With more people than ever working from home and winter well and truly here, households are being warned to brace for their power bills to more than double due to the ‘COVID quarter’.
Research from Natural Solar found that the average household increased its power usage by 105% in March, April and May, which is expected to lead to a nasty surprise come bill time.
According to the study, the average quarterly electricity bill of $406.75 is expected to double and could rise further still during the winter months.
CEO and Founder of Natural Solar Chris Williams said the sudden need for everyone to work from home has created an unprecedented amount of at-home energy usage.
“This huge rise in electricity use from thousands of our Natural Solar customers nationally means we anticipate power bills will spike from a quarterly average of $406.75 to over $800 per household for this COVID affected period,” he said.
“Some Australian homes that have had historically high power usage can expect their power bills to hit their hip pockets hard, coming in up to $1,800 per quarter.”
In March 2019, the average household was using 513kWh of power across the month (16.5kWh per day). In March 2020, that figure skyrocketed to 1052kWh and spiked again in April 2020, with the average household using 1094kWh per month (36.4kWh a day).
“Even though Australia is slowly opening back up and restrictions are lifting, we know this won’t be the case for every household, and normality won’t truly resume for a long period of time, with staggered back to school and work approaches anticipated over several months,” Mr Williams said.
“Australian households can expect the fall out from COVID-19 to continue to hit their electricity bills, especially as we move into the colder winter months.”
So with many of us expected to continue working from home, how can you reduce your energy bill?
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“The best way to keep your energy bills down, no matter where you're working, is to take the plunge and invest in a solar and battery storage solution,” Mr Williams told Savings.com.au.
“This will allow your solar panels to generate power using light from the sun, which then gets stored within the battery.
“Not only will this mean that you won't draw as much power from the grid, but you will save money almost immediately.”
But what about if you live in an apartment and can’t just put solar panels up on the roof?
“If you use your outdoor areas frequently in your apartment, it's a great opportunity to dip your toe into the world of solar power,” Mr Williams said.
“Try using portable solar lighting on your outdoor areas - there are plenty of solar-powered lights you can pick up cost-effectively and will help keep your energy bills down.
“Solar and batteries are becoming more common in communal areas within apartments and strata communities. We see this as a real area for innovation, and under the right scenario it definitely stacks up.”
Use energy-efficient appliances
If you’re in the market for a new fridge or washing machine, it can pay to invest in energy-efficient appliances.
“Your energy rating can make all the difference and spending a few extra dollars upfront can make a significant difference on your bills down the track,” Mr Williams said.
“Often people have older appliances running that aren't strictly necessary. Now might be the time you give your old garage fridge a rest for a couple of months or stop running your pool pump.”
If you’re working from home, perhaps you could opt for a laptop over a desktop because they use as much as 80% less energy as they’re designed to run without needing a constant power supply.
Claim some of your bill back on tax
Good news! If you’re working from home, you can claim the work-related portion of your energy bill at tax time, according to the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
There are three different ways you can claim work-related expenses: the shortcut method, the fixed-rate method, and the actual cost method.
Avoid heating or cooling
Even though it’s winter, heating up the entire house all day will see your energy bills soar. Instead, wear a jumper or drape a blanket over your legs.
“The airconditioning can zap a fair bit of power and increase your energy consumption,” Mr Williams said.
“Ensuring you're not using this 24/7, and keeping it no higher than 24 degrees will help reduce your bill and consumption.”
You should also switch off lights during the day and rely more on the natural light.
Make sure you’re on the best deal
If you’ve been with the same energy provider for years, you could be missing out on a way better deal.
“Make sure you shop around for the best energy deal. You’ll be amazed at how much an electricity company will fight to keep your business - all you need to do is ask,” Mr Williams said.
When comparing offers, make sure you ask retailers if anything extra is included in the offer, such as bonuses or savings if you pay on time.
What if I can’t afford my energy bill?
Sadly, not all jobs are secure right now and it’s possible that you may be facing the possibility of losing your stream of income and the ability to pay your bills.
Thankfully, most of the major energy providers are offering financial assistance to customers under hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Origin Energy have a number of measures in place to support customers, including:
No disconnections for any residential and small business customers in financial stress until at least 31 July 2020;
No default listing for any customer who is having trouble paying;
Pause to all late payment fees effective immediately.
AGL has also put measures in place to support customers in financial stress due to COVID which includes payment extensions, payment plans, and suspended disconnections for customers on the COVID-19 Customer Support Program.
Energy Australia is offering payment extensions and payment plans for those struggling to pay their bills.
Depending on which state you live in, you may be eligible for government help.
Queenslanders will automatically receive a $200 rebate to help offset some of their electricity and water costs. If you get billed monthly, this could mean you essentially get a free bill (or two!) thanks to the rebate.
Savings.com.au’s two cents
Working from home doesn’t mean you necessarily have to rack up a huge energy bill, so long as you’re mindful of your usage and use energy-efficient appliances where possible.
With tax time fast approaching, you could even get a portion of your energy bill back to pop into your savings account.
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