Giving people access to technology that would otherwise be out of their reach can be a powerful tool for change.

Just ask the Skinners, who have made significant savings on their power bills since joining the Energy Savvy Families program.

“It’s good for those who struggle with their electricity bills because it heightens your general awareness about your electricity use and helps you make some changes that work,” mother-of-five Leila Skinner said.

The Energy Savvy Families program is a partnership between the Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy, Ergon Energy Retail, Queensland Council of Social Services and CitySmart.

Since its launch in 2017, thousands of low-income families across regional Queensland have been given the tools and data they need to reduce their electricity use, including a digital meter, access to a home energy information portal and an educational gaming app for kids.

Queensland Energy Minister, Dr Anthony Lynham, said it had proved to be a powerful combination.

“With a digital meter and Ergon’s HomeSmart Savvy portal at your fingertips, you can keep track of your electricity use regularly and accurately,” Dr Lynham said.

“With this technology and the insights it provides, as well as practical support and advice, we’re empowering families to become more energy savvy and save money.”

Becoming more energy efficient

For the Skinner family, making some simple changes based on what they’ve learnt has paid off big time.

They live in the North Queensland city of Townsville, where the summers are long, hot and humid, and there is an average of 320 days of sunshine each year.

“I have four children living with me full-time, so we have a very busy household and were really lazy when it came to electricity use before we started the program,” Ms Skinner said.

“The air-conditioner would run flat chat all summer, but it’s amazing how well the fans work and the kids now walk around in the morning flipping them off.

“The only thing that’s running 24/7 in our house now is the fridge.

“Generally, if any appliance is not in use we turn it off. It’s become second nature.”

The Skinner children have learnt some practical life lessons and had some fun with CitySmart’s Reduce Your Juice app.

“They thought it was fantastic – we all liked the washing line game with the character Darth Dryer,” Ms Skinner said.

“I’ve learnt the power of the sun is amazing, so I chose not to have a clothes dryer anymore and I’m saving a fair amount of dosh.

“Now we hang absolutely everything on the clothesline and the kids help.”

The family’s energy-saving behaviour is reflected in their power bill, which they have managed to reduce to an average of $50 a month when it used to be well over $100 in summer.

“Before I did the program I was paying roughly $60 a fortnight upfront for electricity and praying that was enough money to cover it,” Ms Skinner said.

Reducing bill shock

Ergon Energy Retail’s Executive General Manager, Cheryl Hopkins, said the Energy Savvy Families program was designed to help those participant families to better balance their household budgets by giving them greater choice and control.

“Knowledge is power. The combination of a digital meter and data from our HomeSmart Savvy portal reveals a lot about a household’s consumption, so customers can make more informed decisions to reduce their electricity use and set realistic budgets,” Ms Hopkins said.

With access to HomeSmart Savvy on their computer, tablet or smartphone, families can review their electricity use on a daily basis in half-hour blocks. They can also see how it is tracking over the longer term with weekly, monthly and annual reports.  

“They can set notifications for when they are reaching the limit of the budget they have set, and monthly billing makes payments more manageable,” Ms Hopkins said.

“Energy Savvy champions are also there to provide support and advice for families when they need it.”

Hundreds more eligible families in Townsville, Cairns, Rockhampton, Toowoomba and Hervey Bay are currently benefiting from the next round of the program, which commenced in April 2019.

Chris is a publishing veteran, having launched more than ten magazines over the course of his career. As the Publisher of Utility, his role today is more hands-off, but every now and then he likes to jump back on the tools and flex his wordsmithing muscles.

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