the stress felt by the electricity network, our water supply seems to be coping well, but Mr Lovell warns that we still need to be water wise.
“Australia is almost guaranteed to experience more extremes of heat this summer and in the future, and we should remember that water efficiency is as critical as ever,” he said.
Escaping the heat
As Adelaide suffered through some of its hottest ever temperatures, many in Victoria flocked to the Surf Coast Shire, where Mayor Rose Hodge said tourists enjoyed “some relief from being close to the ocean” in seaside towns like Lorne, Torquay and Aireys Inlet.
“We’re close enough for day-trippers to come from Melbourne and Geelong,” said Mayor Hodge.
While the Shire anticipated the annual boost in tourism, the abnormal heat did pose a challenge, but the locals were “generally well prepared”, she said.
“The heat is out of the ordinary, but local residents spend a long time preparing for summer every year because of the bushfire risk our region faces,” said Mayor Hodge. “Businesses like cafes know it will be busy, our surf lifesaving clubs and their volunteers do a lot of great work over summer and our emergency services plan for events like these.”
For those Victorians who couldn’t manage a trip to the beach, cool refuge was also available in local air-conditioned cinemas, which reported huge crowds.
“This week we’ve seen most sessions filled at our cinemas across the state as Victorians find ways to escape the heat, particularly young families and the elderly,” said CEO of Village Cinemas Kirk Edwards.
Costly for some businesses
But while movie theatres profited from the punishing heat, many business in South Australia were adversely affected.
Sathya Barelds, spokesperson for BusinessSA, said: “In the short term, tourists are less likely to enjoy what South Australia is renowned for – great food and wine.”
“The wine industry is experiencing lower levels of clientele at winery restaurants and will also have to deal with an earlier than expected vintage, which causes logistical issues and may impact quality,” said Ms Barelds. “Consumers are also less likely to enjoy a glass of red, but some of this has been substituted with beer, which is good for local brewers.”
Not even ice creameries could catch a break, with the climbing Mercury melting away their profits as well.
“For ice-cream manufacturers it is not helpful as sales have dropped,” said Ms Barelds. “Ideal temperatures for them are in the low 30s.”
* Calculations were made using the costs estimated by the South Australian government here.