Conserve First: Reduce power consumption to maximise energy savings

A newly installed solar PV system will immediately reduce your power bills. But unless you are a very light user or have a very large (and expensive) PV system, you will still be paying for an amount of grid power.

To really save money, your energy usage should be reduced. Whilst a solar PV system will reduce your charges, you can really help it along by cutting down on energy usage. By following these simple energy saving tips, you can get by with a smaller and cheaper solar PV system, or be able to export more electricity to the grid at premium feed-in-tariff rates.

Phantom Power

You have heard it a thousand times - "Turn off unused appliances at the wall". Many home appliances - such as TVs, VCRs, DVD players, microwave ovens and computers to name a few - will consume small amounts of standby power when plugged in. These appliances consume what is termed 'Phantom Power' - power consumed that does not actually result in any usefulness of the appliance.

Phantom power is generally used by appliances when they go into sleep mode, which sometimes allows then to return to a fully powered on state quicker. In other appliances, standby power is needed to keep a clock running (as on a microwave oven) or to enable the use of a remote control (such as a TV).

Although many appliances only consume a fraction of a watt when in standby, every appliance around the home can eventually add up to a substantial number of watts in 'phantom power' consumption. A typical home may have the following appliances in standby mode when no one is using them:

It only takes a few extra seconds to switch on appliances at the wall when they need to be used. The inconvenience is more than offset by the power savings, which could be many tens of dollars per year. This is extra money in your pocket for nothing more than the effort of flicking a switch.

Replacing appliances with energy efficient models

If you have an older TV, fridge, washing machine or incandescent lighting, replacing them with energy efficient models can significantly slash your energy consumption. These big-ticket items are some of the most power hungry and most used items around the home.

Although the upgrade costs may seem like an unecessary expense, it should be thought of as an investment. The energy saved and lower electric bills will offset the cost of the upgrade quite quickly, sometimes within a year.

Look for items with at least a 5-star energy rating. Replacing an ageing CRT TV with an LCD model will cut down electricity consumption by up to half. Try not to be tempted by the big-screen plasma TVs - they are just as power hungry as CRT TVs.

Replacing an old fridge with a new five-star energy rating model will be one of the biggest savers due to the fact that the fridge is always plugged in and runs practially 24/7 (well not quite - the compressor starts and stops when necessary).

If you still have incandescent lighting, especially the older tungsten globes, they should be replaced immediately. In fact, now that the Australian government has banned the sale of tungsten incandescent light globes, it is near impossible to continue buying them. There are now halogen light globes that are a bit more efficient than the old tungsten globes, but compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) are the best option as they are the most efficient. If you have extra-low-voltage (12v) halogen lighting, you could consider energy efficient LED downlight replacements - in many cases these are a direct replacement for the halogen lamps.

Desktop computers are now starting to give way to the more popular laptop/notebook PCs, which have significantly dropped in price over the past few years. A laptop computer consumes much less energy than a desktop, and mobile technology has improved to such a level that the performance of a laptop is on par with a desktop PC. Make your next computer a laptop if you intend on upgrading your desktop PC. Unfortunately, gamers will always prefer a full desktop PC and big monitor, but upgrades are still worthwhile as components are now becoming 'greener'.

Geen up your home

Reduce your reliance on heating and cooling by investing in your home. Add external awnings to stop the summer sun from entering your windows. Seal gaps in fixed structures, and add weather seals to doors and openable windows.

Set your thermostat to 18 or even 17 degrees celsius in winter. To stay warm, wear more clothing.

A more expensive measure is to install double-glazed windows. These will be effective in both summer and winter. As a bonus, they will also help stop outside noise from entering your home.