MAY 23, 2024 / Quick Tips

Five ways you can use technology to save money on your power bills

It’s a simple truth that nobody is ever really happy with their power bill. In recent times, however, the price of getting electricity into your home has skyrocketed, making the bill stress associated with your power account ever more acute.

Often, technology itself is seen as a prime cause for higher power bills. The argument goes that because we’ve got mobiles, laptops and even bigger TVs these days, our power bills are higher as a result.

That’s not entirely fair to technology, and few of us would want to go back to living without the conveniences of modern life. Thankfully, technologies do exist that can make it easier to manage your power usage and lower your power bills.

1. Use a smart meter

They’re not universal, but many home electricity meters are now what’s called “smart meters”. These are more advanced electricity meters that can be read and controlled remotely in real time.

That’s great if you didn’t like having a power company employee coming round to tap at your meter every few months. The bigger advantage here is that they can give you a more nuanced view of your power usage over time.

Armed with that kind of information, you can then examine the available power offers in your area to make the best match for your circumstances.

These vary both by state and location in terms of which providers will offer you a deal, but knowing your regular power usage is a great first step in constraining your power spend.

2. Invest in smart plugs

The smart meter on your property can give you a whole-of-home reading, but that’s only part of the story. If your usage is high, you’d like to know why, right?

This is where getting an energy monitoring plug or power board, sometimes called a “Smart Plug” can make a big difference.

Not all smart plugs will offer energy monitoring, but those that do will count the power going to the devices they’re plugged into. That gives you an idea of precisely how much power your appliances are using over time.

It may be that your TV is using less power than you think – quite likely, as newer flat panels are generally more power efficient than the older CRT type telly – but boiling the kettle might use a lot more power than you realise.

The combination of a smart plug and a smart meter can really help you optimise your power usage and costs, especially if you’re able to take advantage of off-peak power rates for more energy intensive tasks.

The other advantage with smart plugs is that they do make it easier to manage overall power usage.

The drain of devices on “standby” – sometimes called the “vampire drain” of devices – can be considerable, especially for modern gaming consoles and other devices that like to charge and download content in the background.

However, it’s not always easy to reach around to hit the power switch, especially if you’re an older Australian with less mobility than you used to have.

This is where a smart plug can shine, making it very easy to cut the power without straining your back reaching for a plug every time.

MORE: WHY YOU NEED TO ADD SMART PLUGS TO YOUR HOME

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3. Install smart lights

One of the easiest ways to cut down on your power usage is to switch everything off. Taken to its logical extreme, you could flip the main fuse switch on your power board.

You’d save a lot of money, but you’d also be left in the dark and at the mercy of the elements when the sun goes down, which is less than ideal.

This is where it can make sense to switch to smart light bulbs. These connect up to your home network, either via a small hub device, or in some cases directly to your home Wi-Fi, enabling smart on/off timing, dimming and (depending on the bulb) colour modifications as well.

It’s not so much the fun side that you should consider for smart bulbs, however. It’s the fact that you can both dim them – lowering their power consumption – and remotely switch them off, lessening power wastage whether you’re at home or away.

There’s a definite balancing act here, because good smart light bulbs are more expensive generally than the regular kind. You can get cheap smart lights, but they’re often of lesser quality, whether that’s in their light flexibility or smart home features.

One tip here for buying smart light bulbs is to check before you buy that you’re getting the right compatible type. Most Australian light bulbs are either what’s called the “Edison” type with a screw in thread, or the “Bayonet” type, with prongs that do a half turn to fit into their socket.

You can typically pick them from the first letter of their bulb code, which matches that type – so a B22 bulb is a bayonet type, while an E27 is an Edison type. Unscrew one of your existing bulbs to check before you buy to save yourself installation or refund headaches down the track.

MORE: A GUIDE TO SMART LIGHTING

4. Control the temperature from anywhere

A smart system is an even more important consideration for home heating, because it’s often such a huge part of our overall power bills.

Being able to smartly set optimal temperatures and maintain them leads to a more comfortable home in the winter and the summer, but also one that’s cheaper to run. Forgot to switch off the home AC when you left?

Without a smart system, you’d be stuck with the bill, but with one it’s just a tap of a smartphone screen to fix the problem.

Equally, if you get home at variable times from work, as so many of us do, you can set your home AC or heater to fire up before you get home, ensuring you return to an optimally heated home, without needing to keep it going 24/7, running up your power bills in the process.

What if you’ve got an existing AC or heating system that isn’t “smart”?

There are third party systems such as Tado that offer a simple Wi-Fi enabled way to make most “dumb” AC systems into “Smart” ones by mimicking their infrared remote-control calls, so you can still make them intelligent and save money as you go.

MORE: Tado Smart AC Control V3+ Review

5. Consider solar power

A lot of Australian households have become solar homes, with an estimated 30% of homes now using solar power to some extent.

While the days where you could get big money back from the power companies with solar are more or less gone, the big benefit these days in considering a solar system comes with cutting back on your reliance on the wider grid, slicing down your power bills in the process.

Of course, that makes the most sense if you can also schedule your heavy power usage activities during daytime when your solar panels are making power for you, although that can be offset to an extent with a home solar battery.

Again, you do need to do some careful financial calculations there, as home solar batteries aren’t exactly inexpensive either.

For some Australians solar will never be a factor, because they rent, or because their properties are obscured by trees, tall buildings or nearby landscape features that make solar power a non-starter.

However, there’s a simple, solar-led trick you can use without spending a cent on solar panels.

It’s switching out using your dryer for clothes against using a clothes line or rack, and letting the sun do the work for you for free.

Some estimates put the cost of doing around 3 loads a week over a year as adding more than $200 to your annual power bill. Even if you had to buy a few clothes racks to hang the clothes on, you’re not going to hit that kind of level of spending unless you like very fancy clothes racks.

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Alex Kidman
A multi-award winning journalist, Alex has written about consumer technology for over 20 years. He has written and edited for virtually every Australian tech publication including Gizmodo, CNET, PC Magazine, Kotaku and more.